Cremating your loved one is a different experience than the embalming process. Some individuals request to be cremated or buried, which can make it easier on the family when it comes to preparing the funeral arrangements, but if your loved one didn’t specify their wishes after passing, it is up to the family to decide. The family may do what makes them most comfortable and whatever helps them through the grieving process. Whatever the decision, do what you feel properly commemorates their life. And remember—there are absolutely no set rules when it comes preparing a funeral service for a loved one.
Some say cremation increases the flexibility of options, allowing you to choose from having a memorial service before, during, or after cremation. Options for what to do after cremation are many. They include filling one urn with the ashes, or splitting the ashes between a full sized urn and a few keepsakes so all family members may have a portion of the ashes. Some families place urns in a columbarium or niche and some families place the urn directly in a casket and bury it. Families have also placed multiple urns in one burial plot or niche, but one must receive approval from the cemetery first. Burial vaults, which are similar to small coffins, are often used when urns are buried to protect and shelter the urn from the soil and natural elements found underground.
When after death does cremation occur?
As the process of cremation itself is an irreversible process that eliminates any ability to determine exact cause of death, many states require that the coroner or medical examiner authorize cremation. Some states even have specific minimum time limits that must elapse before cremation may take place. This means that bodies must be handled properly until the time of cremation can elapse. If a body isn’t embalmed immediately, then refrigeration will be required as it is the only alternative available that will retard tissue decomposition. This protects family, friends, the crematory operator, as well as the general public from potential health hazards. However, embalming is by no means required for cremation. Reasons to embalm before cremation is if the family wishes to hold a public visiting of the deceased or if transportation of the deceased is necessary by air or rail.
What happens when a body is cremated?
A few things must always be done before a body may be cremated. Any special mementos or jewelry worn on the body for the memorial service that the family wants to keep should be removed by a Funeral Director before the casket or container is transferred to the crematorium. Pacemakers will always be removed; they may explode when subjected to the high temperature, which would be hazardous to both staff and the equipment. Prosthetics and Implants such as Pacemakers, ICD’s (Internal Cardiac Defibrillator), spinal cord stimulators and any other internal pumps used for administering drugs which can be re-used, are also removed. These second-hand implants are quite popular because of their costly price when purchased new.
A crematorium uses intense heat to reduce the body to ashes and bone fragments. The process itself will yield 3-9 lbs of cremated remains, or 10-200 cubic inches depending on the size of the body. The optimum temperature range for cremation is 1400° – 1800° F. Most crematories require the body to be cremated in a rigid, combustible, leak-proof, covered container for sanitary reasons; many funeral homes provide these alternative containers or provide a way for you to purchase one. After roughly 2-4 hours all organic matter is consumed by heat or evaporation. When finished, the ashes are carefully removed and any metal is removed with a magnet. The metal is then disposed of in a safe and proper manner. Depending on the fuel used and temperature, the color of the ashes will be a light grey or white. These remaining bone fragments make up the cremated remains we receive. The bone fragments, which are the texture of aquarium gravel, are then processed info fine particles before being placed in a temporary—often plastic—receptacle in which the family may take the ashes home. Throughout this entire process a carefully controlled labeling system ensures correct identification.
Nowadays, cremators burn natural gas, propane, or diesel instead of coal that was used in the 1960’s, which allows for a more efficient and hotter burn with less odor and smoke. Our modern-day incinerators are usually automated or computerized, allowing temperatures to be programmed. To further help reducing emissions, smoke, and odor, crematoriums possess a second column of flames that fire up in a secondary chamber to burn any extra particles or dust that are leftover in the air.
State law generally provides that only one body can be cremated at a time; however, in some states, the remains of the family members may be cremated together with consent from the next of kin.
Can I watch the cremation?
Arrangements can usually be made through the funeral home or the crematorium for relatives or representatives of the deceased to witness the cremation.
Do all funeral homes have a crematory?
No—only a small handful of cremation service providers have their own cremation units.
What exactly are the Rules Surrounding Scattering Ashes?
When it comes to scattering cremated remains, regulations differ from state-to-state and city-to-county.
Private property:You are allowed to scatter on private property with permission from the landowner.
City Parks & Properties: Each city has different rules. Many have laws against the spreading of remains, but you never know, so it’s good to ask just in case. You can contact your local city office for ordinance bylaws.
State Parks & Properties: Same as City; you’ll need to call each place individually for their own specific regulations.
Federal Parks & Properties: Like City and State land, each federally owned location has different rules surrounding scattering cremated remains, so make sure to call ahead.
