by Erin Darst Hein
I grew up behind the scenes of the funeral industry, just as my Dad did before me and my own children are doing now. When you are completely steeped in something that many people don’t even like to talk about, it can actually be surprising to find out what isn’t common knowledge. Take cremation, for example. It’s a common choice in our culture but if you ask around you’ll find two interesting things. First, that many people feel very strongly one way or another about being cremated. Second, that they really don’t know anything about it other than the end result is ashes. So this month, I’ve gathered together some of the cremation-related questions from readers and friends and we’re going to do some cremation Real Talk.
How do you prepare a body for cremation?
When you pass away, one of the first decisions your family will make is whether or not you will be embalmed (e.g., treated with a preservative). Many of our families choose embalming so that their loved one’s body can be present at a visitation and a service before they are cremated. You also have the option of a “direct cremation” which means you would be cremated as soon as possible in the days immediately following your passing, without your body or cremated remains being present at a funeral service. The body will remain in refrigeration until time for cremation. At Darst Funeral Home, (and everywhere is different), we want everyone to be given the same dignity as a person to be buried before cremation regardless of whether they will be present at a service or not. In fact, I have more than one distinct memory of my Dad running out to buy socks or other random clothing articles for someone because he feels like everyone deserves the last dignity of being dressed.
How does the actual cremation work?
Most people are cremated in an “alternative container”, (it’s like a fancy cardboard box), but you can actually purchase nicer containers or even be cremated in a full casket. The cremation chamber looks a lot like a kiln – just simple bricks encased in steel but computer monitored and regulated. It takes about 2 to 2 ½ hours at 1600 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit for an average sized person. Our crematory is onsite – that’s very rare for a funeral home – and is clean and well-lit and there’s even a viewing window for the (admittedly rare) family who wants to see the facility.
How does the funeral go if there is no coffin?
Actually, choosing cremation does not limit your memorial service options. You can have a ceremonial “rental” casket, (beautiful wood casket with an inner fabric lined alternative container), and have a traditional viewing and/or service with your body present, or you can be cremated before the service and have your cremated remains present in an urn. Just like someone who is being buried might conclude their funeral at a graveside, some families will have an additional ceremony, (usually private), when the ashes are laid to rest at their final location.
What can you do with your ashes?
This is my favorite question. Not even the sky is the limit (literally). Some religions, such as Catholicism, request that the final disposition for anyone cremated be at a cemetery, so that is a common choice. You already know, of course, that another option is to have your ashes scattered at a once loved location. (Don’t forget to do your research about wherever you would like to be scattered. For example, you can get in trouble for scattering ashes at sea if you don’t go several nautical miles from land). Beyond those, there are also some absolutely amazing and unique options for you to consider. One of my favorites is for your ashes to be incorporated into a concrete Eternal Reef that scientists are using to combat coral reef decline. My husband asked me to launch his ashes into the sun, (no pressure, Honey, right?), but to our knowledge, the best you can do right now is launch a teeny portion of your ashes into deep space for about $13,000. Cremated remains can also be made into real diamonds, loaded into shot gun shells (for one last hunting trip, I suppose), mixed with soil and a seed in a BioUrn (biodegradable) so that you can grow into a tree, made into blown or stained glass, or another of my favorites: there’s even a California-based company that will incorporate your ashes into a fireworks show.