Here’s What Happens To Your Body In A Crematorium

By molly atherton 6 months ago
As the final chapter in the circle of life, the process of cremation has long fascinated and intrigued humanity. Behind the closed doors of a crematorium, a unique alchemical transformation takes place, reducing the physical remains of a loved one to ashes. In this article, we delve into the profound journey our bodies undergo within the confines of a crematorium, unraveling the scientific and symbolic aspects of this age-old ritual. From the crackling flames to the ethereal rise of smoke, we explore the intricate dance between matter and memory that occurs when our mortal forms are surrendered to the cremation process.

Identifying the Deceased

In the somber process of identifying the deceased, a solemn atmosphere envelops the room, where grief intertwines with the necessity of closure. Typically, a close family member, often accompanied by a supportive friend due to the emotional weight, undertakes the challenging task of confirming the identity of their loved one.
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Identifying the body usually involved a close family member, sometimes supported by a friend as it's traumatic, confirming the deceased is their loved one.  Once this has been clarified, a metal identity tag is placed on the foot of the body and will remain in place throughout.  It will be put with the remains for final verification.

Official Permission

Before initiating the cremation process, it is imperative that the crematory obtains official permission, a crucial step in adhering to legal requirements. It is crucial for the individual coordinating the final arrangements to provide accurate and detailed information in the paperwork, ensuring a smooth and respectful cremation process.
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The crematory must have official permission to move forward with the cremation. This entails the person who is making the final arrangements completes the paperwork which will authorise the crematory to proceed.  This documentation will ask for information regarding the type of container the crematory should use and who will pick up the remains.

Preparing the Body

Following the preparation of the body, it is carefully placed in a designated container suitable for cremation. This container is typically made of materials that facilitate the process, ensuring a respectful and efficient transformation.
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Preparing the body is something the crematorium can handle on its own and involves cleaning and dressing of the body.  Jewellery and other items are taken off for the loved ones to keep unless there is a special request for the deceased to wear a particular piece.  Any prosthetics or mechanical devices are removed to avoid a reaction.

Moving To The Cremation Chamber

The cremation takes place in a specially designed furnace and is referred to as a cremation chamber or retort. It is exposed to extreme temperatures up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving behind only the ashes. Following the procedure there is a cooling period which will be required before the remains can be handled.
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Once the cremation process is complete, the remaining ashes are carefully collected and processed to ensure a uniform and fine texture. This meticulous attention to detail is crucial in creating a dignified and respectful final tribute. Families often have the option to choose from a variety of urns or containers to house the cremated remains, allowing for a personalized and meaningful memorialization.

Checking The Remains

In rare instances, unexpected items or remnants unrelated to the cremation process may be discovered during the inspection of the cremated remains. These surprises can range from non-metallic objects, such as jewelry or small trinkets, to items that held sentimental value to the deceased.
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After the cremation, the remains are inspected for any metal remnants that may be left behind. This can be the result of items such as screws, pins and joints the deceased had surgically placed during their life. Metal is removed by hand or with strong magnets and often sent for recycling. The cremated remains are then ground down by a special processor into the final resulting ashes.

Transferring the Ashes

When transporting the ashes, there is an emotional sensitivity maintained throughout the handover process. Funeral homes often provide families with detailed information on how to handle the urn or container once it is taken home. They may offer guidance on suitable placement, display options, and proper care to ensure the memorial remains a cherished and respectful tribute.
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Unless otherwise specified, the remains are placed in a sealed plastic bag which is then housed inside an urn or another container.  The family will then be contacted to pick it up and take it home.  The handing over process is dealt with extremely sympathetically as it is such an emotional procedure.

How Long Is The Process

Cremation is often perceived as a more environmentally friendly and efficient option, as it reduces the need for land dedicated to cemeteries and minimizes the time to build burial sites. Families also have the flexibility to choose from a variety of creative ways to memorialize their loved ones after cremation.
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Cremation is considered more efficient than traditional burials and can be completed in a shorter length of time following a death. Depending on factors such as the size and weight of the body, the type of container holding the body and the efficiency of the equipment installed, the actual cremation procedure takes around 2-3 hours.

