Although cremation was widely practiced since the beginning of recorded history, the advent of Emperor Constantine’s legalization of Christianity in 313 A.D. saw earth burials completely replacing cremations. It wasn’t until 1873, when a perfected cremation chamber was displayed at the Vienna Exposition that interest in cremation began anew.
Cremation in the United States
In the U.S., the first crematorium was built in Pennsylvania three years later in 1876, but because of religious concerns the practice was infrequently used. The biggest breakthrough for the acceptance of cremation as a means of returning the body to nature came in 1963 when Pope Paul VI proclaimed cremation was no longer illegal in the eyes of the Church and three years later announced that Roman Catholic priests were permitted to conduct services at cremations.
The practice is also accepted by most Protestant denominations, but what one considers a Christian funeral can vary widely from one denomination to another or even within the same denomination. Judaism, however, does not allow cremations. The Jewish faithful attending a funeral service say they are unable to make an association between the departed and the urn. The presence of the deceased is not felt. They consider turning the body into ash as unnatural because when buried the body returns to dust and becomes one with the soil which allows new growth and new life. Ash, they believe, is empty and lifeless.
The Cremation Process
The services provided by the funeral director will usually consist of the transferring of the deceased to the crematory, preparing the body, obtaining the necessary signatures from the doctor or coroner, obtaining death certificates and permits, insuring that pacemakers, and other medical devices are removed in addition to jewelry, etc. Because most states require a waiting period of up to 48 hours before cremation begins and since there is usually no embalming, the body must be transferred to a refrigerated room.
All cremations are performed individually. For performing a cremation the casket or container is placed in the chamber for 1 to 3 hours at a temperature of approximately 1400 to 1800 degrees. Depending on the size and weight of the body, by that time all organic matter is consumed by the heat, flame, or evaporation. The remaining residue is primarily ash and bone fragments which are carefully removed and run through a processor into a powder. The powder, normally ranging between three and nine pounds, will then be placed in the urn purchased by the family. The entire process usually takes approximately three hours. Witnessing the process is available for members of the family or their representatives.
A traditional funeral service before the cremation is an option available to the family, as is a memorial service after the cremation with the urn present.
The family can inter the urn in a cemetery plot, a columbarium (free standing wall with numerous niches to hold urns), or take the urn home. Scattering the cremated remains is also an option to the family but must be done in accordance with state or local laws.
As one might expect, the cost for cremation varies from state to state and from provider to provider. The following estimated cost-range reflects the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” i.e. the simpler the cremation, the lower the cost; the more up-scale services provided, the higher the cost.
Low End $700-$1,000: Includes the transfer of the body, refrigeration, document processing, simple box for the crematory, the cremation, and a plastic urn to take home.
High End $15,000+: Includes the basic services, transfers, refrigeration or embalming, solid mahogany casket for crematory, the cremation, complete memorial service ceremony, a solid bronze and polished brass urn, and internment niche.
If you prefer to have the cremated remains scattered at sea by the cremation provider, the cost by those providing such services range from $300-$1,000 depending upon the day of the week requested and number of witnesses.
Over the past decade views on cremation have undergone radically changes. As a result, cremation is now an accepted alternative and its popularity has been steadily growing. In fact, it’s been estimated that at the present time approximately one-third of all U.S. deaths involve cremation and that number is expected to rise dramatically in the coming years.