Everything You Need to Know About Cremation

Cremation is one of those life events that most people don’t need to learn about until they are thrown in at the deep end. Cremating a loved one can be a confusing and stressful event, made worse by the fact that you have to navigate this while also managing your grief. Thankfully, funeral directors will often take the lead in planning a cremation.

In this guide, we’re going to explain some of the key concepts you need to know about cremation. We’ll clear up any misconceptions and explain the things that you might be curious about but afraid to ask. Read on to discover our guide to everything you need to know about cremation.

The majority of funerals are cremations

Cremation is one of the most popular types of burial in the UK. In 2021, around 75% of all funerals were cremations. They are likely popular as they are easier to organise and permitted by most religious groups. It’s also a flexible choice, allowing individuals to plan a religious or non-religious ceremony depending on their preferences.

Cremation is one of the cheapest funeral options

Cremation is also cheaper than alternatives such as a burial. Burial is more expensive because you will have to pay for a burial plot, a headstone and the ceremony. This can quickly add up. With a cremation, you can save on costs like the coffin as these will be cremated and are usually of lower quality. Many burial plots are owned and reserved by families, so the chances of being able to secure one are quite low. There is limited space for burials, so cremation is seen as an easier option.

Cremation usually takes place around two weeks after death

Cremation usually takes place around two weeks after death

It will typically take around two weeks to arrange a cremation funeral. This will all depend on if your chosen crematorium is available and if your funeral director is available. Before a cremation can take place, you will need to prepare some paperwork. You will need an application for cremation, medical certificates and authorisation of cremation. Your funeral director will typically handle these arrangements to help take the pressure off the close family during this difficult time.

The funeral service can still be held in a chapel

Crematoriums will have a chapel inside where you can host your funeral service. This can be a traditional funeral or non-traditional funeral. There is also the option for a direct cremation, which happens when there is no service before the body is cremated. This is common if the deceased has no living relatives or if they specified they would like a direct cremation in their will.

You can have a traditional or non-traditional service

A cremation service is often a lot less formal than a funeral service at a church. This can give you some freedom to plan a more personalised memorial service for your loved one. This could include songs, poems, readings and other touching ways to mark the passing of a dear loved one. A non religious funeral is often referred to as a humanist ceremony. You could still have a humanist celebrant to lead the proceedings.

Your funeral director will store the body before the cremation

A funeral director is equipped to store the body in a temperature controlled room, usually at a hospital or the mortuary. They will arrange for the body to be transported to the crematorium. You will be able to choose what clothing and jewellery the deceased is wearing. Jewellery will be removed and returned to the family before the body is cremated as the process will usually destroy it. Funeral directors will usually recommend that the body is cremated in natural fibres such as cotton or wool.

Individuals are cremated in a coffin

Individuals are cremated in a coffin

Like with a burial funeral, individuals are also placed in a coffin before cremation. The coffin is cremated along with the body and becomes part of the ashes. In general, families will choose a cheaper coffin for a cremation than they would for a burial. This is a cost-saving measure that many families don’t mind as they know the coffin will be cremated. The body does not need to be embalmed or prepared before a cremation which can also keep costs down and accelerate the funeral process.

You can place some items in the coffin before cremation

It’s common for family members to place letters, photographs or small items like soft toys or blankets in the coffin before cremation. However, some items are not allowed as they can damage the cremator. This includes glass, metal, PVC and plastics. Large items can also take a lot longer to burn, so the funeral director may remove these before the body is cremated. Your funeral director should give you an overview of what can be burned with the body and what should be left out.

Some items are removed from the body before cremation

Some items may explode when the body is cremated, so they are removed before the process begins. This includes things like pacemakers, jewellery and larger joint replacements. After the process is complete, any remaining metal items can be removed for the ashes using a magnet. The ashes are then gathered and delivered to the family.

Bodies are cremated at around 1100°C

The temperature required for cremation is variable and will depend on the individual. The body and coffin are first placed inside the cremation chamber, which is out of view of the family. Next, the chamber is sealed and filled with air to aid with the combustion. Finally, the cremation process begins. It can reach up to 1100°C in the chamber to vaporise the organic matter and incinerate the bones. The body isn’t actually exposed to flames, but rather it is exposed to intense heat. A viewing window in the cremator allows the crematorium staff to see when the process is complete. Once finished, the cremated remains typically weigh between 2kg to 4kg.

Bodies are cremated one at a time and never mixed

Bodies are cremated one at a time and never mixed

There is a common fear and misconception that many bodies are burned at once, which could lead you to have another person’s ashes. This is an unfounded fear, and the process of cremating loved ones is far better regulated.

When a body arrives at a crematorium, it will have an ID card with it that is carried through the cremation process to ensure the remains are gathered and given to the correct family. And there is only ever one body cremated at once, so there is no risk of taking home another person’s remains. It’s actually against Federation of Burial & Cremation Authorities (FBCA) guidelines to cremate more than one body at once.

It takes around two hours to complete the process

Cremating a body is quite time consuming and it can take around 1.5 to 3 hours from start to finish. Once the process is complete, the ashes then need to be cooled and any metal components are removed before the ashes are gathered up, ground, and placed in an urn for the family. You don’t have to wait for the ashes on the same day. Many families will go on to a wake or reception and then the ashes will be delivered to their home after the funeral.

After the cremation, you will receive the ashes

You won’t take the ashes home on the same day as the funeral, but they will be cared for by the cremation staff in the meantime. Cremation remains are always treated with the utmost respect until they can be returned to the family. You may have chosen a decorative urn for the ashes, or they may be delivered in a standard box.

Some crematoriums allow you to hire a plot

Space at crematoriums is at a premium, so you won’t always be granted a permanent spot for your ashes. However, many will allow you to rent a space for a specific period, usually a year. You could rent a spot in the urn garden, or select a special tree in the grounds as a memorial tree. This will give you somewhere to visit your loved one in the months that follow their death and can bring a huge source of support and comfort to those who are grieving.

Ashes can be kept, buried or scattered

Once you receive your ashes, you will have a few options for what to do with them. Some people choose to bury them in a special place such as their own garden or in a smaller plot in a church yard. You could also scatter the ashes in a special place such as a lake, by the sea, or up a mountain.

Some people like to keep the ashes close by for a little longer. It’s not uncommon for families to keep ashes in their homes in a decorative urn. And finally, you could also do something creative with them, such as turning them into cremation ashes jewellery or artwork. This will allow you to keep a small portion of the ashes and scatter the rest.