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Here's What Happens When Your Body Is Cremated

Jaroslav A. Polák via Wikimedia Commons

Nobody likes to think about it, but everyone dies eventually.

But before you go, you're tasked with writing out your will, planning your funeral arrangements, and most importantly, deciding what to do with your body.

While plenty of people opt to be buried in a coffin six feet under, others prefer to be cremated, and have their ashes spread out accordingly.

We all know the process that goes into either a closed or open casket funeral, but when it comes to cremation, most of us only know that our bodies get tossed into an incinerator.

Cremation, as an option for the final disposition of a deceased person, has been around for thousands of years. While the beginnings of cremation involved somewhat primitive methods for achieving the end result, modern times and technology have given rise to a more standardized version of the process.

The Aztec emperor Ahuitzotl being cremated. United States public domain / Wikimedia Commons

However, if you've ever wondered what the process entailed, you have come to the right place.

We are seeing a fundamental shift in how we approach death and what comes after. Compared to just a few decades ago, vastly more Americans are foregoing the old-fashioned burial and turning to the alternative of cremation.

William Price helped to legalize cremation and was himself cremated after his death in 1893.Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

What happens to us after we die?

The jury might be out on the spiritual answer but Bramcote Crematorium threw open its doors to shed some light on the more physical aspects of death. Located in Nottingham, England I am glad they took the time to share with the public what goes on behind closed doors.

The crematorium's manager Louise Singer told Nottinghamshire Live that the September 8 open house was meant to dispel any myths or fears a person may have.

"There are so many myths about what happens at a crematorium," Singer told the publication.

"People think we resell the coffins or mix the ashes so today is to show we are transparent and we care. We just want to reassure them through the process."

The Preparation

Although you might assume a body is immediately cremated when it arrives at the establishment, by law, crematoriums have up to three days to incinerate the body.

However, Bramcote said they aim to do so in under 24 hours.

Their first step is to check nothing has been left in the coffin, and to make sure the deceased didn't have a pacemaker.

Should one go into the incinerator, it would cause an explosion in the furnace and then lift the more than 44,000 pound incinerator seven inches into the air.

The Cremation

The body is then wheeled towards one of two machines.

The first contains a gas-fueled flame, that raises the temperature to between 800 and 1,000 degrees celsius. It's so hot, that if used on the Friday, it will still still be 300 degrees celsius on the following Monday.

If an individual body part (that was either previously donated to science or needed for an autopsy) needs to be cremated, it will be burned on its own, rather than have it be turned to ash with another person's organs.

The process typically takes 90 minutes, and staff must use a spy hole to see if there are any visible flames left, which determines if the process is complete.

During the cremation, the waste particles found in the incinerator are "sucked away and filtered to stop mercury from teeth fillings getting in to the atmosphere."

The Result

After the entire incinerating process is complete, a cool down period of 30 minutes to an hour is required before the bone fragments can be handled for further processing.

According to Andy Hands, Bramcote Crematorium's senior operative, the total weight of the ashes varies depending on the body's bone density, but is usually the same as the individual's birth weight.

Bronze container of ancient cremated human remains, complete with votive offering. Hellenic civilisation. Nabokov at English Wikipedia from Wikimedia Commons

They're then placed into another machine that sifts out any jewelry or hip replacements, which are then recycled, with the earnings given to charity.

A form follows the body at every stage, to make sure there's no mix-up and are given to the proper recipients.

Once the deceased's relatives return to the crematorium, they are given the choice to either take the ashes with them, or leave them there.

Bramcote Crematorium also holds what they call a "Service Of Remembrance" throughout the year. Friends and family can light a candle in memory of their loved ones, whose names can also be read out during the act of remembrance, should they so wish.

This service has become a very popular event and can attract a large attendance.

Comments from previous services have included:

  • ‘A thoroughly enjoyable service’
  • ‘Very Moving’
  • ‘A rewarding experience’
  • ‘A beautiful way to remember your loved ones at Christmas’
  • ‘I was very moved by this service’
  • ‘Lovely service, well thought through’

[H/T: Nottinghamshire Live]

Will you be cremated after you die? Let us know in the comments!

Maya has been working at Shared for a year. She just begrudgingly spent $200 on a gym membership. Contact her at maya@shared.com