Simplify the Process

Frequently Asked Questions

A few, simple answers to some of the most common questions regarding cremation.

What is cremation?

What is cremation?

At its simplest, cremation is the process of applying intense heat to a deceased body, reducing it to bone fragments. For a more detailed explanation, Wikipedia lists cremation as:

Cremation is the combustion, vaporization, and oxidation of dead bodies to basic chemical compounds, such as gases, ashes and mineral fragments retaining the appearance of dry bone. Cremation may serve as a funeral or post-funeral rite as an alternative to the interment of an intact dead body in a coffin, casket or shroud. Cremated remains (aka "cremains" or simply, "ashes"), which do not constitute a health risk, may be buried or interred in memorial sites or cemeteries, or they may be retained by relatives and dispersed in various ways. Cremation is not an alternative to a funeral, but rather an alternative to burial or other forms of disposal. Some families prefer to have the deceased present at the funeral with cremation to follow; others prefer that the cremation occur prior to the funeral or memorial service.

What is the process behind cremation?

What is the process behind cremation?

WARNING: the following article is explicit in the details of cremation and may be disturbing to some readers.

Before a deceased person is cremated, a funeral director must first obtain authorization to cremate the decedent from the closest surviving family members(s). This is usually in the form of a document provided by the funeral home and signed by the family.

Next, the funeral director must remove any items not wished to be cremated along with the body such as jewelry. If the deceased had a pacemaker or other type of medical device, it too will need to be removed to prevent an explosion from occurring during the cremation process. It is not necessary to embalm a body before the cremation unless the family wishes to have a public viewing of the body during a memorial service.

The body is then placed in a cremation casket, usually made of wood, or more often a cremation container which is basically a large cardboard box with a plywood bottom for sturdiness. These types of containers will burn fairly well during the cremation cycle.

The funeral director or crematory operator will place an identification tag in the cremation container with the body to properly identify the cremated remains once returned to the funeral home. This is a very important step as it ensures the family does not end up with the wrong set of cremated ashes.

The cremation container/casket containing the body is then placed in the cremation chamber from the end. The cremation chamber sometimes referred to as the retort, is lined with fire-resistant bricks on the walls and ceiling. The floor is made from a special masonry compound formulated specifically to withstand extremely high temperatures. Once the body is in, the chamber door, which is about a half a foot thick, is closed either by hand or in some cases a switch as many of the newer models have automated doors.

The crematory operator then starts the machine which normally goes through a warm up cycle before the main burning begins. After the machine is warmed up, the main burner ignites starting the process of incinerating the body. Temperatures within the chamber often reach the 1800°F - 2000°F range. The burners within a cremator are fueled by either natural gas or propane.

It generally takes about 1-1/2 to 2 hours for a body to be completely reduced to just the bone fragments by cremation. Some cremation furnaces, especially the older ones, may require a little more time.

After the entire incinerating process is complete, a cool-down period of 30 minutes to an hour is required before the bone fragments can be handled for further processing. When the time finally arrives, the cremated remains or bone fragments are removed from the cremation chamber and placed on a table work area. It is here that the crematory operator removes all metal debris such as screws, nails, surgical pins or titanium limbs/joints with a magnet and by hand.

The remaining bone fragments are then placed in a special processor which consists of a cylindrical container with motorized blades at the bottom of the unit. This processor pulverizes the bone fragments to a fine powder called cremains or more commonly referred to as the ashes.

The ashes are then placed in a plastic bag within a temporary cremation container or an urn provided one is furnished to the crematory. The ashes are then returned to the family.

Do all religions permit cremation?

Do all religions permit cremation?

Some religions prefer cremation; some do not recommend the practice; most permit you to choose. Should you have any questions or concerns, we suggest you speak with a member of your clergy or a leader of your congregation.

For reference, here are a few general viewpoints on cremation from a few world religions:

For thousands of years, Jewish law has held that burial in the ground was the only acceptable option for the Jewish faith. Today, although the Jewish religion still generally discourages cremation, Reform Judaism has begun to be more accepting of the practice. If a person chooses to be cremated, most Reform Jewish cemeteries today will allow their remains to be buried in Jewish cemeteries, although often they stipulate that the cremains must still be buried in a coffin. Orthodox Judaism, however, remains strongly opposed to cremation.

