Cremation

02 October 2015

Cremation is the most common form of funeral in the UK making up some 70% of ceremonies.



While many people will contact a funeral director to make the arrangements for a cremation, it is not a legal obligation. At a time  of great emotional stress, many people will prefer the organisational details to be handled by an outside party. However, the  executor or family members can organise a cremation themselves.

Most crematoria are run by, or on behalf of, local authorities. Contact them directly in the first place for advice on how to proceed.  Cremation is less expensive than a burial, with its attendant costs of graveyard maintenance and installation of a monument (tombstone). 

However, if you choose to have a memorial plaque, bench etc within the crematorium grounds then there will be additional costs. 

The service

The type or order of service is entirely down to the family or wishes of the deceased, religious or secular. Often the space in the crematorium is limited. In some cases, a family may prefer to have a simple family-only service with a memorial service at another larger venue later, on the day itself or later. 

There are usually time constraints, too. The service will be charged by the crematorium for a set, agreed time. If the service should overrun, you will not only incur additional charges but probably cause inconvenience and stress to the funeral party waiting in line.

It’s therefore worth having a ‘time rehearsal’, with prayers (if any), spoken tributes and music (if any) taken into consideration.The printing of the order of service can be arranged by the funeral director (if you are using one) or you might prefer to design your own using a local printer or an online service such as The Order of Service.

Music is, again, a matter of personal taste. Do not feel you have to use hymns for the sake of it. 

Read our guide to music for a funeral or memorial service

The cremation process

When the curtains are pulled together, usually while the mourners’ heads are bowed, and the coffin disappears from the mourners’ view, it doesn’t mean that the coffin is immediately incinerated.

By law, the coffin and remains of the deceased must be incinerated with 24 hours of the service. Coffins are not reused. The nameplate on the coffin will be checked against records and placed in a room until time for incineration. 

Incineration

The incineration itself takes on average two hours, depending on the deceased’s bodyweight, at a temperature ranging 760-980C. At the end of the process, what remains is ash and possibly some bone fragments. The bone will be crushed into powder by a machine called a cremulator. 

There may be some metal amongst the ash from teeth, prosthetics (hip or knee replacement parts) and from the coffin itself (screws, hinges etc). These are removed by magnet or with forceps and disposed of. Metal or glass jewellery (including wristwatches and their batteries) should be removed from the body before sealing the coffin lid.

The crematorium must be informed if the deceased is carrying a heart pacemaker as it has be removed before incineration takes place.

Once cooled, the ashes and crushed bones (‘cremains’) are placed in a container (an urn if supplied) and given to the family or funeral director for storage, keeping or scattering.

Learn more about what to do with ashes

For more information visit the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management www.iccm-uk.com

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.