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How Does the Cremation Process Work?

Every day, countless people deal with loss. Whether it's losing a loved one or helping someone you know through a loss, it comes into our lives in unpredictable ways when we may least expect it. To make matters even more difficult, the loss of a loved one can lead to uncertainties regarding funeral arrangements, burial requirements and all of the costs associated with each.

Many individuals opt for cremation following their passing, whether it's due to personal beliefs, lightening the financial load or simply because it's how they prefer to have their remains handled following their passing. Still, not many of us know how cremation is accomplished. You may be familiar with the idea of cremains and crematoriums but not know what happens in them. Fortunately, OneWorld Memorials is here to help. Let's talk about the cremation process, and what you might need to know if you or a loved one has decided that it's the best option.

How Does Cremation Work?

The cremation process can be broken down into roughly six steps, depending on the crematorium and individual differences. These steps are the same from crematorium to crematorium and involve identification, authorization, preparation, transportation, cremation, collection and finalization. We'll be walking you through each step so you can understand what the cremation process components look like.

Identification and Authorization

The cremation process begins with proper identification and authorization. First, a family member must confirm the identity of the deceased, based on industry and state regulations. A metal ID tag is placed on the body, which remains attached throughout the process and will be collected alongside the cremains for final verification. This beginning stage also includes signing legal paperwork, such as authorizations and permits, which must be carefully completed to comply with state or local regulations.

Preparation of Remains

Once the paperwork has been filled out and the deceased's body has been properly identified, the body is then prepared for the cremation chamber. Each facility handles this stage in its own way, but typically this stage involves cleaning and dressing the body. Unlike burial preparations, the deceased's body is not embalmed prior to cremation. This is also the stage where personal belongings are removed - unless the family member requests that these objects stay with the body. During this stage, a cremation casket may also be selected from a range of options made with combustible materials. These typically are made of materials such as hardwood.

Transporting the Casket

The deceased is then transported inside the cremation casket to the cremation chamber, which is often called 'the retort.' At this point in the process, the deceased's remains are left to be handled by the crematorium, and loved ones must wait until the process is complete. Modern-day cremation chambers feature advanced temperature and timing controls which guarantee efficiency and precision throughout the cremation process.

The Cremation Chamber

The cremation chamber, or retort, is preheated to prepare for the cremation process. The deceased is sealed within the cremation chamber and exposed to extreme temperatures that range from 1,800 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (982 to 1093 degrees Celsius). This extreme temperature causes soft tissue to vaporize and only leaves behind ashes, composed of bone fragments of varying sizes. A common misconception is that cremation reduces the entire body to ash. However, a majority of the soft tissue transforms into gas. Following the cremation process, which takes one to three hours, the chamber is cooled gradually. Once the cremation chamber has reached a safe temperature, the remaining bone fragments are extracted and any metal objects - including implants and dental fillings - are removed and handled separately. The bone fragments are then processed further to reduce them to a fine, powder-like consistency - also known as cremains.

Collection of Ashes

Once the cremains have been processed, organized and collected, they are placed in a special container for delivery to loved ones. This container will either be provided by the crematorium or a pre-selected urn, chosen by the family of the deceased. Urns can range in type from biodegradable burial urns and decorative urns to scattering urns. The container or urn is labeled with identifying information, and then the crematorium calls the designated contact to come retrieve the cremains.

Finalization

Once the designated contact arrives to retrieve the cremains, any final paperwork is signed. The family is then free to follow any final wishes of the deceased - whether splitting ashes, scattering them, displaying an urn or burying it. At this point, the cremation process has concluded.

What Should a Family Do With Cremains?

The question of what action to take following the retrieval of cremains can be a difficult one and depends heavily upon the final wishes of the deceased as well as what feels best to the family and loved ones. Many choose to place cremains within a decorative urn to be displayed within their home, while many others choose to scatter the ashes at a location significant to the deceased. There is no right or wrong answer of what to do, though it can be important to decide what the plan will be prior to receiving cremains.

Knowing what the cremation process entails can be beneficial for many, as it gives them an idea of what to expect for their own choices or a loved one's. Like a burial, the cremation process can be deeply symbolic for many and crematoriums take steps and precautions to verify that the remains of a lost loved one are handled with respect and care. Whether you're simply curious about cremation or are planning ahead, we hope this guide has been beneficial - and that it answers any questions you may have. If you are still looking for more information, consider reviewing some of our other guides about the cremation process, including "Hydro Cremation vs Traditional Cremation" and "Cremation Costs."