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Cremation: What is It?

In 2014 approximately one in two Americans chose cremation. The Cremation Association of North American (CANA) reports that by 2020 the cremation rate is expected to reach 54.3 percent in the United States. Compare that with one in four people who chose cremation in 1999.

“Cremation is becoming the new normal, primarily because people can personalize the way they want to memorialize friends and family, and because it is perceived as a more affordable, better value for memorialization,” said CANA Board President Sheri Stahl.

We have compiled information from industry experts and advocates, crematoriums and cremation service providers that will be useful if you are considering cremation. As you think about your choices, we hope the information below answers questions that might arise regarding the cremation process.

11 Things to Know About Cremation

  1. Cremation is the reducing of human or pet remains to ashes through extreme heat.
  2. The cremation process takes approximately2 to 2 ½ hours.
  3. Cremated remains are processed into fine particles resembling ash.
  4. Proper identification of the body should be done before, during, and after cremation. Improper identification leading to cremation of the wrong body has occurred. Be sure to speak with your crematory advisor to learn the details of their identification procedure.
  5. Cremation and prosthetics. Increasingly the question is asked, “What is done with augmented human parts?” Examples include breast implants, pacemakers, dentures, metal hips and full limbs. Organizations exist that recycle metal separated from ashes for charitable purposes. Prosthetic limbs removed prior to cremation are recovered for use in the developing world. This practice is controversial. Discuss the issues surrounding augmented human parts with your crematory advisor, or health care professional.
  6. Cardiac pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) should be removed prior to cremation. Pacemakers and ICDs will explode during the process of cremation due to the extreme heat.
  • The website reports that, “In a number of countries, like Sweden and the Flemish region of Belgium, removal of implantable devices after death is already obligatory because of the environmental risk of lithium batteries. In the United States the patient or his relatives have to consent to device removal. Ideally, this should be discussed with the patient at the time of implantation.” In most cases, morticians and pathologists remove implantable devices.
  • Pacemakers can be donated to charitable organizations for use in impoverished countries, or for poor and uninsured people. Pacemaker donation initiatives are growing around the world. Check with your physician, or research online at websites such as
  1. Cremation containers are different than cremation urns. A coffin in which to be cremated is not a requirement. A body to be cremated must be in a sealed, flammable, rigid container. Such containers do not contain metal. “Green” containers are made out of natural material such as bamboo or wood that easily burn. Discuss options with your crematory advisor.
  • Urns for ashes are used to contain the ashes after cremation. Consider your choices of keepsake cremation urns, memorial urns for ashes, burial urns, artisan cremation urns, and cremation jewelry. Pet cremation urns are also available.
  • It is generally recommended that you provide an urn for ashes to the crematorium prior to cremation. In this way, you may comfortably pick up and transport the cremation ashes. 
  1. Many crematoriums will permit family members to witness the cremation. Arrangements must be made in advance.
  1. Many people who consider cremation neglect to consider the next step: How are the ashes returned after cremation? We have several blogs that address this issue, including, “What to Expect When You Receive Cremation Ashes.”
  2. Documents required for cremation. Cremation eliminates the possibility of determining an exact cause of death. Therefore, many states require:
  • a death certificate and
  • an authorization from the medical examiner before cremation takes place.
  • Usually a specified length of time after death and before cremation must be observed. The amount of time varies from state to state. Consult with your local crematorium or funeral home for details.
  1. Most states permit only one body to be cremated at a time. In a few states, the remains of family members may be cremated together. There are specially designed companion urns that hold the remains of two.

International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA) publishes industry standards and cremation guidelines, and is the closest we could find to a reliable information source. The ICCFA regularly interacts with the federal government and is considered the spokesperson for the industry. Not only does Congress turn to the ICCFA for expert consultation, but the ICCFA is an advocate for consumers. Additional information about the cremation process can be found at the National Funeral Home Directors (NFDA), founded in 1882, website page, “Cremation Choices.”

Cremation gives us many options, such as if we wish to place the remains in an urn for ashes and display it in our home. Various memorial urns provide stylish and symbolic choices regarding how to honor the remains of the loved one.  Biodegradable urns and wood cremation urns are examples when the consideration is scattering or burying the ashes. Other urns are made for keeping such as cremation jewelry, or the distinctive hand blown glass keepsakes. You can view the various urn types by visiting our home page. We are available to assist you with your questions or concerns.