Cremation Questions & Answers

Cremation is recognised by Public Health Authorities as the most hygienic method of disposal of the dead and most major towns in this country have a crematorium.

Cremations account for 70% of all funerals in the UK with around  450,000 cremations taking place each year.

Most crematoriums hold occasional open days when the general public are invited on a tour of the crematorium, which usually includes a talk and a look behind the scenes.

If it is your wish to be cremated when you die, clear instructions in writing should be given to the person who will be responsible for your funeral. Such instructions are not binding in law so you should ensure that the person instructed is someone who is likely to carry out your wishes. A pre-paid funeral plan is one of the best ways to ensure your wishes are carried out.

A short video about cremation in the UK

A short video about cremation in the UK

A short video about cremation in the US

A short video about cremation in the US

Are there any religious groups which forbid cremations to their members?

Yes. Cremation has no religious significance and therefore its adoption does not conflict with Christian doctrine. Today all Christian denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church allow cremation, it is the normal method of body disposal for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsees, but it is forbidden by Muslims and Orthodox Jews.

Can I keep the cremation ashes if I want to or must I dispose of them?

You may do what you want with the ashes, keep them with you if you wish.

Can relatives witness the committal of the coffin to the cremator?

Yes. Normally two to four persons are permitted to attend.

Does the Cremation take place immediately or are the coffins stored up until a number are ready to be cremated?

Where possible the cremation will follow immediately after the service.

The Code of Cremation Practice which is adhered to by the members of the Federation of British Cremation Authorities requires that the cremation shall take place on the same day as the cremation service.

How do I know I will get the right cremation ashes?

As explained, each coffin is identified on arrival and the identity card is placed on the outside of the cremator as soon as the coffin is placed into it. The card stays there until the ashes are removed and it is then transferred to the cooling tray. The ashes then go to the preparation room and the card stays with them, finally being placed in the urn which contains the prepared remains. As each cremator will only accept one coffin the ashes must be withdrawn before the cremator is used again, all cremation ashes are kept separate throughout the process.

If the ashes are strewn on the ground, what happens to them?

As the highest biochemical activity exists at the surface of the soil and the cremation ashes are in a small granular form, weather and biochemical action quickly break down the ashes to form part of the earth and within a short time there is no trace of them.

Is cremation dearer than burial?

No. Generally the cost of a grave is higher than the fee charged for cremation, though the Funeral Directors charges are roughly the same for both services. The only additional charge for cremation arises when the death has not been referred to the Coroner, in which case fees have to be paid to two doctors for completing the necessary certificates. The certificates are not required for burial.

Is more than one coffin cremated at one time in a cremator?

No. The only exceptions permitted to this rule are in the case of a mother and baby or twin children when the next of kin requests that the two be cremated together.

Is the coffin cremated with the body?

Yes. The Code requires that nothing must be removed from the coffin after it has been received from the chapel, and it must be placed into the cremator exactly as received.

Must there be a religious ceremony with cremation?

No. This is not obligatory. a civil ceremony can be conducted or there may be none at all. The British Humanist Association have members that are specially trained to officiate at non-religious funerals, or this could be done by family members and friends.

Of what do the prepared ashes consist?

The ashes are now totally bone ash and weigh usually between 4 and 6lbs. They are in a state which will permit them to be strewn.

Preparation of the ashes has been mentioned. What does this entail?

When the cremation is complete, that is when there is no further combustion taking place, the cremation ashes are withdrawn from the cremator into a cooling tray. Often cooling is accelerated by means of air blown onto them by means of a fan blower. When cool, the ferrous material is removed by means of a magnetic field. The remaining ashes are then placed into a machine which reduces the remains to a fine white ash. All non-ferrous metals are cleared and disposed of in accordance with the Code of Practice.

What about precious and other metals?

The temperature at which a modern cremator operates (between 800°C and 1000°C) is such that such metals are fused with other material so that they are not recognisable. The Code of Practice states that any metallic material resulting from a cremation should be disposed of in accordance with the instructions of the cremation authority and recommends that this should be done by burial at a depth within the crematorium grounds.

What happens about the handles and other coffin fittings?

Crematorium regulations require that all fitting shall be of combustible material and normally the handles and name plate are made of hard plastic. Ferrous nails and screws do not burn and stay with the ashes until they are withdrawn from the cremator when they are subjected to a magnetic field which removes them.

What happens at the crematorium on the day of the funeral?

The coffin is usually brought into the chapel followed by the mourners in procession. While the coffin is being placed on the catafalque the mourners take their seats and the service then proceeds. At the moment when the committal of the body takes place the coffin may be obscured from view by means of curtains closing round the catafalque, or the coffin may be withdrawn through a gateway or descend into a committal room below. The method varies at each crematorium but the most common method today is the use of curtains. At the end of the service the mourners leave the chapel and may inspect the floral tributes before leaving.

What happens to the coffin after the committal?

It is withdrawn into a committal room where the nameplate of the coffin is checked with the cremation order to ensure correct identity. The coffin is then labeled with a card prepared by the crematorium giving all the relevant information. This card will stay with the body from now on until the final disposal of the cremation ashes.

What religious ceremony can I have with cremation?

Crematorium chapels are not consecrated but are usually dedicated. At the opening ceremony of a new crematorium, it is usual for the service to be conducted jointly by representatives from the Anglican Church, the Free Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. Apart from the sentences of committal, the service for cremation is the same as that for burial, the service could take place in one's own church or chapel, followed by a short committal service in the crematorium chapel. Alternatively the whole service could be conducted in the crematorium chapel, the actual form of service should be arranged with the minister or person officiating.

What would you recommend about leaving items of jewellery on a body?

The best advice is that it should be removed after death unless it is intended that it should be cremated. Once the coffin has been placed in the chapel there is no way of recovering such items.

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