Just like traditional burial, cremation has been a part of the human death experience for a very long time. If you're interested in exploring the cremation process or want to learn more about the latest cremation innovation, alkaline hydrolysis, we invite you to read this page. We'll also take a look atcremation costs to help you while making the decision to select cremation for yourself or a loved one.
A Short History of Cremation
According to Wikipedia, cremation dates back at least 20,000 years ago in the archaeological record in Australia, while in Europe, there is evidence of cremation dating to around 2,000 B.C. Cremation was common in Ancient Greece and Rome, and it remains a standard practice in India. The practice of cremation faded in Europe by the fifth century and during the Middle Ages, it was primarily used in the punishment of heretics or in response to the fear of contagious diseases. Today, cremation is preferred over traditional casketed burial by many people around the planet.
The Flame Cremation Process
Traditional cremation is the process of reducing a body at very high temperatures until it is nothing but brittle, calcified bones. These are then mechanically processed into what we commonly call ashes. Returned to the family in a temporary urn (or a more personal urn selected by the family), these ashes can be kept, buried, or scattered. Some families even choose to place a loved one's cremated remains in a hand-crafted piece of cremation art.
Michelle Kim, in the online article, "How Cremation Works," skillfully details the cremation process. "In modern crematories, the body is stored in a cool, temperature-controlled room until it's approved for cremation. The body is prepared by removing pacemakers, prostheses and silicone implants. The body is then put into a container or casket made out of flammable materials such as plywood, pine or cardboard."
Once the incinerator is pre-heated, the crematory operator opens the doors and slides the container into the retort or primary cremating chamber. It takes anywhere from two to three hours to reduce an average adult to ash. When the cremated remains are cooled, they are processed to a uniformly-sized pebble-like substance and placed in either the standard temporary urn or an urn selected by the family prior to the cremation. The funeral director then returns the cremated remains to the family.
The Resomation Process
The latest innovation in cremation is a process of alkaline hydrolysis, sometimes called resomation. The process was developed in the United States in the late 1990s and according to journalist Norma Love, it "uses lye, 300-degree heat and 60 pounds of pressure per square inch to destroy bodies in big stainless-steel cylinders that are similar to pressure cookers."
In the 2012 ABC News online article, "Last Word in Going Green: No-Flame Cremation," journalist Alan Farnham shares the end result of the resomation process. "After the body has been dissolved, all that's left is bone (which can be ground-down for presentation to the family in an urn) and such medical appliances as artificial hips, plates, screws or other metal objects."
Compared with traditional cremation, this process uses less energy and releases no carbon and no particulate matter into the atmosphere. Not all regions have made the legislative changes required for funeral homes to offer this service to families. Further, the equipment required costs significantly more than a conventional retort. Both factors effectively reduce the availability of resomation cremation services.
"Cremation is cheaper than burial," writes news anchor Tyler Mathisen, in the 2013 online article "Cremation is the Hottest Trend in the Funeral Industry". He then adds, "The average cost of a funeral today is about $6,500, including the typical $2,000-or-more cost of a casket. Add a burial vault, and the average jumps to around $7,700. A cremation, by contrast, typically costs a third of those amounts, or less. In a tough economy like the current one, cost counts – a lot."
While it's largely true that cost is a big factor for many families, it's important to remember that cremation is simply the method used in the final care of someone's physical remains. That's only a part of providing meaningful end-of-life care for a cherished loved one.
The other part has to do with the care of the survivors. Coming to terms with the death of a loved one can best begin by holding a funeral prior to the cremation or a memorial service (often called a celebration-of-life) after the cremation has taken place. Deciding to bring family and friends together is a real act of love and provides them with the opportunity to share memories and receive much needed emotional support.
Spend Time with Us
While cremation is seen as a cost-effective alternative to traditional burial, we urge you to sit down with us to discuss your cremation options. We want an opportunity to share our insights and professional experience with the intention of fully supporting you in making the right end-of-life decisions for you and your family. Call us at (440) 942-0700 to schedule an appointment or drop by our office.
Love, Norma, "New in Mortuary Science: Dissolving Bodies with Lye", ABC News, accessed 2014