How is cremation accomplished? How long does it take?
The following information has been derived from resources available to the public by the Cremation Association of North America. It is intended to be general in nature. Please be aware that legal requirements may vary from state to state.
Before a cremation takes place, all ceremonies and events that include viewing the body should be completed. All authorization forms and permits must also be signed by the appropriate next-of-kin.
It is important that the family member make it known to the funeral director or crematory operator if there are any medical devices in the body of the decedent such as a pacemaker, prosthesis, or any other mechanical or radioactive devices. These types of devices must be removed prior to cremation. If they are not removed, the person authorizing the cremation will be responsible for any damages caused to the crematory by such medical devices.
The family should also remove all personal possessions or valuables from the decedent, such as jewelry or dental gold, if so desired. These items should be removed prior to the transfer of the body from the funeral home to the crematory. If this step is not taken, any jewelry or other items will be disposed of by the crematory in a non-recoverable manner.
Most crematories require that the body be encased in a combustible, rigid container. Any wood casket will satisfy this requirement. Some wood caskets are designed specifically for cremation. You can also choose to use alternative containers of cardboard, particle board, etc. Ask your funeral director what options are available.
Some crematories offer the option of witnessing the cremation, or watching the body being placed into the crematory. Not every crematory offers this option. They must be notified in advance if the family desires to witness the cremation, and family members may be asked to sign a release to protect the crematory from any liability.
An urn will be necessary to hold the cremated remains. The crematory should be provided with an urn. If one is not provided, or if it is not large enough, the crematory will place the remains in a container made of plastic, light metal, cardboard, unfinished wood, or another suitable material to hold the remains until an urn is acquired or the cremated remains are scattered.
The Cremation Process
The cremation process begins with placing the casket or cremation container in the cremation chamber. It is subjected to intense heat and flame, reaching temperatures between 1400 and 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat will consume everything except bone fragments (calcium compounds) and any non-combustible materials such as jewelry, dental gold, prostheses, latches or hinges or other casket hardware, etc. that were not removed prior to the cremation. During the cremation process, it is sometimes necessary to open the cremation chamber and reposition the deceased in order to facilitate a complete and thorough cremation. Cremation is usually accomplished in 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on the size and weight of the deceased. After a cooling period, the remains are swept from the cremation chamber. Every effort is made to remove all human remains; however, a small residue may remain. This will result in some commingling with other cremated remains.
Once the cremated remains are removed from the cremation chamber, all non-combustible materials are separated from the bone fragments using a magnet. These materials will be disposed of in a non-recoverable manner. The bone fragments will then be further processed to reduce the size of the various fragments to uniform particles. Depending on the size of the decedent, cremated remains will weigh between 4 and 8 pounds and are usually white in color with a sand-like texture. The cremated remains will be placed in an urn or temporary container, and returned to the family or the funeral home or cemetery that was designated on the cremation authorization form so that arrangements for final disposition can be completed.