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All About Cremation
Grief and Bereavement
Here's where we look at the cremation process to familiarize yourself with some potential unknowns about it. Most have a good idea of what goes on, but for those who are curious about the details of the cremation process, this section is for you. If you're looking for additional information about the history and process of cremation, we suggest you read Cremation Facts; and if you're curious about how the world's major religions view cremation, we urge you to review Religious Views on Cremation.
Cremation uses extreme heat (from 1400 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit) to reduce the human body from its familiar form to fragments of bone. In essence then, the cremation process advances a natural process, that of decomposition; accomplishing in just a few hours what would have taken months or even years to occur. Today, the cremation process involves the use of very specialized equipment called a retort, which is basically a furnace fueled by either propane or natural gas.
After death, a licensed funeral professional takes possession of the physical remains, and establishes a strict chain-of-custody to ensure the cremated body of the deceased is accurately identified following the cremation process. At this time, written authorization to cremate is completed by the responsible funeral director, and signed by the family member with legal authority. Additional paperwork identifies the personal effects of the deceased, the casket or cremation container selected, and how the cremated remains are to be handled. He or she will also complete the legal death certificate, obtain the signature of the attending physician or medical examiner, and file the document with county authorities.
The body is then prepared for cremation. The cremations which took place at Dr. Lemoyne's Pennsylvania crematory, where "preparation would include wrapping the body in a linen sheet and a type of plaster...then covered in herbs, spices, pine branches and flowers in an attempt to mask the scent during burning", (according to Ms. Sickles, a New York Herald reporter wrote upon observing the preparation of one particular individual cremated in 1876). Today, the individual's personal effects and surgical appliances (such as a pacemaker) are removed, and the body is then placed in a cremation casket selected by the family, or alternative cremation container. A metal identification tag is added, to ensure proper identification throughout the cremation process. It will be cremated with the body to allow for proper identification of the cremated remains when removed from the retort.
Once a deceased individual arrives at the crematory, his or her identity is once again verified by all professionals involved. If the required waiting period (anywhere from 24 to 72 hours) has yet to expire; the individual will be placed in a refrigeration unit for safekeeping. When this period has been satisfactorily completed, the individual will be placed with all due care into the retort for the actual cremation process.
It usually takes about two, to two-and-a-half hours for a body to be completely reduced to just the bone fragments by the cremation process (the time involved is largely dependent on the age of the retort being used, but the size and weight of the physical remains is also a factor).
Once the cremation is complete, there needs to be a cool-down period, so the bone fragments are sufficiently cooled before handling. When cooled, the cremated remains are respectfully removed by being carefully “swept” from the retort. Afterwards, all metal debris (such as a surgical pin or titanium joint) is removed manually from the cremated remains.
What remains is then put into a special processor designed to pulverize the bone fragments to a finer consistency. This material, commonly known as "ashes", is then placed inside a plastic bag within a temporary plastic or cardboard cremation container. Finally, arrangements are made for their transfer and safekeeping consistent with original paperwork signed by the next of kin.
We consider ourselves cremation professionals meaning we continue to pursue excellence in all things. Certainly, we're very familiar with the cremation process; yet we add to our expertise by attending on-going continuing education courses regarding state-of-the-art crematory equipment and operations. If you have questions about any aspect of cremation–its history, the cremation process itself, or what's involved in making cremation arrangements–we're here to assist you. Simply call us at 404-761-2697, or send us an email using the form on our Contact Us page. We will be pleased to hear from you.
Kim, Michelle, "How Cremation Works", How Stuff Works, Kim, Michelle. "How Cremation Works", 2009, accessed 2014
Davis, Douglas and Lewis Mates, editors, Encyclopedia of Cremation, Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2005