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Funeral Cremation

A funeral cremation is the process of cremating or burning a corpse and is generally performed in a crematory or crematorium furnace capable of generating 870-980 °C (1600-1800 °F) to ensure incineration of the corpse. Contrary to popular belief, the remains aka "cremains", are not "ashes" in the usual sense, but rather dried bone fragments that were pulverized in a device called a cremulator.

A crematory or crematorium may be part of the chapel or a funeral home, or part of an independent facility or a service offered by a cemetery and the funeral cremation service can serve as an alternative to the traditional casket funeral service. The remains may be buried at memorial sites or cemeteries, as well as be retained by relatives or dispersed in a variety of ways and locations, such as a burial at sea.

Funeral cremations can be "Delivery Only" with no preceding funeral service at the crematorium (although a memorial service may have been held in a crematorium chapel or funeral home). Delivery-Only is often referred to as "West Chapel Service" by the funeral industry. Delivery-Only allows crematoriums to schedule body cremations accordingly and use the cremators more efficiently. This may mean retaining the body overnight in a refrigerator. If this is the case, the actual costs may be lower.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enacted a Funeral Practices Trade Regulation Rule (The Funeral Rule), requiring funeral providers to disclose general itemized price information about services and merchandise provided. This Rule specifically requires a funeral provider to indicate its prices for Direct Cremation Services when the purchaser provides the cremation container; or where the purchaser selects a casket from the funeral provider. You may request this information at any time and it must be provided to you.

The Body Container

funeral cremation
Prior to being cremated, the body is placed in a container, which can be a simple corrugated cardboard box or wooden casket. Many casket manufacturers provide caskets specially designed for funeral cremations. Another option is to use a cardboard box which fits inside a wooden shell designed to look like a traditional casket. After the funeral cremation service the cardboard box containing the deceased is removed from the shell for creation. This allows the wooden shell to be reused. Funeral homes may also offer rental caskets, designed to be used only for the duration of the services, after which the body is transferred to another container for cremation. Many rental caskets are sometimes designed with removable beds and liners that are replaced after each use.

In the UK, the bodies scheduled for cremation are never removed from the coffin and placed into a container for the process. Both the body and coffin are cremated. Therefore, all coffins in the UK scheduled to be used for funeral cremations must be constructed of combustible material. The Code Of Cremation Practice forbids the opening of the coffin once it has arrived at the crematorium, and rules stipulate it must be cremated on the same day as the funeral service. Therefore, if a corpse is to be cremated in the UK, it will be done so in the same coffin as it is placed in at the funeral parlor. In addition, all jewelry must be removed before the coffin is sealed, as it cannot be opened once it has arrived at the crematorium.

In Australia, the deceased are cremated in coffins supplied by the undertaker. To save on costs, a plain, particle board coffin (aka a "chippie") can be used instead. Any attached handles are made of plastic and must be approved for use in the cremator. Coffins types may vary from unfinished particle board that is covered with a velvet pall if there is a service, to solid timber. Most are constructed of a veneered particle board.

The Cremation Process

Crematories, for the most part, are designed to cremate single bodies at a time. Most are of a standard size and typically, in larger cities, there are oversized crematories that can handle a deceased person weighing over 400 pounds. Many of the larger crematoriums have small cremators installed for the disposal of fetal remains and infants.

Up until the early 1960's, the fuel used during the cremation process consisted of coal. Today, the primary fuel sources are natural gas and propane. Many of the more modern cremators have adjustable computer control systems that monitor the furnace during cremation to ensure legal and safety requirements (e.g. the door cannot be opened until the cremator reaches its optimum temperature).

Jewelry, such as wristwatches and rings, are ordinarily removed and returned to the family. The only non-natural item required to be removed is a pacemaker. A pacemaker could explode and damage the cremator. In the UK, and possibly other countries, the undertaker is required to remove pacemakers prior to having the body delivered to the crematorium, and must sign a declaration stating that the item was removed.

During the cremation process, once the cremator has reached optimum temperature (760 to 1150 °C (1400 to 2100 °F), the body is placed in a chamber called the retort, which is lined with refractory - brick designed to retain the amount of heat involved with the process. It is inserted into the retort through the top-opening door by use of a charger or motorized trolley. During the cremation process, the body organs and other soft tissue are vaporized and oxidized due to the heat, and the gases are discharged through the exhaust system. The entire process usually takes about two hours.