Scattering at Sea:
When scatting at sea, human remains must be buried in accordance with requirements deemed as appropriate and desirable by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, or civil authority charged with the responsibility to make such arrangements in the interested body of water. Some local health departments may require burial or cremation permits, so make sure you call and ask ahead of time. Cremated remains must be scatted at least 3 nautical miles away from land, which for those of us who do not speak sea-slang, is 3.45234 miles. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) also must be notified of all burials or scatterings within 30 days, including a written notice obtaining the below information:
NAME OF DECEASED
DATE OF BURIAL/SCATTER
TYPES OF REMAINS Cremated Non-Cremated
DATE OF CREMATION (if applicable)
LOCATION OF BURIAL/SCATTER
Distance from shore (min. of 3 nm)
Depth of water
VESSEL POINT OF CONTACT
(name and phone number)
PORT OF DEPARTURE
FOR NON-CREMATED REMAINS: Did the remains appear to rapidly sink to the ocean floor Yes No
NAME/PHONE # OF DIRECTOR/PERSON(S) RESPONSIBLE FOR BURIAL ARRANGEMENTS
**MUST ATTACH PHOTOCOPIES OF BURIAL, CREMATION OR OTHER PERMITS REQUIRED BY APPROPRIATE CIVIL AUTHORITIES.
Remember too that there isn’t a police force specifically set aside to prosecute those who illegally scatter remains of their loved one in their favorite national park or favorite lake. What is most important is to be respectful and mindful of others when scattering ashes. We share public land, so being polite is important to ensure you’re not making others uncomfortable, especially given the sensitive nature of the matter.
How are Ashes Packaged from the Crematoriums and Funeral Homes?
Each crematorium and funeral home has their own unique way of packaging your loved ones cremation ashes, but more often than not, you will receive the ashes in a clear, durable plastic bag that is sealed with a twist tie and placed in a temporary receptacle, often a cardboard or plastic box.
Can I Mail Ashes?
If a family requests, cremated remains may be mailed via the United States Postal Service, Priority Mail: “Effective December 26, 2013, the Postal Service revised its Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service, Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) 601.12 to require mailers to use only Priority Mail Express service when shipping cremated remains. The Postal Service will no longer authorize cremated remains to be sent using Registered Mail service.” The USPS requires ashes to be sent in a sift-proof box with signed confirmation upon receipt. Unfortunately, they are the only shippers who handle cremated remains—UPS and FedEx don't ship ashes.
Can I Fly with Cremated Remains?
The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) rules for transporting urns through airfare changed in 2004, making it a requirement for carry-on cremation urns to pass safely through the x-ray machine before being allowed on board. Many urns generate opaque images when x-rayed, and therefore cannot be allowed onto the flight. If you wish to take ashes on an airline, it’s best to leave the remains in the temporary box provided by the funeral home with the official documents still attached, and having them in a non-metal container is essential.
Here is a letter received by the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA) from Bob Kapp of the Department of Homeland Security discussing this issue:
April 15, 2004
The Transportation Security Administration has implemented a new procedure affecting those passengers attempting to transport a crematory container on an airplane as carry-on baggage. You are still allowed to carry-on a crematory container, but it MUST pass through the x-ray machine. If the container is made of a material that generates an opaque image and prevents the security screener from clearly being able to see what is inside, then the container will not be allowed through the security checkpoint. In respect to the deceased, under NO circumstances will a screener open the container at any time, even if the passenger request that this be done. If the x-rayed image is opaque then the next option is to transport the remains in the belly of the plane as checked baggage. The crematory container will undergo testing for explosive devices and, if cleared, will be permitted as checked baggage.
Most travelers carrying an urn are understandably hesitant to check the remains of their love ones in checked baggage. For these reasons the TSA strongly recommends that you suggest to your patrons planning on traveling with an urn that they purchase a temporary crematory container made of a material that CAN be successfully x-rayed, such as wood, plastic, or NON-lead lined ceramic. Even if they want to purchase a permanent metal or lead lined urn, they MUST have a temporary container that can be x-rayed for air travel.
As part of our outreach and education we have contacted the main funeral home associations on this matter and they have promised to make their members aware of our policy changes. Your portion of this outreach and education is important and will curb many of the urn related customer service problems. Thank you for your support and participating in our goal of "Providing World Class Security and World Class Customer Service."Please let me know if I can provide any additional information.
Department of Homeland Security
Transportation Security Administration
Denver International Airport