There is no right or wrong way to deal with the death of a loved one. While some people display outward signs of grief, others may internalize their feelings. Some people choose to donate their loved one’s clothes and shoes immediately after death, while other people may avoid this task until it’s necessary.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How Does Cremation Work?
- Are All of the Ashes Returned After Cremation?
- What Volume of Ashes Are Usually Returned?
- What Do People Do With Cremains?
Some may not want to know how cremation works. These individuals would never choose to be present when it happens, and they don’t want to think or know about the process. You, on the other hand, are curious about cremation, and most specifically about the cremains (cremated remains.)
If you recently lost a loved one and have detailed questions about cremains, you are in the right place. Please keep in mind that other people mourning your loss may not be interested to learn these details.
How Does Cremation Work?
Typically, cremated bodies are not embalmed. Bodies are only preserved if they are going to be displayed at an open-casket visitation. Otherwise, a person’s body is removed from the place of death, and a direct cremation occurs.
Before the body is placed in the crematorium, all jewelry, medical devices, and metal dental fillings are removed. Typically, the body remains clothed in whatever outfit was worn at the time of death. Then the deceased is placed in a rigid, combustible container.
The container is placed in intense heat (1400–2100 degrees Fahrenheit). The extreme heat causes the organs and soft tissues to be vaporized, and the gases are discharged through the system. After an hour and a half or two hours, the process is complete.
The cremains are what’s left after the process. Some people may refer to cremains as ashes, but this is not technically correct. They include the remains of the individual, including bone fragments that may have been pulverized after the cremation. The cremains also include particles from the clothing and container.
When the process is complete, the family may choose to pick up the cremains, which are first placed in a heavy, plastic bag. This bag then goes into either a cardboard box or a previously-purchased urn.
The cremains look like gray, coarse sand. They typically weigh between three and nine pounds.
Are All of the Ashes Returned After Cremation?
If you work with a reputable establishment, all the cremains are returned to the family after the process is complete. There may be isolated particles that become lost within the crematorium chamber, but this is usually a negligible amount.
It may also put you at ease to know that it is not only illegal, but more than one adult can’t be cremated in the same chamber simultaneously. Cremation chambers are made only to hold one body at a time.
If you think the amount of remains is too little compared to your loved one’s body, remember the soft tissue evaporates during the cremation process. Also, if the deceased was elderly, their bones may not have been as dense as they once were, which means that there won’t be as many cremains.
If the amount of cremains supersedes the urn’s capacity, the rest is kept in another container. This additional container is usually not decorative and may look like a cardboard box.
Having all the cremains may be particularly important if your family plans to divide the ashes among various members of the family. You may want to make sure there are enough for each family member to receive a significant amount.
Crematorium chambers are cautious not to let your loved one’s remains mix with any others.
What Volume of Ashes Are Usually Returned?
Most sources say that a 200-pound body results in 200 cubic inches of cremains. Two hundred cubic inches is the equivalent of 13.9 cups of cremains.
When purchasing an urn online, you may notice that each receptacle’s description includes a statement similar to “designed for a loved one with a weight of 200 pounds or less before cremation.” These descriptions will aid you in choosing the right urn, so you can avoid receiving an awkward “overflow” container.
Tip: If you're looking for something very unique to hold a loved one's ashes (think a game, their motorcycle, or instrument of choice), you can custom order an urn from a store like Foreverence. You submit a design idea or sketch, then the company designs and 3D prints your urn, so you get a 100% unique container.
What Do People Do With Cremains?
There are no laws that would prohibit you from keeping the cremains of your loved one in your bedroom closet. In fact, it is up to the discretion of the family as to what to do with the cremains of their loved ones.
You may choose to have the cremains buried at a cemetery near a traditional headstone. The benefit of this final resting place is that it will be there for eternity, and it provides a place for people to go to reflect on the life of their loved one.
Some people choose to place the cremains of their loved ones in columbarium niches. These are small nooks that are large enough to hold an urn.
Sometimes a columbarium niche is inside a mausoleum. Other times they’re on outside walls that are specially built for keeping urns.
Make sure you understand your local laws if you intend to scatter your loved one’s remains on public land or private property that you do not own. You don’t want your emotional ceremony disrupted by police or park officials asking what you’re doing.
The sky's the limit!
When considering what to do with cremation ashes, the sky is the limit, and you should take that statement literally: you can have your loved one's cremains placed inside a firework.
You can also have artisans create beautiful glass pieces of artwork or jewelry out of the cremains. Some companies, like Eterneva, create lab-grown diamonds and allow you to pick from several cuts and colors for your gemstone.
Alternatively, you can turn ashes into natural stones with Parting Stone. Some people even get tattooed using a mixture that includes their loved one’s cremains!
Encourage Your Family to Make End-of-Life Plans
Even though cremation is growing in popularity, some people may still be squeamish about the process. They may not be able to articulate why, but they know they don’t want to be cremated when they pass.
But those people are not reading this article, so it is up to you to encourage them to make end-of-life plans. Why not sit down at the computer and write your plans together? Some people are more comfortable than others when thinking about death. If you are the strong one in the relationship, hold your friend or family member’s hand as they walk through the process with you.
It is important that you understand whether your family members have come to grips with death and the death industry. If you feel comfortable discussing these processes, you may consider taking charge of the funeral plans for your loved one.
If you want to learn more about cremation, read our guides on inexpensive ways to store ashes and tattoos with cremation ashes.