When considering cremation for yourself or a loved one, you may have some questions, especially if you don’t have personal experience with the concept. You may feel uncomfortable at times thinking about death or talking about death with your family.
While these feelings are normal, it can take a lot of pressure off yourself and your family members to document your end-of-life wishes early. Many feel that the more they figure out now, the more attention they can devote to enjoying their life as it is.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Is Cremation Common?
- How Does Cremation Work?
- Is Cremation Expensive?
- When Can I Have My Loved One's Remains Cremated?
- Where Can I Scatter Cremated Remains?
- More Questions
In this post, we’ll discuss both common and uncommon questions you may have, or didn’t know you had, about cremation. Hopefully, with this insight, you can determine whether cremation is right for you or a family member.
1. Is cremation common?
You may have many ideas about death that have perhaps stuck with you your entire life. One of those (if your belief system permits it) is that when you die, you’re buried.
Across the world, cremation has held much significance in many cultures for thousands of years, especially considering Hindu funeral rituals. On the contrary, cremation is not permissible in Jewish funeral traditions and etiquette.
As far as the U.S. is concerned, a surge in the popularity of cremation has occurred for several years. In 2015, cremation overshadowed burials for the first time, and that trend has largely continued. By the year 2022, it is expected to rise to 57.8% of final dispositions.
2. How does cremation work?
If you’re wondering how cremation works, you’re not alone. Though you may understand the basics, it might still be a strange concept when all is said and done. First of all, there are two main methods of cremation:
- Flame cremation: This is the more common and widely available form of cremation in which high temperatures (1400 to 2100 °F) vaporize and oxidize soft tissue.
- Flameless cremation: Also called water-based, flameless, or aqua cremation, the body is dissolved using alkaline chemicals, heat, agitation, and pressure, which mimics natural decomposition.
We’ll address a few other aspects of how cremation works in the following questions and answers, including the types of cremation and what exactly “remains” in cremains.
3. Is cremation expensive?
One of the main aspects of cremation that makes it preferable for many people is its affordability. The cost of cremation is generally about one-third of that of traditional burials. If you think about it, you won’t have to pay for maintaining a plot (most likely), a casket and vault, embalming, or the burial itself.
4. When can I have my loved one’s remains cremated?
How soon you can have your loved one’s remains cremated varies slightly, but not by much. It is common to cremate remains, planning permitted, 24-48 hours after he or she has passed. This process occurs quickly for both sanitary reasons and to forego storing the body unnecessarily.
Bodies can be stored for longer at lower temperatures or even embalmed to delay the decomposition process. Bodies must also be kept for longer if an autopsy needs to be performed, there are legal stipulations, or the person passed under unusual circumstances.
5. Where can I scatter cremated remains?
The answer to this question is a complex one. There are many places that prohibit the scattering of remains. However, if the site was particularly meaningful to your loved one, or he or she had a significant relationship with it, this doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for an exception.
A common locale that is prohibited is Disney Parks, where many people still request to scatter cremains, nonetheless. If someone attempts to scatter ashes there, and they’re caught (which they often are), they may be banned from all Disney Parks for the rest of their life. Find out more interesting cremation facts in this post.
6. What are the different types of cremation?
We already discussed the different methods of cremation—flame-based and water-based. There are also two types of cremation: direct cremation and traditional cremation. Depending on your family’s wishes or your late loved one’s wishes, one may be better for you than the other.
7. What is direct cremation?
Direct cremation is when the body is cremated almost immediately after death. This means that the body is not embalmed for a viewing or a funeral service. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a service or a visitation for friends and loved ones to pay their respects.
8. What is traditional cremation?
Traditional or standard cremations involve many of the elements you’d expect if someone was going to be buried. That is, their body is often embalmed and prepared for a wake or viewing at a funeral service prior to being cremated several days later or whenever time permits.
Though it’s more expensive to go through the above processes prior to cremation, some may feel as though direct cremation is too rushed. Allotting time for a viewing helps some people heal, as they can see their loved one resting peacefully one last time, especially if the circumstances of his or her death were sudden or tragic.
9. Why are they called cremains and what are they?
Cremated remains are called “cremains” for short. Using the term “remains” would suggest the presence of a body, and that is simply not the case. Furthermore, there is also an incorrect assumption that cremains are simply ashes. This is not true. Cremains are actually made up of crushed bone fragments that could not be incinerated.
10. How long does cremation take?
The cremation process typically takes a few hours. However, this may depend on the technology at the facility you choose, as well as some other circumstances. You may also have to take into account transporting the body to and from wherever it needs to be.
