What happens at a cremation?

Cremation has been a funeral option in the UK for over 150 years, but it still remains a mystery to many people. Here, we look at exactly what happens at a cremation so you and your family know what to expect.

The cremation process explained

1. How is the person identified at the crematorium?

When someone is taken to a crematorium, they’re given a unique identification number and physical tag. This is an essential safeguard to track them through the whole cremation process. It also helps to give your family the confidence that the ashes you receive are the remains of your loved one.

The medical forms and certificate are also checked at the crematorium. This is to make sure the cremation has been authorised by a doctor before taking place.

2. How is a body prepared for cremation?

To prepare the body for cremation, any medical devices (such as a pacemaker) are removed. It’s always recommended that families remove any jewellery before their loved one is collected, but another check will be carried out at the crematorium just to make sure.

Your loved one is then placed in a simple wooden coffin before being moved through to the cremation chamber.

3. How does the cremation work?

Once all the forms are approved and the body has been prepared, your loved one is placed in the cremation chamber. This is set to a temperature between 1000°C and 1300°C. Once the ashes have cooled, they are collected in a temporary urn ready to be returned to your family.

How long does a cremation take?

A cremation takes around 2-3 hours to complete, creating between 1kg and 3kg of ashes. However, it’s very rare that families actually watch the cremation take place.

At a funeral service, a curtain usually comes across when the body is committed to the chamber. This is often the point in the service where family and friends leave the crematorium.

With direct cremation, the memorial service takes place at a later date (often with the ashes present), so the cremation itself isn’t attended by family or friends.

How long after a cremation do you get the ashes?

It takes between one and two weeks to receive the ashes after a cremation. With direct cremation, these are usually hand-delivered to you in a temporary urn. But if you arrange a traditional cremation with a funeral director on the high street, the ashes may need to be collected from the crematorium or funeral home.

Direct cremation vs. traditional cremation

In 2016, only 2% of funerals were direct cremations. By 2019, this figure rose to 8%. There are many reasons for this sudden increase in popularity, including cost, personalisation and convenience.

Here, we’ll explain the key differences between direct cremation and traditional cremation:

1. The memorial service

With a traditional cremation, a funeral service usually takes place at the crematorium before the body is committed to the chamber. This is usually arranged by a funeral director.

With direct cremation, the memorial service happens after the ashes have been returned to the family. This is usually arranged by the partner or children of the person who died, and can take place anywhere from your home, to the pub, to a favourite restaurant.

2. Cremation fees

With Farewill, you can arrange a funeral service at a local crematorium for £1,480, while a direct cremation starts at £980.

This could save you over £3,500 compared to the average cost of a funeral in the UK, which is £4,800.

3. A personal farewell

When arranging a traditional cremation, you’ll be given options for things like the coffin, urn, flowers, music and readings. However, most of this will need to be arranged through your funeral director, and the service itself will need to take place at the crematorium.

With direct cremation, there's very little choice when it comes to the cremation itself. But once you’ve received your loved one’s ashes, you have the freedom to arrange a memorial that’s right for you and your family.

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