After the body has been cremated, all that mostly remains are dry bone fragments consisting of mostly calcium phosphates and minor minerals. There will also be melted metal lumps from missed jewelry, casket furniture, dental fillings, and/or surgical implants. The color is usually light gray and these bone fragments represent very roughly 3.5% of the body's original mass (2.5% in children). Because the weight of dry bone fragments is so closely connected to skeletal mass, weight can vary greatly from person to person (there has been found to be a correlation between this weight and the person's sex and height).

The bone fragments are then swept out of the retort, passed through a magnetic field to remove any bits of metal and any remaining large pieces are pulverized* using a cremulator, which grinds these pieces into finer bone fragments. The result is  grains of sand or wood-ash appearance (depending upon the efficiency of the cremulator) and chips of very dry bone. This is one of the reasons cremated remains are called ashes although a technical term sometimes used is "cremains".

The ashes are placed in a container, which can be anything from a simple cardboard box to a fancy urn and then given to relatives or loved ones or transported to another specified location. Families can decide if the cremated remains are going to be divided among the decedent's loved ones or for placed in different locations. Placement can be at a cemetery (regular grave or a cremation grave), in a columbarium area located at a church or cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery (if a veteran), or at the home of loved ones.

*Note: In Japan, the bones are not pulverized unless requested beforehand, and are collected by the family.

Some funeral cremations allow relatives to view the cremation process. This is sometimes done for religious reasons, such as traditional Hindu and Jain funerals.

One unavoidable consequence of a funeral cremation is that tiny residue of bodily remains is left in the chamber after cremation and mixes with subsequent cremations.

Creative Uses of Remains

Cremated remains are usually returned to the family in a rectangular plastic container that is contained within a further cardboard box or velvet sack, or in an urn purchased by the family. An official Certificate of Cremation accompanies the remains and, if required by law, a permit for disposing the ashes.

The remains can be kept in an urn, sprinkled on a special field, mountain, scattered in the sea, or buried in the ground at any location. In addition, there are several services that will assist you with scattering the remains in a variety of ways and locations. For example, using a helium balloon, fireworks, or airplane to scatter ashes has been done by some people. One service will send a lipstick-tube sized sample of the cremains into low earth orbit, where they remain for years, before re-entering the earth's atmosphere. One company claims to turn part of the cremains into a diamond in an artificial diamond manufacturing machine.

Cremains may also be incorporated, with urn and cement, into part of an artificial reef, or mixed with paint and made into a portrait of the deceased. Cremated remains can be scattered in national parks in the US, with a special permit. They can also, with the owner's permission, be scattered on private property. A portion of the cremated remains may be retained in a specially designed locket known as a keepsake pendant. The cremated remains may also be entombed. Most cemetaries will grant permission for burial of cremains in occupied cemetary plots which have already been purchased or are in use by the families disposing of the cremains, without any additional charge or oversight.

The final disposition depends on the personal wishes of the deceased as well as their cultural and religious beliefs. Some religions will permit the cremated remains to be sprinkled or kept at home. Other religions, such as Roman Catholicism, insist on either burying or entombing the remains. Hinduism obliges the closest male relative (son, father, husband, etc.) of the deceased to immerse the cremated remains in the holy river Ganges, preferably at the holy city of Haridwar, India. The Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus immerse the remains in Sutlej, usually at Sri Harkiratpur. In Japan and Taiwan, the remaining bone fragments are given to the family and are used in a burial ritual before the final interment.


Reasons for Choosing Funeral Cremations

(Personal, Environmental, Religious)

Apart from religious reasons, some people choose funeral cremation for personal reasons - quick disposition of the body, while some people are put off at the thought of a long and slow decomposition process. There also exist environmental concerns.

Some individuals view a funeral cremation as a way of simplifying the funeral process. They see a traditional burial as an unnecessary complication of the process and desire for the service to be as simple as possible. The cost factor also tends to make cremation an attractive alternative to the traditional burial, as cremation costs less than traditional burial services. And having a direct cremation can decrease these costs even further. Direct cremation involves the body being cremated as soon as legally possible without any sort of memorial service. However, the costs can increase and vary widely, in terms of the amount of service being conducted.