11. How long has cremation been around?
As we mentioned in this post, cremation has been around for thousands of years. In fact, the earliest evidence of cremation dates back to about 20,000 years ago in Australia. The remains, referred to as the “Mungo Lady,” were found near Lake Mungo. Cremation has also existed for thousands of years in Europe and the East, as well.
12. How is the body prepared before a cremation?
Depending on whether you’re planning a direct or traditional cremation, body preparation may vary. If a direct cremation is permitted, meaning there are no plans for a viewing or any ongoing investigation, very minimal prep is required. However, any medical devices that are mechanical or contain batteries—such as pacemakers—must be removed prior to cremation.
13. Is cremation dangerous?
Cremation is arguably polluting in itself. However, when completed without embalming (as with direct cremation), it is less polluting than traditional cremation. The most eco-friendly type of burials are called natural burials, in which bodies are placed in biodegradable containers or caskets and natural decomposition agents are added.
There is also the danger of cremating someone with unknown pacemakers and some other kinds of prosthetic devices. These elements can explode if not properly removed before the cremation process (this is rare).
Of course, there is the general risk associated with the very high temperatures involved in cremation. However, modern cremation techniques and technology make it very safe for crematory operators and family members who are present.
14. Do you have to scatter cremated remains?
You may choose to keep your loved one’s remains in an urn in your home, in a vault, or even buried somewhere special. You do not have to scatter your loved one’s cremains to “complete” the process. There are also some other unique ways to repurpose your loved one’s cremains in a more meaningful way.
15. What are some unique things to do with cremated remains?
Cremated remains can be turned into jewelry (even diamonds), glass art, part of a coral reef (yes, you read that correctly), a firework, and much more. Be sure to check out these 12 Things You Can Do With Cremated Remains for more advice and inspiration.
16. Can you pay in advance for a cremation?
There is such a thing as a prepaid funeral, so naturally, prepaid cremations also exist. Prepaid cremations, when done properly, can take a large amount of stress off of your family members. Paying early may also be cause for further discounts. It’s also important, however, to keep all of these documents and arrangements safe until the time comes.
17. How do I talk to my family about cremation?
With any discussion about death or the end of life, it can certainly get difficult or uncomfortable. However, the more open and honest you are in these discussions, the more likely you’ll be able to calm any fears or handle any disagreements. Documenting your end-of-life wishes and safely sharing them with your loved ones with a free profile on Cake is a great start, too.
18. How do I choose a cremation provider?
Like any process for the end-of-life and funerals, it may take some research. You can typically find reviews on local providers or services that will make sense for you. You can also reach out to your friends, coworkers, and members of your church or other groups. It’s also likely that the hospital or your funeral home can connect you to a cremation provider.
19. Are there any cons to cremation?
The cons of cremation, much like any form of final disposition, are largely subjective. Some may feel as though not having a physical plot of land to visit will make them feel detached from their loved one, or that cremation in some way disrespects their body.
That being said, you can always have your loved one’s cremains buried or even keep them in your home rather than scattering them. Another con to cremation is that it may cause tension among your family, perhaps more so than a traditional or natural burial. Cremations are also arguably polluting, as mentioned.
20. What are some pros of cremation?
Beyond being more affordable, cremation has some other pros. Direct cremation, for one thing, is the even more affordable type, and it’s more eco-friendly than traditional cremation. This is because the embalming process, though still incredibly common, is harmful to the environment and carcinogenic to morticians.
To explain further, the toxic formaldehyde used to preserve the body can seep into the soil surrounding the casket. And carcinogenic materials can cause cancer with prolonged exposure, putting morticians and similar professionals at risk.
Unlike burial, cremation can also provide a different type of peace for those who have lost a loved one. Many people do not see the body as an important vessel after death, and it doesn’t matter what is done with it. Keeping your loved one’s cremains in your home or scattering them may be better for your healing process after all.
21. Is pet cremation the same thing?
Pet cremation involves basically the same process as cremation for humans. Pet cremation has also risen in popularity (and stayed there) due to its lower cost. Some people still choose to bury their pets, however, it’s always nice to consider your options for these important family members.
Understanding Cremation Can Help You Decide
Though we covered 21 key questions you may have about cremation, you likely have tons more. Be sure to check out the rest of Cake’s resources on end-of-life planning and cremation.
The more you understand about cremation and your other options for final disposition, the better you’ll be able to make decisions for yourself or a family member.