What Is a Cremation Chamber?

The cremation chamber is basically an industrial furnace designed to hold a single body.  It is lined with fire-resistant bricks which hold in the intense heat.  Modern cremation furnaces are computerized and automated, fuelled with natural gas, diesel or propane.
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These state-of-the-art cremation furnaces are equipped with advanced temperature control systems, ensuring precise regulation throughout the cremation process. The computerized automation not only enhances efficiency but also allows for meticulous monitoring of the cremation, guaranteeing adherence to stringent environmental and safety standards.

How Many Types of Cremation Are There?

Compared with traditional burial, cremation does not require the body to be embalmed which can be quite an expensive process.  There is also no need for a large burial plot.  There are 3 types of cremation, direct cremation, liquid cremation and green cremation.
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Direct cremation involves the immediate cremation of the deceased without a funeral service, liquid cremation employs an alkaline hydrolysis process, and green cremation emphasizes eco-conscious practices by using biodegradable urns and minimizing environmental impact throughout the cremation process.

Direct Cremation

Direct cremation offers a practical and cost-effective alternative to traditional funeral services, making it an increasingly popular choice for those seeking simplicity and affordability. By bypassing elaborate ceremonies and foregoing the need for a casket, families can focus on commemorating their loved one in a more personalized and meaningful way during a separate memorial gathering.
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Direct cremation is a process where the remains are transferred directly to a cremation centre with no funeral service taking place beforehand.  This is the cheapest form of burial as there is no funeral service, no wake and no casket purchase.  Most families will arrange a memorial service for family and friends to pay their respects.

Liquid Cremation

Some individuals are drawn to the idea of a gentler, more sustainable end-of-life option that aligns with their environmental values. As awareness grows, more funeral homes are incorporating this technology into their services, offering individuals a choice that reflects not only personal preferences but also a commitment to environmental responsibility.
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The process of alkaline hydrolysis is an alternative to flame cremation. The combination of the water, heat, alkali and pressure causes a reaction that speeds up decomposition and leaves behind only bone fragments and a sterile liquid.  This flameless process results in about a third more remains than flame-based cremations.

Green Cremation

Alkaline hydrolysis is considered a “green” alternative to burial. Once drained of all the remaining bone fragments, the resulting sterile solution can be recycled through the wastewater treatment system. 
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Many environmentally conscious individuals are now opting for alkaline hydrolysis instead of the conventional procedure because of its environmental benefits.  Because there is no flame, green cremation eliminates any concerns regarding mercury emissions and reduces the use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses.

What Happens To The Body During Cremation?

Funeral directors play a crucial role in guiding grieving relatives through the available options and providing support during this emotionally challenging time.
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The different types of cremation use different technologies to affect the body. In the' 'traditional' flame-based method, the body is placed into a cremation chamber that reduces the body to bone fragments using flame and heat.  The funeral directors will talk through every step with the relatives.

How Does Combustion Take Place?

Combustion burns off tissue, body fat, organs and some container materials such as Secondary combustion continues to work on the remaining inorganic particles usually from the container. The gases (carbon dioxide and water vapour) discharge, leaving bone fragments to be pulverized into ashes.
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In the final stages of combustion, the intense heat generated during the process contributes to the breakdown of complex organic compounds, ensuring a thorough reduction of remaining tissue and cellular structures. The residue, primarily composed of bone fragments, undergoes further disintegration as the temperature rises, ultimately resulting in the formation of powdery ashes.

What type of container is used for cremation?

Many individuals opt for eco-friendly alternatives, such as biodegradable urns or containers made from sustainable materials, aligning with a growing awareness of environmental impact. Funeral directors often provide a range of choices to cater to diverse preferences, ensuring families can make decisions that reflect their values.
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While there are special caskets designed for cremation, the container can also be a simple cardboard box. The only requirements are that the container must be combustible, non-toxic and sturdy enough to hold the weight of the body.  The family will be talked through the options.

What type of container is used for the remains?

