What Most People Don’t Know or Can’t Fathom About Cremation


By Amy Cunningham, Fitting Tribute Funeral Services, Brooklyn, NY

Cremation does not replace the funeral. You can still have a funeral with the body present before the cremation, or a memorial service with an urn there afterwards.

If a cremation is planned–and a wake, formal funeral or identification of the body is still anticipated– you needn’t be saddled with the costs of a casket. Ask your funeral home about a ceremonial rental casket with cardboard cremation liner.

The lowest cremation price in the phone book or from a Google search is too low. Trust me. Funeral homes charging bottom dollar may be cutting corners to increase their total sales volume (or annual calls).

If time allows and the family is interested, the cremation box can be creatively decorated. Ask your funeral director to charge you extra to bring the cardboard cremation box to your house so that you and the grandkids (for example) can write, paint and draw on grandma’s casket. Sounds potentially strange and disastrous, I know, but like brides on their wedding day, these home decorated sacred vessels are surprisingly gorgeous and engage the family in an activity that is wildly uplifting.

3523091094_bd41b02530For an additional sum, a short service with closed casket or cremation box can generally be held at crematories that have a chapel attached to them. The box or casket’s entry into the retort (or cremation chamber) can also be personally witnessed or scheduled for a specific time. Witnessing gives some families peace of mind, and a feeling that the deceased person was accompanied “the whole way.” If you’re not up for this, you could ask a friend to witness the casket’s entry into the retort for you.

An unceremonious or “direct” cremation can mean that the deceased will be cremated in a plastic body bag or hospital gown. Most grieving families never think about this in advance and if they did, they’d probably realize that, of course, they’d like the deceased properly dressed.

You can have your deceased relatives bathed and dressed for a quick viewing or just to know they went to the crematory looking as good as they could look. For this, your funeral bill may only go up only $200-$400.

Ash is mostly pulverized bones, inert minerals left in the retort after burning which are then processed by a noisy mill into a grainy powder.

Cremated remains weigh about four pounds and are returned to the family in a boxy, plastic, temporary container. Please don’t let this box sit too long in a hall closet. This is bad Feng Shui, among other things. Buy an urn. Do something with the remains. Move the old energy of loss out as soon as you are ready.

Cremated remains—by themselves when scattered—are not especially good for plants. There’s a product called Let Your Love Grow that, when mixed in, makes the ashes better for growing things.

Cremation takes up less land and might save some money, but here’s the downside with some crematories: it takes a lot of fossil fuel to heat that retort (or oven) to 1800 degrees F and keep it heated for two to three hours. Ask your crematory about how many cremations are performed in the average day since busy crematories are more fuel efficient (as the retort is not constantly being cooled and reheated). Also ask how up-to-date the equipment is (more modern the better). Then perhaps, if you are not satisfied with the answers you’re getting and your family is open to changing plans quite dramatically, consider the new love of my life (sorry Steve)–green burial. Pine box. Or simple shroud. Drive out of the city and convene in a green cemetery. Let your loved one descend into the soil ASAP. This is the way our teachers, Jews and Muslims, have done it all along. And it’s something I’ll post more about later.

10 responses

  1. Friends in the Northeast sent me the NYT article and I found your blog through it. I enjoyed reading about your twisty path that includes mentions of South Carolina and Atlanta. My wife is from Sumter, SC and she and I both used to live near Emory.

    I’m in central North Carolina now, and I’m trying to spread the green burial gospel around here: Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Greensboro.

    I make simple pine box coffins and write about green burial and making coffins.

    Don from PiedmontPineCoffins.com

  2. Pingback: Green burial New York publicity push - Piedmont Pine Coffins

  3. It’s so nice to see a post that’s written about ways to save people money in their time of need.

    Can I ask if cardboard caskets are popular where you are because many people in the UK seem to frown upon them – and those that do want them can pay over $155.80 (£1000) for the privilege?


  4. I attended a funeral and a memorial recently, both relatives from opposite sides of the family. Here’s the interesting part. At the first event, the surviving wife had a closed coffin at the front during the ceremony. The closed casket, however, was completely empty, because her husband had already been cremated. The funeral home let her use the empty coffin for free, since it was only being used for display. No effort was made to hide the fact from anyone that her husband was not actually in the casket. In contrast, the memorial for the other relative was conducted like most, with photographs and remembrances, but no empty casket.

    In looking back at the two events, I have to admit that the presence of the casket, even knowing it was empty, made the whole ceremony seem more significant, more memorable. I still can’t figure out why I feel that way, but it is true. I may use that idea for my own funeral.

  5. I really find your blog helpful. I agree with your post that said,” Funeral homes charging bottom dollar may be cutting corners to increase their total sales volume (or annual calls).” I found checking reviews on line quite informative to help me find a reputable affordable funeral firm in NYC. Also, loved the idea of families decorating the cardboard cremation container.

  6. Whether someone wants to be buried or cremated is a personal choice. I personally choose cremation because it is less expensive than burials and I have other reasons for it. You can now have your ashes grow into a tree, I love that idea.

  7. I believe the job of a good funeral director is to make sure the family knows all of the options. It can be tough for some but it is necessary. The most important thing is for family members to have the tough conversation so most of the tough decisions have been made or at least discussed. It is painful to watch a family try to guess what their loved one would have wanted.t

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