The funeral cremation can follow a full traditional funeral service, which adds to the cost. The type of container used will also influence this cost. Cremated remains can be buried or scattered. While cremation burial plots or columbarium niches usually cost less than a traditional burial plot or mausoleum crypt and require less space, the method chosen to scatter the remains can be costly. Some religions, such as Roman Catholicism, require the burial or entombment of cremated remains, but the burial of the cremains may be accomplished in the burial plot of another person, such as a family member, without any additional cost.

To some, cremation might be preferable for environmental reasons. Traditional burial takes up a lot of space. In a traditional burial the body is buried in a casket made from a variety of materials. In the US, the casket is often placed inside a concrete vault or liner before being buried in the ground. While individually, space does not pose a problem, over time, the number of burials in one place causes serious space concerns. Many cemetaries, particularly in Japan, and in other larger cities, are running out of permanent space. In Tokyo, traditional burial plots are extremely scarce and expensive. In London, a space crisis led to a proposal of re-opening old graves for "double-decker" burials.

Traditional burials are also a known source of certain environmental contaminants. Embalming fluids, for example, are known to contaminate groundwater with mercury, arsenic and formaldehyde. Funeral caskets are another known source of contamination. Another concern is the contamination from radioisotopes that entered the body before death or burial. However, there is a growing body of research that indicates cremation is also having a significant impact on the environment.

In addition to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP), major emissions from crematories include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, mercury, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride (HCl), NMVOCs, and other heavy metals.  According to the United Nations Environment Programme report on POP Emission Inventory Guidebook, emissions from crematoriums, although comparatively small on an international scale, are still statistically significant. The POP inventory indicates that crematoria contribute 0.2% of the global emission of dioxins and furans. So, while it appears that cremation is the more environmentally sound method, who is to say what results will look like hundreds, or thousands of years from now.

Religious Views on Funeral Cremations

funeral cremation

While there exist many different religions and sects in the world, this section focuses on the views some of the major religions in history regarding funeral cremations.


In many Christian cultures, cremation has historically been discouraged, but not forbidden. Some branches of Christianity oppose cremation, including some minority Protestant groups. Most notably, the Eastern Orthodox Churches forbid cremation. Exceptions are made for circumstances where it may not be avoided (when civil authority demands it, or epidemics) or if it may be sought for good cause. When cremation is willfully chosen for no good cause, the deceased is not permitted a funeral in the church and may also be permanently excluded from liturgical prayers. In Orthodoxy, cremation is a rejection of the of the general resurrection, and as such is viewed harshly.

    Roman Catholicism

    The Roman Catholic Church's discouragement of cremation was based on the following beliefs:

    1. The body is the instrument through which the sacraments are received and is therefore a sacramental, and holy object. Being such an integral part of the human person, it should be disposed of in a way that honors and reverences it.
    2. In imitation of Jesus Christ's burial, the body of a Christian should be buried;
    3. Funeral cremation constituted a denial of the resurrection of the body.

    Funeral cremation was, in fact, not forbidden in and of itself; even in Medieval Europe cremation was practiced in situations where there were multitudes of corpses simultaneously present (e.g., after a battle, pestilence or famine, and where there was an imminent danger of diseases spreading from the corpses) and digging graves would take too long and body decomposition would begin. However, earth burial or entombment remained the law unless there were circumstances that required cremation for the public good.

    Beginning in the Middle Ages, and even more so in the 18th century and later, rationalists and classicists began to advocate cremation. It was primarily done as a statement denying the resurrection and/or the afterlife, although the pro-cremation movement took care to address and refute theological concerns about cremation in their works. Sentiment within the Catholic Church against cremation became hardened and rules against cremation were made, as they saw cremation with that of "professed enemies of God". These rules against cremation became softened during the 1960s. Today, while the Catholic Church still officially prefers the traditional burial or entombment of the deceased, cremation is now freely permitted as long as it is not done to express a refusal to believe in the resurrection of the body.

    Until 1997, Catholic liturgical regulations required that the cremation process take place after the funeral Mass, so that the body might be present. The body was present as a symbol to receive the blessings and be the subject of prayers. Once the Mass was concluded, the body could then be cremated. A second service could also be held at the crematorium or cemetery where the ashes were to be interred just as for a body burial. The liturgical regulations now allow, with the local Bishop's permission, a Mass with the container of ashes present. But, the Church does specify that the ashes be buried or entombed in an appropriate container, such as an urn (rather than scattered or preserved in the family home). Many Catholic cemeteries today regularly receive cremated remains and many have columbaria.


