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What Happens During A Cremation?

Preparing for Death

Cremation is very popular at funerals in the UK. It's the preferred option when compared to burial. According to research by YouGov, around 50% of people will choose cremation when they die.

If this applies to you, or you are arranging a relative's funeral, you may want to learn more about cremation. This guide provides you with some useful information to help you get a better understanding of the cremation process. Let's start by taking a closer look at the term 'cremation'.

What does cremation mean?

Cremation turns a person's body to ash after they die. The ash is actually tiny pieces of bone. The process involves the use of extremely high levels of heat. After the cremation, the crematorium either gives the ashes to the responsible family member or friend or to the funeral director. The funeral director disposes of the ashes if instructed to do so by the family.

Cremations take place in a building called a crematorium, using a machine called a cremator.

What happens during cremation at a funeral service?

Like any funeral, services that involve a cremation differ from each other. However, they do follow a general format.

  • The funeral directors take the coffin containing the deceased to a place of worship or directly to the crematorium.

  • If part of the service takes place at a place of worship, the funeral director takes the coffin to the crematorium afterwards.

  • If the entire service takes place at the crematorium, it normally lasts for around 30 minutes.

  • The committal of the body happens near the end of the service. When this happens, curtains are normally drawn to hide the coffin, or the coffin is lowered out of view.

  • As the music to accompany the committal is still playing, the guests leave the crematorium.

  • Outside the crematorium, guests normally take time to speak to the family of the person who has died. They may also see any flowers that people have donated.

  • People often gather after the funeral. Friends and family of the person who has died get together to celebrate their life and reminisce.

If someone wants to be cremated but does not want a service, they can arrange a direct cremation which does not include a funeral service.

What does the cremation process involve?

You can see what happens during a cremation at a service, but what happens during the cremation process? The process starts before the funeral service, and does not finish until afterwards.

The actual cremation of the body takes place a little later, on the same day. Here are some interesting facts about the entire process, from before the funeral service until the cremation is complete.

  • Funeral directors keep the body of the person who has died at the funeral home, in cool temperatures. The body is not embalmed unless the family asks for embalming.

  • A member of the team at the funeral directors washes and dresses the body before the cremation. A member of the family normally provides instructions about how to dress the deceased. They are normally not allowed to choose synthetic clothing.

  • Funeral directors remove devices that contain batteries, before cremation takes place. They do this because batteries can explode when the body is cremated.

  • Family and friends can usually put items such as letters and photographs into the coffin with the person who has died. However, it's always best to check with the funeral director before doing this.

  • After the funeral, the body is cremated in the cremator which has a heat of 870-980 ºC. Once the coffin is in the chamber of the cremator, it's set alight by a column of flames.

  • The cremation of the body takes around 1.5 to 3 hours. The bone fragments cool for approximately half an hour.

  • Any metal that is left in the fragments is removed by using a powerful magnet. The remaining fragments are ground into a fine powder, using a piece of machinery called a cremulator.

  • The crematorium returns the ashes to the family of the deceased, or the funeral director, at an agreed time. The funeral director can scatter the ashes, if the family asks them to do so. The person who collects the ashes from the crematorium needs to be named on the cremation form, if they are not the funeral director. The crematorium will usually ask for photo id, to confirm this.

It's worth mentioning that only one person is cremated at a time, so there is no chance of a mix-up with ashes. If family members want to witness the cremation, they can request to do so. Some crematoriums allow one or two people to witness the cremation itself.

Arranging a cremation

Now that you know what happens during a cremation, you may need help to organise one. The first thing that you need to do is find a local reputable funeral director. It's a good idea to speak to more than one, so that you can compare services and costs. If you are arranging the cremation for yourself, ahead of time, you may want to ask about prepaid funeral plans.

On average, you can expect to pay around £3,600 for a funeral service that involves a cremation. If you choose to arrange a direct cremation without a service, you can expect to pay around £2,000.

You and the funeral director need to provide forms at least 48 hours before the cremation. These forms are:

  • The certificate for burial or cremation that is issued by the registry office.

  • The application for cremation.

  • Cremation forms 4 and 5 (B and C in Scotland and Northern Ireland). These forms are signed by the doctor who was treating the deceased directly before they died and by an independent doctor.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what happens during cremation. You should be able to put this information to use if you are planning your own funeral or someone else's.

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