Let’s walk through the process of cremation and address the pros and cons.
There are three main reasons people choose cremation over a traditional burial:
• Generally less expensive
• Less impact on cemeteries, many of which are at full capacity
• Cremated remains are easier to transport and relocate in our mobile society
Cremation is one of several processes for preparing human remains for final disposition. It replicates the same process that a buried body eventually undergoes. Remember the phrase “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”? Cremation merely achieves the end result within hours rather than months or years. Be sure to ask about local and state regulations regarding minimum time limits before cremation can actually take place.
With direct cremation, the body is taken from the place of death or the morgue to the crematory. No funeral or visitation ceremonies are held. The body is not embalmed, nor does it receive hair care or makeup. Since the body will be cremated without first having a viewing ceremony, these services are unnecessary.
If the choice is cremation arranged through a funeral director, the body is taken to a funeral home. Reputable funeral homes handle the deceased with respect at all times. A number is assigned to confirm identification from time of arrival to when the cremated remains are returned to the family. A funeral director will discuss options that may include anything from a full funeral service with a casket and viewing to a simple service after cremation. If the cremated remains are to be buried, a graveside ceremony may be arranged. Families have the opportunity to choose how their loved one will be clothed for the final journey. A death certificate and cremation permit will be secured and the family must sign the cremation authorization form before the funeral director will proceed.
A note of caution: Due to the risk of explosion, pacemakers and other medical devices containing batteries must be removed prior to cremation. It is important to inform the funeral professional of any devices that have been implanted.
In many cases, funeral homes own their own crematorium. If that is not the case, they usually have a contract with a local facility. The purchase of a casket for the actual cremation process is not necessary. Instead, the body can be placed in a special cardboard box known as an alternative container or cremation tray. The body and container are placed in the cremation chamber and incinerated over a period of hours. The cremated remains are further processed until they have a coarse sand-like texture and appearance.
When the process is complete, cremated remains are returned in either a temporary container or an urn selected by the family. When choosing an urn, keep in mind whether the plan is to bury the “ashes” or scatter them in a location that had meaning to the deceased. An official certificate of cremation must accompany the remains when transported or final disposition is decided upon. Do extensive research to determine if a permit is required or if there are any restrictions on the scattering of ashes in the chosen location.
Aside from the reasons listed above, several additional factors may have a bearing on the final decision. Some find the long, slow process of natural decomposition unappealing or distasteful and prefer to shorten it through cremation. For some, it may not be just a matter of limited financial resources but rather the thought that a traditional funeral with all the steps and costs involved is unnecessary. Most certainly, cremation is a simpler solution. Another factor to consider is the ecological footprint and the belief that cremation is more environmentally friendly.
Religious and ethnic beliefs often affect end of life choices so it may be wise to consult a minister, rabbi or imam to finalize the decision. To avoid debates and misunderstandings be sure to communicate honestly and listen patiently to all parties involved – family, friends, counselors and funeral professionals alike.
With this information in mind you are in a much better position to make end of life decisions. Be confident that the choices you make now will be the best possible ones for your loved one.