It's important for the family to consult local burial regulations to ensure compliance with any specific guidelines regarding the type of container used for interment.
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The crematorium will typically place the remains in a sealed, airtight bag or container. This can then be placed inside any receptacle or container. The family must be sure to follow burial regulations for their city/country,  if  the remains are to be buried in the receptacle.

What happens to the remains after cremation?

For most, the most important part of the cremation process is choosing how to keep their special someone with them at all times. Some individuals choose to preserve the cremated remains in a memorial urn, creating a tangible and lasting tribute to the departed.
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Cremated remains can be moved easily and be put, for example, by a memorial bench, sculpture or tree plot. The ashes are often scattered in an area which had meaning for the deceased. They can even be made into a gem, similar to a diamond and be worn by the deceased's nearest and dearest.  This can give great comfort to the mourner.

What are human ashes consisting of?

The composition of human ashes resulting from cremation primarily comprises bone fragments, as the intense heat during the cremation process reduces the body to its basic mineral components. Any residue left from the cremation container, as well as other materials involved in the process, may also be present in the final ashes.
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Despite initial hesitation, many family members find solace in the idea of keeping the cremated remains close, as it provides a tangible connection to their loved ones and serves as a meaningful way to commemorate their presence.

How much ash is there after cremation?

Understanding the weight of cremated remains can be a poignant concern for grieving family members. The apprehension about whether the urn can bear the weight of the ashes is a common consideration.
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Close relatives of the deceased, particularly an older next of kin, are the ones with these worries. It's essential for funeral directors and crematory staff to address these concerns empathetically, providing reassurance and guidance on the appropriate urn choices to alleviate the worries of the grieving family. Depending on the body and the process used by the crematory, there are usually between 3 and 9 pounds of remains.

Do bodies move during cremation?

It's crucial to note that crematories adhere to strict protocols and guidelines to ensure a respectful and dignified process. Any residual movements during the early stages of cremation can be attributed to natural bodily processes, such as the release of gases or the contraction of muscles due to heat.
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This might sound weird but, if a body is burned at a low enough temperature and very soon after death, movements are possible.  However, because of the efficiency of modern cremation chambers, the body immediately begins its dissolution, and movement is unlikely.

Do you have clothes on when you're cremated?

It is common for families to choose attire that holds sentimental value, reflecting the personality or interests of the departed. The selection of combustible clothing ensures a respectful and dignified transition during the cremation process.
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Most crematories allow the bereaved the option of dressing their loved one prior to cremation although clothing choices must be completely combustible. This is especially the case when there is a viewing or other ceremony prior to cremation.  Where there is no viewing, the deceased will e cremated in either a sheet or the clothes they were wearing on arrival.

Do they burn the coffin at a cremation?

During the cremation process, the heat generated within the cremation chamber reduces the body and the chosen container to ashes and bone fragments. The type of container selected can vary based on personal preferences and cultural considerations.
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The coffin (or whatever type of container selected to hold the body) is burned along with the body.  As this is the case, families may choose either a cardboard casket or a very simple wooden one, much less elaborate than one used to bury a body directly into a grave.

Do they cremate multiple bodies at once?

The stringent regulations surrounding cremations aim to ensure the respectful and individualized treatment of each deceased person. This commitment to one-body-per-cremation reflects a deep-seated cultural and ethical understanding of the sanctity of human remains.
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Whilst different crematories abide by their own rules and they may differ from country to country, one thing is set in stone and that is that all cremations performed will be on single bodies. In fact, in the States, if more than one body is cremated at the same time, it is a criminal offence and involves a jail sentence.

What are religious views on cremation?

Hinduism has a longstanding tradition of cremation, considering it a sacred and spiritually significant practice. The Hindu belief in reincarnation emphasizes the impermanence of the physical body, and cremation is seen as a means of facilitating the soul's journey to the afterlife. Similarly, in Buddhism, views on cremation vary, with some adherents choosing it as a method of body disposal in line with the impermanence and transience emphasized in Buddhist teachings.
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The views on cremation are as varied as the religions themselves.  Christianity was opposed to cremation for many years although it has now become as popular as burying the coffin in a grave.  The Eastern Orthodox Church forbids cremation outright as does the Jewish religion.

