Things to know about cremation

A candid conversation about the experience

post by guest contributor Malinda Meadows, author of Malinda in the Snow

Woman at Funeral

It was a warm spring day, the sun decidedly bright despite the sadness that loomed over me. I felt numb throughout the funeral, as well as the days leading up to it. It was only in the moment when the funeral director asked me, “what would you like to do with your mother’s ashes?”, did I realize that I knew practically nothing about the cremation process and what had been occurring those previous few days.

Many of us have had the experience of driving the tree-lined streets of a cemetery, following diligently behind a flagged black car, even more cars stretching behind us. We’ve gathered together closely, listened to the kind words spoken of our loved one, and watched their casket being lowered slowly into their final resting place.

Cremation, on the other hand, is a subject that may be less familiar. It is a concept that somehow exists simultaneously in a state of general understanding, while still remaining quite abstract.

The abstractness of it all left me with questions (I don’t know, what should I do with the ashes? or what will they even look like?)

It is hard to know the answers to these questions without first understanding the process of cremation.

Like the most difficult of topics, I think the subject of death can become more approachable when we choose to talk about it openly. I’ve set out to have a candid conversation about some of the aspects of cremation that I’ve learned along the way to hopefully provide comfort and dispel any misinformation or rumors.

The moments surrounding the death of a loved one often become blurry, and the more information you have leading up to it can help ease some of the decisions involved. Or perhaps you’ve found yourself here after receiving ashes from a loved one and would like more information about what to do with the cremains.

Whatever brings you here, we sympathize with your grief and hope we can shed light on some unknowns.

Funeral service options

There is a common misconception that if someone chooses cremation that they cannot have a traditional funeral service – they most certainly can have a funeral service. A person may even decide to have an open-casket viewing first and then be cremated. This choice also requires embalming, while cremation alone does not.

The remains can also be buried in a cemetery, like in a family plot for example, similar to burying a casket.

Or, a person can elect to do none of the above, and simply be cremated. There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to end-of-life wishes. 

You can be involved if you choose

If you would like to, many crematoriums will allow you to view the cremation. This can help with acceptance or finality of a loved one’s passing. In fact, in some cultures, it is common for a family member to push the button that starts the cremation process.

You simply have to express your wishes ahead of time to the funeral director.

Reassurance with the remains

Some people may have had the thought, how do I know I’m receiving the right ashes?  

The law mandates that cremation occurs individually. In addition, if you choose to view the process, you’ll see that many crematoriums also follow a two-step identification process throughout the entire process to ensure no mistakes occur.

Receiving the remains

The cremains will be returned to you in an urn that is chosen by you or your loved one. It may be helpful to have a family member or good friend present when you receive the urn, as it could trigger strong emotions. 

While nothing you read can necessarily prepare you for seeing the remains, it may be helpful to know that they weigh an average of 5 pounds and may contain small fragments of bone. In fact, the majority of the body is burned off during the cremation process, while the bones are essentially all that remains. The bones are then ground into a powdery ash, although some cultures may choose to keep them in their solid form. Of course, you may choose to leave the remains in the urn indefinitely.

Options for the remains

Unlike a traditional burial, cremation is not a one-time only ceremony for your loved one if you don’t want it to be. Scattering of ashes in a significant place could become a yearly grief ritual. Or perhaps it would be meaningful to release ashes to multiple places that the person visited and enjoyed.

The ashes can also be shared among multiple family members or dear friends. Some services allow ashes to be placed in jewelry or keepsake, and we at Emberstones can craft a beautiful hand-blown glass sculptures that contains ashes. These options allow you to honor your loved ones with simple beauty and a quiet presence.

As for me?

It’s been four years since the funeral director asked me that question, and I’m just now exploring the options of what would be the most meaningful thing to do with my mother’s ashes.

One of the aspects that is entirely unique to cremation is that it allows the time to let the fog of grief to subside before making any decisions about the remains.

If you feel ready to explore some of the thoughtful approaches to honoring loved ones, tap here to learn 5 comforting rituals for cremation ashes.