Frequently (and some not so frequently) asked questions about cremation

1. Is cremation more expensive than burial?

Generally the cost of burial is higher than the fee charged for cremation. Cremation usually necessitates the production of medical certificates for which fees are payable to doctors concerned. These certificates are not required when the death has been referred to and investigated by a Coroner (Procurator Fiscal in Scotland) or when burial is required, although in this case, in addition to the charges for interment, a number of other fees for grave purchase, memorials and grave maintenance may be incurred.

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

The coffin is brought in and placed on the catafalque (a raised and decorated platform). Depending on the wishes of the family the mourners may follow the coffin or already be in the crematorium. Then there is a service; either religious or secular (see below). Then the committal (remove of the coffin) takes place, the coffin may be obscured from view by curtains closing around it, different crematoria have ways of doing this, sometimes the coffin is lowered from sight or withdrawn through a gateway. Then the mourners leave the chapel. The whole process is relatively brief 30 -40 minutes.

3. Do I have to have a religious service?

No. You can a have religious, non religious or no service at all if you choose, if you are non religious, but wish to have a service conducted you may wish to use the service of a Celebrant – who can conduct non-religious, semi religious, spiritual ceremonies. 

4. What is Direct Cremation?

Direct cremation – sometimes referred to as direct disposal is where the committal takes place at a crematorium without the presence of mourners. This will often be an early morning service but will be at a time and plce to suit the funeral director. If requested the funeral director may say a prayer or read a short poem.

5. How long does the cremation service last?

The duration of the service can change between crematoria but it tends to be 45 minutes, which allows time for people to enter the chapel, hold the service and leave. You are not allowed to impact on the time of those coming before or after you. If you you are arranging a service with your funeral director and think you will need longer you can book additional time, but there will be an additional charge.

6. What happens to the coffin after the committal?

It is withdrawn into a committal room where the name plate of the coffin is checked with the cremation order to ensure correct identity. The coffin is then labelled 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. The coffin is placed in the cremator which is a cubicle that will only allow for one standard sized coffin to fit.

7. Does the cremation take place immediately?

Usually yes, if not it will be on the same day. The process takes between one to three hours.

8. Is the coffin cremated with the body?

Yes. The coffin is cremated with the body and nothing can be removed from the coffin after committal.

9. What happens to object that not combustible e.g. metal nails or jewellery?

A magnet removes the ferrous parts and other metals (which now fused with other material and not recognisable) are removed and buried at a depth in the crematoria grounds or removed for recovery.

Therefore, the best advice would be not to leave jewellery on the deceased as it won’t be part of the ashes you receive back and it can’t be retrieved.

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

If you wish to Yes, but you will need to discuss this with the funeral director and crematorium staff – there will be a limit on the numbers who can witness the comitttal (one or two is normal)

11. What happens to the remains after cremation?

When the cremation process has finished the ashes are placed on a cooling tray. The metals are removed and the ashes are reduced to fine white ash in a machine called a cremulator. This is bone ash.

12. How long after cremation does it take to get the ashes?

Occasionally ashes can be available for collection on the same day although ordinarily cremated remains can be ready for collection within one working day.

13. What should I expect to receive after a cremation?

After cremation human ashes will be given to you in an unglamorous container – unless you have specified and paid for something different.

For an adult studies show that on average, the weight of cremated remains for men is about 7.13 pounds (plus or minus 1.2 pounds) roughly 3.5kg and for women, 4.9 pounds (plus or minus 1 pound) roughly 2.5kg.

The container will be the size of a large vase or old style sweet shop container. 

14. What happens if I choose to leave the ashes at the crematoria?

The ashes will be strewn in the gardens of remembrance. A few crematoria have niches where urns may be placed (a Comulbarium), but these are usually on a lease basis and if not renewed periodically the ashes would be strewn or buried.

15. What are the Gardens of Remembrance at a crematorium?

The gardens of remembrance consist of areas set aside for the disposal of cremation ashes. Places are not reserved or marked afterwards. Some crematoria offer plaques, dedicated rose bushes or similar – a lot of these are usually on a lease basis, so check.

16. How long have I got to collect the ashes?

Some crematorium will keep them for up to one month before making a charge to store them. If there has been no prior instruction, they are strewn in the garden of remembrance. Before this happens the crematoria have to give 14 days notice in writing – they write to the person on the documentation at the time of cremation. However ashes are normally passed to the Funeral Director for collection.

17. Can anyone collect the ashes?

No, They will only be released to the funeral director or a named person who will usually you will need to bring along some identification. A Certificate of Cremation will be provided with the ashes. This is a legal document with the name of the deceased and date and place of the cremation.

18. How many people use cremation today in Great Britain?

1968 was the year in which the number of cremations exceeded disposal by burial for the first time. Since then the proportion has increased and now approaches 75% of all funerals.

19. Are there any religious groups, which forbid cremation to their members?

Yes. Today most Christian denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, allow cremation but Orthodox Jews and Muslims forbid it. It is the normal method for Sikhs, Hindus, Parsees and Buddhists.

20. What happens to the coffin after the committal?

It is withdrawn into a committal room where the name plate of the coffin is checked with the cremation order to ensure correct identity. The coffin is then labelled 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.

21. 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.

22. 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.

23. What happens with the handles and other coffin fittings?

Crematorium regulations require that all fittings shall be of combustible material and normally the handles and name plate are today 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.

24. What about precious and other metals?

The temperature at which a modern cremator operates (between 800°C and 1000°C) is such that 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 within the cemetery grounds.

25. What would you recommend to people then 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.

26. 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.

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

Yes. Normally two persons are permitted to attend and the crematorium should be advised in advance of this wish.

28. How do I know I will get the right cremated remains?

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 cremated remains are removed and it is then transferred to the cooling tray. The cremated remains 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 and the cremated remains must be withdrawn before the cremator is used again, all cremated remains are kept separate throughout the process.

29. Preparation of the cremated remains has been mentioned. What does this entail?

When the cremation is complete, that is when there is no further combustion taking place, the cremated remains are withdrawn from the cremator into a cooling tray. Often cooling is accelerated by means of air blown on to them by means of a fan blower. When cool, the ferrous material is removed by means of a magnetic field. The remaining cremated remains 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.

30. Can I flush my relatives Ashes down the toilet?

Well, first of all, you aren’t the first or last to ask this question. The simple answer is that it wouldn’t be advisable – the 3kg of ashes aren’t water soluble and would almost certainly block up the system – leading to an expensive bill from the plumber. Even if you could flush them the quantity of water used would make this very ecologically unsound. Why not dig them into the compost, or mix with a mulch in the garden? After a couple of days the remains will be completely dispersed and you will have added some minerals to the soil.

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