What Is a Cremation?

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Cremation reduces the body to what some call “its essential elements.” Cremation uses heat or another dissolution process to pulverize the body of a deceased person to “mostly tiny bits of bone resembling ash.”

Although some people call cremated remains “ashes,” others call cremated remains “cremains.” The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) prefers “cremated remains,” which maintains a human connection with the decedent. According to CANA, an average adult produces about 4 to 6 pounds of cremated remains.

Cremation is less expensive than burying a body in a cemetery, and some people choose to honor the decedent by using their cremated remains in art, fireworks, jewelry, and tattoos. The crematory or funeral home checks for correct identification of the decedent at several points and treats the decedent with respect and care. Before cremation, they place the decedent in an appropriate container, which survivors select. These include a wooden casket, a rental casket, or a container of particle board or cardboard; essentially anything enclosed, leak-resistant, rigid, and combustible.

The most common cremation type is flame-based cremation, which uses a cremation chamber – a special furnace called a retort. In this chamber, the temperature usually reaches about 1,400 to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit. The cremation process takes anywhere from 30 minutes up to two to three hours, depending on the heat in the chamber and other factors.

Once the cremation is complete, the crematory allows the cremains to cool and uses a magnet to remove any metal, such as jewelry or surgical implants. A machine pulverizes any remaining bone fragments until they are less than one-eighth of an inch. The crematory then transfers the cremated remains to a temporary container or an urn provided by the survivor.

Cremations Are on the Rise

In 2020, CANA statistics show that about 56% of the people who died in the United States and 73% of those who died in Canada underwent cremation. CANA reports indicate a trending uptick in cremation for a variety of reasons.

Some advantages of cremation include:

  • It’s less expensive. The median cost of a funeral with a viewing and a burial in the United States in 2021 ranged between $8-12,000 compared to about $7,000 for a funeral with cremation, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). People consider it more environmentally friendly. About 56% of consumers in 2021 said they were interested in exploring green funeral options according to NFDA. There is an argument against this reasoning however, because it takes a tremendous amount of energy to burn a body.
  • Cremation can be a quicker and simpler process than planning a funeral, viewing, and burial. It also saves survivors from paying prolonged preservation costs if they need to postpone a memorial service.
  • Spreading the ashes or cremains can be a bonding experience, while some survivors keep the cremated remains.

What Do Survivors Do with Cremains?

Even if survivors don’t bury the cremains or set them in a place of honor, they can find various ways to remember a decedent using cremated remains. Some choose urns such as teddy bears or hourglasses. Other options include:

  • Using a small amount in hand-crafted glass art.
  • Turning them into diamond jewelry.
  • Incorporating them into a memorial fireworks display.
  • Getting a ritual or commemorative tattoo, which mixes a small amount of cremated remains with tattoo ink.
  • Creating an eternal reef with the cremation urn and environmentally safe concrete on the ocean floor.
  • Launching a symbolic portion into space aboard a scientific or commercial satellite.
  • Pressing them into a vinyl record with a recording of choice.

Summary

Cremation is a method of processing a dead body that has a long history and continues to grow in popularity. Along with being less expensive as a financial factor, cremation provides many more choices than a typical body burial for the survivor. Understanding the process can help survivors manage post-death logistics when it comes to deciding what to do with cremains.

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