In the hot seat – Answers to questions about Cremation

Dear Funeral Director:

I’m considering cremation, but I’m torn because I’d like to be buried with my wife. Can you tell me what happens during the cremation process? Are cremations always done individually? Can my family witness the cremation? Do all funeral homes have a crematory onsite? Can I be buried with my wife even if she was in a casket? Thanks for your help with my questions.

John B.

New Canaan, CT

Dear John,

Thank you for your thoughtful questions. Since cremation is an irreversible decision it’s important to understand the facts surrounding it. During the cremation process human remains are placed in a wooden cremation casket or a container called an alternative container that’s suitable for cremation. Within the actual cremation chamber, known as a retort, the temperature is raised to approximately 1400 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. After approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours all organic matter is consumed by heat/evaporation. Following the process, the only matter that’s left behind are bone fragments which is what is returned to the family as the “ashes”. That description is a misnomer because what is left is certainly not ash. The common terminology in the funeral profession is cremated remains or “cremains”. Once the actual cremation is completed, and after a cool down period, the cremains are carefully removed from the retort, processed into fine particles, and then placed into a container provided by the crematory or an urn purchased by the family. The entire process takes approximately three to three and a half hours. Throughout the process, a carefully controlled labeling system ensures correct identification at each and every step. Regarding your question about whether if cremations are done individually, state law dictates that only one body can be cremated at a time. There is no co-mingling of cremains at any point of the process. And yes, it is possible for relatives or representatives of the deceased to be present to witness the start of the cremation process; they would need to make those arrangements with the funeral home that’s assisting them. Regarding the question about funeral homes having an onsite crematory, the answer would be no. In fact, only a small percentage of funeral homes have retorts on premise due to stringent zoning regulations on both a state and municipal level. For the majority that does not have an onsite crematory, they carefully choose crematories to partner with on the basis of their management and performance record. Since the reputation and licensing of a funeral home is at risk it is of utmost importance that any professional partnership is both reputable and trustworthy. Many funeral homes have long standing relationships with partnered vendors. They consider them to be extensions of their businesses. It’s fair to say that partnering with an outside cremation firm makes for more oversight, not less, and calls for greater attention to detail on the part of the funeral home. In any event, whether the actual retorts are onsite or off, the majority of funeral homes in our area provide professional cremation services with little or no difference to the level of service that a family receives. Lastly, regarding your wishes for your cremains to be buried with your wife, the answer would be absolutely. In fact, depending upon specific cemetery policy and the details of the property you own, you may be able to save a grave space and have your cremains buried on top of the casketed remains of your spouse, or you may choose to use the plot beside her. Many cemeteries may even allow for multiple cremains to be interred in a single plot. I hope these answers address your questions and help you with your decision.

Kind regards,

Leonard W. Santora, LFD

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