Around 70% of all funerals in the UK involve cremation, but until you attend one, the cremation process can seem a little mysterious – and daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.

 

In this guide …

If you’re arranging a funeral with a cremation, attending one as a guest, or simply curious about how it all works, we’re here to help.

This guide will explain what happens at a cremation and how the cremation process works, covering:

Looking for a funeral director to arrange a cremation? Click here to compare prices, reviews and services for funeral homes in your area.


 

What is cremation?

Cremation is a process that transforms the remains of a person who has died into “ashes” using intense heat. These ashes are in fact tiny fragments of bone. Once the cremation is complete, the ashes are returned to the family of the person who has died.

The machine used to cremate bodies is called a cremator. A building in which cremations take place is called a crematorium.

 

What happens at a cremation service?

If you’ve not attended a funeral with a cremation before, you might be wondering what to expect: how long does a cremation service take, and what do guests need to know?

While every funeral is different, the day will usually be planned along these lines:

  • The coffin is taken to the location for the service and placed on a raised platform. The funeral service can be held in a special dedicated room in the crematorium itself, or a separate hall or religious building (like a village hall, church or chapel).
  • Guests gather at the location for the service. It’s important to arrive on time, as cremation services are usually held to a tight schedule.
  • The service is held. Cremation services are usually about 30 minutes long, although families can book more time (usually for an additional fee). You may be given an order of service, which will tell you what will happen at the cremation service, as well as the details of any songs, prayers and readings.
  • The committal begins. At the end of the service, the coffin is taken out of the room to begin the process of being cremated. If the service is taking place at the crematorium, curtains may move across the coffin, or it might be lowered into the floor and out of view.
  • Guests leave the service. The celebrant or funeral director will usually show guests the way out. There is usually an opportunity at this point to see the flowers that have been donated, and to give condolences to the family.
  • The wake is held (optional). There’s often a wake after the funeral service. This is a reception at which food and drinks are served. Here, guests can talk and share their memories of the person who has died.

Did you know? A cremation without a funeral service is called a “direct cremation”. This costs much less than a standard cremation. You can find out more about direct cremation here, or click here to arrange a direct cremation with Beyond, where prices start at just £1,195.

So, that’s what happens at a funeral with a cremation. Now to explain exactly how cremation works …

 

What happens during the cremation process?

The cremation itself usually happens on the day of the service, around half an hour later. So, how does cremation work, exactly? We’ve put together some FAQs on the process to help you out.

How is a body prepared for cremation?

After the funeral director has collected the person who has died, they will keep them in a cool, temperature-controlled room in the funeral home until the service can take place. Embalming isn’t necessary for cremation, although some families request it.

Ahead of the funeral, the person who has died will be washed and dressed in clothing chosen by their family. Jewellery can be worn, but it’s advised that anything of sentimental value is taken off before the actual cremation.

Funeral directors will always remove watches, as the batteries can explode in the cremator. For the same reason, pacemakers and other medical devices need to be removed ahead of the cremation.

What can you put in a coffin for cremation?

Cards, letters and photographs are usually fine, but it’s best to ask the crematorium about any other items.

Synthetic clothing, shoes with rubber soles and soft toys are usually not allowed, as well as hollow items like bottles, containers and (as is traditional in some communities) coconuts, which explode. Items with a battery in, like mobile phones, should also be taken out of the coffin before cremation.

What happens during the cremation itself? How long does cremation take?

  • Before the cremation takes place, the cremation chamber is heated to around 870-980 ºC.
  • The coffin is then placed in the chamber, where a column of flame ignites it.
  • Cremation takes about one and a half to three hours, after which only bone fragments are left. These are left to cool for about 30 minutes.
  • Next, a powerful magnet is used to pull metal fragments out of the ashes.
  • A kind of grinder called a cremulator is then used to turn the bone fragments into a fine, grey-white powder.
  • The ashes are placed in a container called an urn and given to the family.

Do you have to have a coffin for cremation?

It depends on the crematorium. Many crematoriums require a coffin, as this makes it far easier to place the body in the cremator. Others will accept a shroud, placing the body on a flat board instead. If a coffin is needed, it doesn’t mean that it has to be an expensive one: many families choose a low cost cardboard coffin, and ask the crematorium or funeral director to provide a more decorative coffin cover for the service.

What happens to the coffin during the cremation process?

The coffin will be cremated along with the person who has died. During the cremation process itself, the coffin will burn first, leaving only small traces behind.

Can the family observe the cremation process?

This will depend on the crematorium, but many will let one or two family members observe the cremation.

Do they ever cremate more than one person at a time?

No: human cremators can only take one coffin at a time, so all cremations are performed separately. The crematorium might make exceptions in special circumstances, such as if the family have asked if a mother and baby could be cremated together.

However, some pet crematoriums will cremate multiple pets at once. You can sometimes pay an additional fee to be certain of an individual pet cremation.

How long after the cremation will you get the ashes?

The ashes will usually be ready for collection about two to three days after the service. If the family hasn’t chosen a specific urn for the ashes, they will come in a simple container.

Who gets the ashes after cremation?

The funeral director will usually collect the ashes from the crematorium on behalf of the family, then pass them on along with the Certificate of Cremation.

A lot of people wonder who has the rights to the ashes after the cremation. The crematorium will usually only release the ashes to the family member named on the cremation form or the funeral director. If you are collecting the ashes yourself, it’s important to bring a form of official ID, like a passport.

Not sure what to do with ashes after a cremation? Here are some ideas from the Beyond blog.

 

How to arrange a cremation

If you would like to arrange a cremation, your first step is to find a funeral director. You can use Beyond’s funeral director comparison tool here to compare and contact local funeral directors in just a few minutes.

If you’re planning your own funeral ahead of time, you can request cremation as part of a pre-paid funeral plan.

How much is cremation?

The average cost of a funeral with a cremation is around £3,600. This is a lot less than burial, which usually costs about £4,600.

A direct cremation, where there is no service, is even less. coming in at about £1,195 here at Beyond.

You can find out more about funeral costs here.

What paperwork is needed for the cremation process to go ahead?

48 hours ahead of the cremation service, the family and funeral director will need to gather:

  • The ‘green’ certificate for burial or cremation. The registry office will give this to the family when they register the death. If a coroner has been investigating the death, they will supply cremation form 6 instead (form E in Scotland and Northern Ireland).
  • The application for cremation. The family fill this out and it is given to the crematorium. It’s important to note that the ashes can only be released to the person stated on the form. This is called cremation form 1 in England and Wales, and form A in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Cremation forms 4 and 5 (B and C in Scotland and Northern Ireland): These are medical forms. The first is signed by the doctor who was treating the person who died at the time of their death. The second is signed by an independent, unrelated doctor. If the coroner was involved, these forms are unnecessary, and they will provide cremation form 6 instead.

 


Do you have any questions about how the cremation process works? Call us on 0800 044 9454 for free advice, or add your question to the comments below.

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