Coffin Altar At Crematorium

As the mourners grapple with the emotional weight of the cremation, the atmosphere becomes laden with a profound sense of finality. The cremation process, though explained to the grieving family beforehand, unfolds as a poignant realization that their beloved is truly departing from them.
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This is probably one of the most upsetting parts of the funeral for the mourners, knowing that their loved one is about to be cremated and everything feels so final.  The family will have been talked through the process but it will still be extremely emotional and is the time when it hits them that the deceased has really left them.

Control room

The control room serves as the nerve center of the funeral proceedings, discreetly tucked away behind the crematorium chapel. In this carefully orchestrated space, the operators deftly manage the poignant elements of the ceremony, seamlessly coordinating the music and curtains to create a solemn and respectful atmosphere.
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As an integral part of the funeral planning process, families often find solace in knowing that their loved one's preferences, including musical choices, may have been previously discussed, allowing for a personalized and meaningful farewell. The deceased may even have discussed it before their death along with any other wishes they have.

Crematorium Furnaces

The process of cremation involves placing the deceased inside a cremation chamber, which is then sealed to create a controlled environment. Operating at an astonishing temperature of 1300 degrees Celsius, this specialized equipment ensures the efficient reduction of the deceased to their fundamental elements and dried bone fragments.
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The cremation furnace is also known as an incinerator or cremation oven. The significance of this high temperature lies in its ability to accelerate the decomposition process, facilitating a swift transformation while minimizing heat loss. This rapid transition is essential not only for practical reasons but also to uphold cultural and religious practices surrounding cremation.

A Prosthetic Hip Joint

The identification and extraction of these remnants demand a blend of precision and sensitivity, as it involves handling the ashes with the utmost respect and care. This occurrence is notably prevalent in the ashes of elderly individuals, reflecting the advancements in medical technology and the prevalence of such implants in an aging population.
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Once cremation has taken place, the sensitive task of separating the ashes of the deceased from items that have not burned, is carried out.  It is quite common for prosthetic hip joints and steel plates, particularly from older persons, to be found amongst them.

Sikh Kirpan

In the Sikh faith, the ritual of cremation holds profound significance, reflecting the spiritual beliefs and cultural practices embedded in this vibrant religious tradition.
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In the Sikh religion, cremation, as opposed to burial of the body, is more usual and the ashes are submerged into a river.  If any items on the deceased's person have failed to be cremated, these are also placed in the river.  This was the case of a Sikh man who was cremated with a miniature symbolic religious sword.

Metal Buckle

In a unique and intriguing twist, a particularly resilient element defied the fiery grasp of cremation. Astonishingly, the deceased's belt buckle emerged unscathed from the intense heat of the cremation process, becoming a symbol of endurance and continuity.
Image source Laura Peters
Sometimes the deceased sets out the exact wishes for their own funeral.  This may include music, type of casket and how they want to be dressed when they leave this earth.  After cremation, this person's belt buckle survived the intense heat and was buried in religious consecrated ground.

What happens after a cremation service?

After the meticulous check for any items inadvertently left in the coffin, the cremation process commences with the body placed in a specialized chamber. Family members often have the option to witness the cremation process, providing a sense of closure and a deeper understanding of the finality of their loved one's journey.
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You might think that once the coffin goes behind the curtain, it immediately enters a furnace and burns.  Actually, by law, crematoriums have up to 72 hours to burn the body although they usually start the process within 24 hours of the body being received into their hands. The first step is for staff to ensure nothing has been left in the coffin that shouldn't be in there.

Deceased Has A Pacemaker

The confirmation of the absence of a pacemaker also holds legal implications. Knowing definitively that the deceased does not possess a pacemaker allows for compliance with these regulations, mitigating the risk of legal repercussions and ensuring adherence to established standards.
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Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, they confirm that the deceased definitely doesn't have a pacemaker.  If a pacemaker happened to explode in the furnace, it could lift the machines, which weigh over 20 tonnes, seven inches into the air - that would be frightening.

