Cremation is by far the most popular funeral rite in the UK, with over 80% of funerals in 2018 featuring cremation rather than a traditional burial.
But despite the incredible shift from relative obscurity as late as the 1960s, to becoming the preferred funeral rite across the country, what goes on during a cremation still remains something of a mystery to many people.
This article details the fundamentals of cremation, from what to expect at the funeral service, to the steps of the cremation itself.
What Is Cremation?
Cremation is when the remains of a deceased person are burned at extremely high temperatures, transforming them to ‘ash’.
Cremations take place as a special facility called a crematorium. A crematorium may have a religious building, such as a chapel, on the premises. However, most ceremonies take place in the crematorium’s main hall, which is a multi-faith space.
The Cremation Service
Most cremation services follow a similar routine and tend to be on a slightly tighter schedule than traditional funeral services. For this reason, it is important to arrive on time for funerals taking place at crematoriums.
The coffin is taken to the crematorium before the start of the service and places on a raised platform in the main room. If the service is taking place in a chapel, the coffin may be placed at the front of the room.
Guests arrive and wait in a room just outside the main hall until it’s time for the service to begin.
The service itself may include religious readings or other readings, music or poetry suggested by the loved ones of the deceased. Most crematorium funeral services are only 30 minutes long unless the family has requested an extended service.
At the end of the service, a curtain is drawn across the coffin, at which point it may lower into the ground or move along a belt into the cremation chamber.
This marks the end of the ceremony, at which point guests leave and, if there is one, go to the wake.
Before the Cremation
The coffin moves into the cremation chamber at the end of the service, so any preparations to the body are made before the start of the service. To prepare the body for cremation, it must be free of metals and synthetic materials. All metal jewellery is removed along with any prosthetic limbs. If the deceased had a pacemaker or silicone implants, these must also be removed prior to cremation.
After the body has been prepared, an ID tag made of a metal which is able to resist high temperatures si placed in the coffin, to ensure that the remains can be correctly identified.
When the coffin passes into the cremation chamber, it is exposed to temperatures of over 932ºC. The fire fully incinerates the body’s soft tissue over the course of 1-2 hours, so that only the bones of the body remain.
After this stage, a powerful magnet is passed over the remains to ensure that no metal (such as personal jewellery) is mistakenly present.
Finally, the remains pass through a grinding machine called a cremulum, which reduces the bones to a fine powdery ash.
This ash is placed inside a vessel called an urn, which may be returned the loves ones of the deceased.
After the Cremation
A few days after the cremation, the ashes are available for collection. Ashes may only be collected by the family members identified on the crematorium form, or whose name was given to the crematorium by the funeral director.
What happens to the ashes next depends on the wishes of the family. Some people choose to keep their loved ones close and place the urn in their home, although it is also common to scatter the ashes of the deceased in a place that was precious to them.
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