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The Complete Guide to Cremation

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A Complete Guide to Cremation

Planning a cremation doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. You can learn everything you need to know with our simple and comprehensive guide to cremation called The Everything Cremation Guide. Our free guide shows you hundreds of things you can do with the ashes of a loved one.

What do scientist Albert Einstein, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, musician George Harrison, and actor Christopher Reeve have in common? Besides being famous, they all chose to be cremated.

Cremation has become an increasingly popular alternative to traditional funerals. Just 4 percent of people in the U.S. chose cremation in 1955. The number of cremations surpassed the number of burials for the first time in 2017, with 55 percent choosing it in 2019. That number isexpected to grow to more than 64 percent by 2025.

Why Cremation is Popular

The reasons chosen for cremation over a traditional funeral vary and include:

  • Cremations are flexible in that you have the option of whether or not you want any type of remembrance ceremony (e.g. a funeral or visitation) beforehand. Having a service before the cremation allows families to say goodbye to their loved one. With a memorial service held after the cremation, you can choose to have it at any time.

  • Cremations are typically less expensive than traditional funerals (we’ll cover costs in a moment) because there is often no need for a traditional casket, preparation of the remains, a cemetery plot, or a headstone.

  • Ashes are portable. If you move, your loved one’s ashes move with you. It’s difficult for some people to have to move away from a city or town where the grave of a loved one is located.

  • Cremations are considered an environmentally friendly option. At some point in the future, we may simply run out of land to bury our dead.

The Cremation Process

Before cremation can take place, pacemakers and other implanted medical devices must be removed, as these can explode under very high temperatures, causing potential hazards to the crematory staff and equipment. Some jewelry also can be destroyed during the cremation process, so before your loved one is transferred to the crematory, ask the funeral director to remove any items you’d like to keep

Once the casket or container arrives at the crematory, it is placed in the cremation chamber, where the temperature is approximately 1400 degrees to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. It will typically take 2 to 2 1/2 hours for all organic matter to be consumed. If they choose, family members may request to be present. When the process is complete, only bone fragments are left behind, which are known as cremated remains or ashes. These are removed from the chamber and allowed to cool. Any metal is removed with a magnet. Then the cremated remains are processed into fine particles and placed in a temporary container. If the family has already purchased an urn, the remains are placed directly in it. Rest assured that the entire cremation process is respectful, and a careful system ensures correct identification.

Cremation Costs

Like funerals, cremation costs vary throughout the country. The average cost of a cremation with services handled through a traditional funeral home is between $2,000 and $4,000. These prices will include the actual cremation itself and the cost of a basic memorial service. Including a service before the cremation will raise the cost because you will need to purchase a casket and pay for the funeral director’s basic services. For Sunset’s Cremation Package and options, click here.

What Can You do with Your Loved One's Ashes?

Another benefit of cremation is that it allows for a variety of options that can be done with the cremated remains. Let’s take a look at some of the most common choices:

THE TRADITIONAL URN: Perhaps the most traditional choice is to enshrine a loved one’s ashes is in a beautiful urn that can then be placed somewhere prominently in your home. Of course, if you’ve seen the movie “Meet the Parents” you will no doubt remember the incident with the flying cork and DiNiro’s mother’s ashes taking a spill off the mantle. While the results were hilarious in the film, people should be sure to place the urn where it will be secure.

A COLUMBARIUM: A columbarium is a place within a cemetery or church that houses cremated remains in individual “niches.” Although some prefer this option because they feel it gives their loved one a dignified resting place, it also provides a place for all family members to visit.

DIVIDED AMONG FAMILY MEMBERS: Who decides who gets to keep Dad’s ashes? Cremated remains can be divided among family members so everyone can keep dad close. Besides urns, ashes may also be kept in:

  • Memorial jewelry such as necklaces, bracelets, and rings for both men and women

  • Keepsakes, including glass works of art

  • Unique items such as vinyl records and paintings

SCATTERING: Scattering can be done in varied locations. Here are just a few possibilities:

  • Public Places: Maybe your family member requested to have their ashes scattered in, on, or around someplace they considered very special. You should check with your local ordinances to know what is permissible. National parks, for instance, do not permit ashes to be scattered.

  • At Sea: You may also want to scatter your loved one’s ashes at sea if the person had an affinity for the ocean. Maritime requirements permit scattering the ashes at least three miles out from shore.

  • By Air: You can scatter loved ones’ ashes by air, such as in a hot air balloon, or from small planes with a licensed pilot, such as Chicago-based Aerial Egress. There are companies that will even include a small portion of the ashes in a fireworks display.

  • Private Land: Scattering on someone else’s private property, such as a loved one’s favorite sports stadium, is only permitted if you obtain permission. Don’t believe us? Just ask the guy who was arrested after running onto the field during an Eagle’s game to scatter his mom’s ashes.

Whether you choose to go with a traditional funeral or a cremation with a memorial service, what’s really important is how you celebrate your loved one’s life and spirit. For even more ideas, download our free guide.

by Jaime Hollander, Sunset Contributor