When your loved one passes on, it is very important to be prepared to the process should you choose to proceed with cremation. There are a number of steps and typically cremation cannot happen right away.
The actual cremation process takes 2 to 4 hours depending upon a few factors including the size and weight of the body, percentage of body fat and lean muscle, and performance of the furnace. After the cremation is complete, it takes another 1 to 2 hours to process the remains. The entire process after death to cremation typically takes 10 to 15 business days.
Cremation has been a ritual for the passing of loved ones for many years, and even centuries. Even back more than 42,000 years, there are reports of the deceased being burned after death. Throughout various stages of history, cremation has gone in and out of favor. Today, it has become quite a popular option. Source
Cremation, as we know it today, is quite different to what it was thousands of year ago. It is a highly controlled process. There are various checks and balances throughout the process to ensure the proper care and consideration for the deceased is exercised.
What Happens During the Cremation Process?
There are typically six steps that occur during the cremation process.
- Obtain a signed death certificate.
- Obtain family approvals.
- Obtain cremation permits.
- Scheduling with the crematory.
- Cremation of the body.
- Funeral or memorial service for friends and family.
1. Death Certificate
A signed death certificate is required before the cremation process can begin. The cremation permit cannot proceed without this death certificate.
Under normal circumstances, the doctor could have up to a few days to complete the death certificate depending upon the state or region. In some states the doctor has up to 10 days to sign the death certificate.
If you want to ensure the shortest period of time during this step, be sure to connect with your doctor ahead of time. Additionally, be sure to collect your loved one’s vital information, such as names of deceased parents, maiden name, social security, birthday, and birthplace. You may also need additional information about the previous occupation and veteran status as well.
Tip: Being prepared to gather the information for the death certificate may be very difficult to do ahead of time but at least knowing where to obtain the information can limit some of the stress for you during this extremely difficult time.
2. Family Approvals
In order for the cremation to occur, a very important step in the process is to obtain family approvals. If the deceased has a surviving spouse, this level of approval will typically be sufficient.
If there is no surviving spouse, the deceased next of kin will be required to provide the approval for the cremation.
Additionally, if the deceased has children still alive, they will each need to approve and provide authorization for the cremation.
Tip: Many funeral homes offer a preplanned cremation process. If you are able to obtain a cremation authorization ahead of time, before the death, there is a self-authorization form. This can save a lot of headache and anxiety due to all the needed approvals from the family.
3. Obtain Cremation Permits
Each state has the option for their own rules and requirements related to burial and cremation. It will be important to tackle this information for yourself in the event that you do not have a funeral director who is able to complete and submit this information.
For example, in the state of Arkansas, requires a number of items to be submitted for the permit. A few of the items include:
- Full Name of Deceased
- Date of Death
- Place of Death (City, Country, and State)
There are additional details required to complete the form but you will typically need to work with your funeral director to complete the additional details. See here for the full Arkansas Department of Health form to be filled out and completed in order to receive the cremation permit.
In order to save you some time, below is a list of links for more information about the funeral and cremation laws in each state. You may need to dig into the site for your specific state but this can at least get you started.
District of Columbia (Washington DC)
Another great resource for gathering specific information if the above is not helpful is the National Funeral Directors Association.
It is always important to be prepared for this process to take longer as it requires approval from the state.
4. Scheduling with the Crematory
Once the death certificate is signed, the family approvals obtained, and the cremation permit is completed, the scheduling of the cremation can be organized with the funeral director.
Most crematories can handle four or more five cremations per day so depending upon how many cremations are being completed at once, the actual cremation can take anywhere from two to four days to be scheduled to begin.
Be sure to communicate with your funeral director ahead of time as much as possible to ensure your dates fall into your planned schedule. The funeral director is likely juggling a number of cremations at one time.
5. Cremation of the Body
Not all funeral homes actually have their own crematory. As more and more people opt for cremation versus direct burial, more funeral homes will incorporate the crematory into their facility. But there are many funeral homes that just cannot add in all the equipment and processing space required.
With that in mind, it will be helpful to know that the cremation could occur away from the funeral home at an offsite crematory. This is a typical practice and the vast majority of crematories are not held at the funeral home.
The body will be prepared prior to arriving at the cremation facility. Oftentimes, the body is wrapped in a bag for ease of transportation.
At the crematory, the staff will put the body into a combustible cardboard box or casket.
The cremation chamber is the specific place inside the crematory that will contain the heat and massive flames. The staff will preheat the chamber well before the body is placed inside.
The body is placed inside the chamber and the chamber door will be closed quickly so as to avoid heat loss.
The cremation of the dead body will happen in extreme heat temperatures greater than 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. This process will reduce the body down to ash and dried bone pieces.
The flames inside the chamber will be heated from natural gas or propane creating the intense heat necessary to break down the dead body. The first part of the cremation to combust will be the combustible casket or box.
Next, the skin and hair will decompose very quickly as the body dries and vaporizes. Then the muscles will char and become brittle. The bones will calcify and collapse. The smoke and gas emitted from the body will pass through the crematory chamber exhaust system.
Typically, there is a limited amount of small during this cremation process due to the processing of the exhaust through the furnace.
Some facilities have a furnace that includes an afterburner which will blast the body to completely destroy any of the remaining bone structure or skeleton remains. If the facility does not have an afterburner, the staff will use a long rod or similar tool to crush the skeletal remains.
After the cremated remains have had an adequate time to cool down closer to room temperature, the staff will check for metal objects that were not incinerated during the chamber furnace process. Some of the metal objects could include parts and pieces from the casket such as screws and nails.
Also, many deceased bodies contain non-biological additions accumulated over the course of a lifetime. Some of these items could be dental work (gold or metal teeth), knee replacements, medical implants, and structural screws from injury and surgeries. These objects will need to be pulled out of the remains and disposed of according to the state or regional laws.
Medical devices or pacemakers will need to be removed before the cremation process begins because they could explode causing harm or injury to the staff or the furnace equipment. Jewelry such as watches, rings, earrings, necklaces, etc. are to be removed as well.
After the remains have cooled down, they will be crushed further in the cremulator. The job of this device is to grind down the bone fragments into a fine powder since the furnace will not actually handle this part of the process on its own.
After the cremulator is complete, the staff will prepare the remains into an urn provided by the family or relative. If there is not urn available, the staff will return the ashes in a standard cremation box or container.
As previously mentioned, the actual cremation process of passing the deceased body through the furnace will take roughly 2 to 4 hours plus another 1 to 2 hours to finish the cremation process.
6. Funeral, Memorial Service, or Direct Cremation
Everyone has their own choice and preference in how they and their loved ones would like to be remembered after death. There are three main cremation service types to consider and be aware of.
It will be very important for you to decide which cremation service type for your loved one well ahead of the cremation process.
Knowledge is power and being prepared for the loss of a loved one is not easy but it will help to ease your pain and stress knowing that you have a plan in place.