Burial in a cemetery isn’t for everyone. Whether for environmental reasons, personal beliefs, or the wish for a special final resting place, cremation is a popular passing preference chosen by more than half of Australians.
But just how does cremation work? Familiarising yourself with the basic process can help you decide if it’s the right choice for you or your loved one. Here we go through the basic steps of the cremation process, answering commonly asked questions along the way.
Does cremation take place before or after the funeral or memorial service?
With cremation, the choice is entirely yours. You may like to hold a formal funeral service, with the body present in a casket, before the cremation process.
Others opt to hold a memorial after the cremation. This can be either a traditional service with the cremated remains present in an urn instead of the usual coffin, or a more casual memorial held as the ashes are placed or scattered in their final resting place. It all depends on the wishes of the deceased and their family.
How is the identity of the deceased verified?
Before any memorial or funeral service can begin, the first step is providing a death certificate. Other paperwork required for cremation is a statutory declaration plus medical certificates or a coroner’s cremation permit.
How is a body prepared for cremation?
First, any items that may affect the cremation process — such as jewellery or medical devices like pacemakers — are removed, usually by the funeral director. The deceased is placed in a coffin; once this coffin is accepted by the crematorium, it cannot be opened.
The coffin is then placed on an insertion trolley. For identification, a metal nameplate is placed beside the coffin and stays with the remains until the process is completed.
Once preparation is complete, the coffin is placed in the cremator feet first.
What does the cremator consist of?
There are slight variations between crematoria, but generally speaking there are two chambers and a cooling tray. The first chamber is where the cremation itself takes place. Similar to a kiln or furnace, this chamber is made of heat-resistant bricks on the walls and ceiling, and fuelled by natural gas.
How does cremation work?
It’s important to note that at no point are the deceased’s remains actually exposed to the fire; rather, they remain in a coffin the entire time. The cremation occurs due to heat from the bricks rather than exposure to direct flames.
How long does a body take to be cremated?
Cremation involves reducing the body to ashes in under two hours, unlike the slow decay over many years that takes place in traditional burial.
The entire process from beginning to end typically takes up to four hours. The length of the cremation itself depends on a range of factors but the average time for an adult is about 90 minutes at a temperature of 750 to 900 degrees Celsius.
Can I attend the cremation?
You may be able to attend and view the committal of the coffin or casket into the cremator, depending on the crematorium’s arrangements.
Do they cremate multiple bodies at once?
Typically only one body can be cremated at a time as health regulations state that coffins must be cremated separately.
The only exceptions may be if there are two deceased who are closely related, such as a mother and baby, or twin children. However, these cases require approval from authorities.
What are the next steps of the cremation process?
After the initial phase is completed, the cremated remains are moved to a metal container and cooled.
Next they go through to the second chamber. At this stage, the remains are removed from the coffin and any metal debris is extracted by hand; this is later interred within the crematorium grounds. The remains are then processed into what we call ashes and transferred to a sealed container.
What happens to the ashes?
At this point the crematorium awaits the instructions of the deceased’s family. Typically they are given to the family in an urn.
Are the urns provided?
This depends on the funeral home, but typically a standard urn will be included as part of your arrangements. You may be able to choose a more decorative urn from the funeral home, or provide your own, if you wish.
Where can I lay the ashes to rest?
The decision of where to keep your loved one’s remains is not one to take lightly, but it really comes down to your preferences and theirs. Some bury the urn with a memorial marking, while others place it in a rose garden, a wall niche in a mausoleum, or even a special spot within the family home.
You may like to scatter the ashes in a cherished place filled with happy memories for the deceased. Do remember that you need to get permission from property owners if it’s on private land, or from local councils for parks and beaches.
If you’d like to scatter your loved one’s remains in a cherished place overseas, the first step is to contact that country’s consulate to check out what the legal requirements are. Further steps are outlined in our article on scattering remains abroad.
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way to be farewelled — it’s a personal choice by the deceased and their loved ones. If you’d like more information about the process of cremation, our checklist can help you decide and plan. Click the image below to get started.