Like Judaism, Christianity throughout most of its history has been opposed to cremation. However, in recent times cremation has become more acceptable within most of the mainstream Protestant churches, as well as Catholicism. These changes have happened for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that cremation is no longer understood by these churches to impede resurrection. Burial is still the preferred practice, but cremation does not stand in the way of an individual receiving a church funeral or being interred in a church-owned cemetery.

However, although cremation is growing in popularity among Christians, some sects of Christianity, such as the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, retain more historical views of resurrection and do not consider cremation to be an acceptable practice for a Christian.

Of all world religions, Islam is probably the most strongly opposed to cremation. Unlike Judaism and Christianity, there is little diversity of opinion about it. Cremation is considered by Islam to be an unclean practice. Muslims are forbidden to take part in the act of cremation in any way, including witnessing the event or even stating approval of it. This disapproval is based on beliefs that the body after death should be treated with the same respect as it was in life, the belief that some part of the body may be necessary for resurrection, and the belief that the body is required for mourning as a reminder that death comes to all.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, generally known as Mormons, have some unique beliefs about the body. Unlike most of mainstream Christianity, LDS members believe that the body is inextricably tied to the soul. Because of this, they are generally advised to avoid cremation unless it is required by law. However, Mormonism does not prohibit cremation; it is not seen as a hindrance to resurrection, and cremation does not preclude Mormons from receiving an LDS memorial service or funeral.

Members of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, differ from many other Christians in that they believe in spiritual rather than physical resurrection. They do not believe that they will have a body if they are resurrected. Because they believe a physical body is not required for resurrection, the faith does not have any prohibitions against cremation. Members are advised to consider local customs and laws, then make the decision that is right for their family.

Buddhism is a set of teachings or practices that are based on the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha or the “enlightened one,” who lived in India more than 2,500 years ago. Buddhism isn’t a religion in the sense of requiring a belief in a creator god, or indeed, any god. Buddhism does not require Buddhists to follow a prescribed set of funeral practices; many Buddhists choose cremation because the Buddha was cremated but burial is also permissible.

The Hindu view of the body and soul is that the soul is inherently pure, but it must have a body in which to live. The body is prone to desires and attachments that keep it bound to the mortal world. At death the soul leaves one body and enters another, a process which will happen many times until the soul, perfected, achieves “mukti” or union with the Source. This process is called reincarnation and is the basis for Hinduism’s close association with cremation. Cremation encourages the soul to leave the body and more toward mukti.

Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?

Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?

In Washington, there are no state laws controlling where you may keep or scatter ashes. Ashes may be stored in a crypt, niche, grave, or container at home. If you wish to scatter ashes, you have many options. Cremation renders ashes harmless, so there is no public health risk involved in scattering ashes. Use common sense and refrain from scattering ashes in places where they would be obvious to others.

Washington provides guidance for cremation, including the scattering of ashes, on the Funerals and Cemeteries page of the Washington State Department of Licensing.

Many cemeteries provide gardens for scattering ashes. If you’re interested, ask the cemetery for more information.

You may scatter ashes on your own private property. If you want to scatter ashes on someone else’s private land, it is wise to obtain permission from the landowner.

You may wish to check both city and county regulations and zoning rules before scattering ashes on local public land, such as in a city park. The Washington State Department of Licensing states that ashes may be scattered on state trust uplands if you receive permission from the regional manager for each scattering. When it comes to scattering on public state or local land, many people simply proceed as they wish, letting their best judgment be their guide.

Officially, you should request permission before scattering ashes on federal land. As with local or state land, however, you will probably encounter no resistance if you conduct the scattering ceremony quietly and keep the ashes well away from trails, roads, facilities, and waterways. You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites for some national parks. For more information, begin your search at the website of the National Park Service.

The federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. The EPA does not permit scattering at beaches or in wading pools by the sea. Finally, you must notify the EPA within 30 days of scattering ashes at sea.

The Washington State Department of Licensing states that ashes may be scattered over “public navigable waters under state control, including Puget Sound . . . rivers, streams, and lakes.”

While there are no state laws on this issue, federal aviation laws prohibit dropping objects that might injure people or damage property. The U.S. government does not consider cremains to be hazardous material; all should be well so long as you remove the ashes from their container before scattering.

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