The cremation process reduces a deceased’s body to ashes, using a combination of heat and evaporation. It’s a popular choice for funerals and following the cremation the ashes are returned to the loved one’s family where they may be scattered, buried or memorialised in some way, such as turning them into a piece of glass jewellery.

There are strict rules about what can and can’t be done at a cremation, and how the body must be cremated. In the UK Crematoria, the building where cremations take place, follow a code of practise to ensure compliance with the law along with proper health and safety.

But the steps that take place before and after a cremation are roughly as follows:

  • The deceased is formerly identified and proper paperwork is completed
  • The body and its container are prepared
  • The body is moved to the cremation chamber for cremation
  • A powerful magnet removes any metal fragments from the ‘ashes’
  • The ‘ashes’ are pulverised and transferred to the urn, or other container

The cremation doesn’t take place at the time of the funeral service and the crematorium has up to 72 hours to cremate the body. And 48 hours ahead of the cremation service, the family and funeral director will need the correct paperwork:

  • The ‘green’ certificate for burial or cremation. The registry office will give this to the family when they register the death.
  • The application for cremation (in England Cremation Form 1). The family fill this out and give it to the crematorium. Ashes can only be released to the person stated on this form.
  • Medical forms (cremation forms 4 and 5) one signed by the deceased’s GP and another signed by an unrelated doctor.

If the coroner is involved, they will provide separate forms.

Do You Have to Be Cremated in a Coffin?

A coffin isn’t legally required in the UK but the law says the body must be covered when in public. A shroud would do the same job, but if it’s something you require, you should always check with the crematorium first.

Most crematoria will expect a coffin or casket of some sort because of the practicalities of cremations. The cremation takes place in a construction called a cremator. It only has room for one coffin and moving a body around in these tight spaces is difficult. It’s why most crematoria would prefer a coffin to be used, and may insist on at least a board being used to place the body.

Before a body is placed in the coffin the funeral directors will remove anything that could be dangerous. For example pacemakers have to be removed because of the risk of explosion. Watches and mobile phones will also be removed because of the risk of explosion they pose.

Items that are usually permitted to be in the coffin are photos or letters. Synthetics such as clothing, rubber-soled shoes or cuddly toys are not allowed. No bottles or other items that are hollow are allowed into the coffin either. The general rule is you should always check with the crematorium or funeral director when thinking about what items to place inside a coffin.

The Cremation Process – Ceremony

During the funeral ceremony the person presiding will ‘commit’ the body. Here the coffin is taken to a separate room and the inspector checks the nameplate on the coffin is correct against the cremation order. Nothing can be added or taken from the coffin from this point.

One question that comes up is can the crematoria mix up the coffins? The cremator can only handle one coffin at a time so it’s very hard. And because the inspector checks the nameplates against the cremation order it is very hard for a mistake to occur.

The Cremation Process Itself

A cremation usually takes between 90 minutes and three hours. Before this the chamber will have been prepared by being heated to around 870-980 ºC. The coffin is placed in the chamber and the cremation begins.

In most cases a cremation only one person can be can cremated at a time, but some crematoria may make an exception where, for example, a mother and baby are being cremated together.

On rare occasions, where the cremation is of a small baby, there may be no ashes to recover. The incidence of this has been reduced by improvements in technology and cremation practises but if you are ever worried you should speak to your funeral director.

After the Cremation Has Taken Place

Once finished the ‘ashes’ are left to cool. What we might think of as ashes are actually the bone fragments left behind after the cremation. A powerful magnet removes any metal from the remaining ‘ashes’ so it does not make its way back into the environment. The remaining bone fragments are ground in a machine called a cremulator, resulting in the fine sand-like particles that we see in urns.

When you fill out the paperwork for the cremation you are asked what you want to happen to the ashes. Ashes can only be collected by the person stated on this paperwork. If they’re not collected or no further instruction is given the cremation authority assumes responsibility for either scattering the ashes or placing them in a grave.

However, the crematorium must attempt to give you 14 days’ notice of their plans before any action is taken.

Discussing the Cremation Process

If you want to discuss any part of a cremation or just want further advice about funeral services we can help take the stress and uncertainty out of the situation. Get in touch with the team at S. Stibbards & Sons to see how we can help. Phone us on 01702 922267 or email hadleigh@stibbards.co.uk.

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