    Protestant churches were much more accepting to the use of funeral cremations than the Catholic Church. The first crematoria in Protestant countries were built in 1870s, and in 1908 the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey, one of the most famous Anglican churches, required that remains be cremated for burial in the abbey's precincts. Scattering, or "strewing," is an acceptable practice in many Protestant denominations, and some churches have their own "garden of remembrance" on their grounds for remains to be scattered. Other Christian groups which support cremation include Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.


Judaism has traditionally disapproved of cremation as well as the preservation of the dead by means of embalming and mummifying, a practice used by ancient Egyptians. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, as the Jewish cemeteries in many European towns had become crowded and were running out of space, cremation became an approved means of corpse disposal amongst the Liberal Jews. Current liberal movements like Reform Judaism still support cremation, although burial remains the preferred option. On the other hand, Orthodox Jews and other conservative Jewish groups have maintained a stricter line on cremation, and disapprove of its use. This halakhic concern is grounded in the upholding of bodily resurrection as a core belief of "mainstream" Judaism.


The Indian religions, such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, mandate cremation. In these religions, the body is seen as an instrument to carry the soul. As an example, the Bhagavad Gita quotes "Just as old clothes are cast off and new ones taken, the soul leaves the body after the death to take a new one". Hence, the dead body is not considered sacred since the soul has left the body and the cremation is regarded as ethical by the Eastern religions. In Sikhism, burial is not prohibited, although cremation is the preferred option for cultural reasons rather than religious.

According to Hindu traditions, the reasons for destroying the corpse by fire over burial is to induce a feeling of detachment into the freshly-disembodied spirit. This encourages a passing to "the other world" - the ultimate destination of the dead. This also explains the ground burial of holy men whose spirits are already "detached" due to life-long ascetic practices and young children whose spirit has not lived long enough to form wordly attachments. Hindu holy men are buried in lotus position and not in horizontal position as in other religions. In Hindu, cremation is referred to as antim-samskara, which means "the last rites". At the time of the cremation or "last rites" a ritual worship called a "Puja" is performed.

Other Religious Views on Funeral Cremations


Traditionally, Zoroastrianism disavowed cremation or burial to preclude pollution of fire or earth. The traditional method of corpse disposal was through ritual exposure in a "Tower of Silence." But both burial and cremation have increasingly become popular alternatives and even some contemporary figures of the faith, such as Parsi-Zoroastrian singer Freddie Mercury of the group Queen have undergone cremation procedures.


Leaders of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have typically declared that cremation is strongly discouraged. This is based on the belief that the body is holy, and that the body and soul will eventually be reunited. Prominent leader Bruce R. McConkie wrote that "only under the most extraordinary and unusual circumstances" would cremation be consistent with LDS teachings.


Choosing a Funeral Cremation Provider

  • It is recommended that when you are arranging for a funeral cremation, it be done prior to immediate need. This allows you the benefit of making arrangements without the pressure of time.
  • If you are preplanning a funeral cremation for yourself or a loved one, you should have these wishes in writing. In many states, an individual cannot authorize their own cremation and must use a next of kin. Check with your funeral service provider to see if the state in which you reside allows self-authorization.
  • When choosing a funeral cremation provider, keep in mind the following:
    1. Is the funeral service provider a member of the Cremation Association of North America? Do they adhere to a code of cremation ethics?
    2. Does the facility perform funeral cremations? If so, can a tour of the facility be arranged? If not, who is responsible for the process?
    3. Is the body required to be identified prior to cremation?
    4. Can the funeral cremation be witnessed by a family member or designated party?
    5. What is the average time between receipt of the body and completion of the process?
    6. Is the body refrigerated in instances where cremation cannot take place right away?
    7. What procedures are in place to ensure that the correct body remains are received after the funeral cremation process is completed?
    8. How are the cremated remains handled if an urn is not provided?
    9. What is the policy on prosthetics, artificial hips, knees, and other disposable items?
    10. Can you be provided with references of previous funeral cremations performed?
    11. Are the crematory operators certified in the proper use of the equipment and care of the body and cremated human remains?

Funeral Cremation Resource: Cremation. (2008, March 18). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

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