What Temperature Is The Cremation Furnace?

The intense heat generated by a gas-fueled flame plays a pivotal role in various industrial processes, reaching temperatures ranging from 800 to a scorching 1,000 degrees Celsius. This level of heat is not only remarkable for its sheer intensity but also for its remarkable endurance.
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Imagine a machine powered down on a Friday evening, yet still retaining a formidable temperature exceeding 300 degrees Celsius when restarted on Monday morning. This phenomenon underscores the persistent thermal energy within the equipment, emphasizing the need for robust cooling systems and safety measures.

Where Are The Bodies Burned And For How Long?

The solemn process of cremation unfolds within the confines of a dedicated facility, where the deceased is reverently wheeled into one of the two specialized machines designed for this purpose.
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The deceased is wheeled into one of the two machines.  If an individual body part is being burned, because it has been part of a post-mortem process or it has been left to science, it is burned on its own and not with other people's organs.  Staff (because it was needed for a post-mortem or left for science) it is burned on its own, not with other people's organs.  Staff use a spy hole to check it has finished and that there are no visible flames.

What About Tooth Fillings?

The intricate nature of this waste management process reflects the evolving landscape of funeral practices, where environmental considerations are gaining prominence. Beyond the emotional aspects, funeral homes and mortuaries are increasingly adopting eco-friendly practices to align with broader societal shifts toward sustainable and responsible approaches in various industries.
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During the process, waste particles are sucked away and filtered to stop mercury from teeth fillings getting into the atmosphere.  Relatives are not normally told of this procedure as they can find it upsetting and they are already dealing with the death of their loved one.

How Much Do Ashes Weigh?

This ritualistic gathering serves as a poignant transition, marking the end of one existence and the beginning of another form. Patience becomes a virtue in this moment, as the collected ashes are left to cool for approximately an hour, allowing the residual warmth to dissipate and giving time for reflection on the life that once was.
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The ashes, which should have the consistency of sand, are collected with a rake and left to cool for about an hour.  The final weight can vary hugely, depending on bone density but it is usually around the same weight as the deceased's birth weight which sounds quite spooky.

What Doesn't Burn?

Cremation is a process that has intrigued and mystified people for centuries, and the amount of remains returned to loved ones after the procedure often prompts surprise. Contrary to common expectations, the remnants are not as minuscule as one might anticipate.
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People are often surprised by the amount of remains that they get back after a body has been cremated.   They half expect it to be a small quantity.  None of the bones burn and they are all left as they cannot evaporate.   They are reduced in size to a granular consistency.

Navel Does Not Burn

This phenomenon, known to only a select few, adds a layer of intrigue to the age-old rite of passage. The unyielding navel, a silent witness to the transience of life, underscores the complex interplay between the spiritual and the corporeal.
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The ashes that remain are collected in vessels that are made of brass or clay.  Very few people will actually be aware that the belly button (navel) of the deceased does not burn or turn into ash.  It remains hard and in the same shape as it was on the human body before death.

Skull Broken During Hindu Cremation

Central to the Hindu belief system is the fervent hope that, during this fiery transition, the skull will break. The anticipation of this sacred rupture amplifies the emotional resonance of the ceremony, as family members await the spiritual liberation of their departed loved one.
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In the Hindu cremation ceremony, the fire is left to burn itself out and this can take days.  In that time, the body is transformed to ashes and the family hope the skull explodes to release the soul to heaven.  If it does not crack, once it has cooled down, the oldest son splits it in two.

Do Human Ashes Smell?

Interestingly, there have been instances where individuals perceived a subtle aroma akin to incense, adding a unique dimension to the sensory experience associated with cremation. It is essential to recognize the subjective nature of olfactory perceptions, as people's sensitivities and interpretations of scents can vary widely.
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In the majority of cases, cremated remains are odourless although they may have a slightly metallic scent.  Some people have been known to remark that the ashes smell like incense. However, it is most common for the ashes to have no distinct smell at all.

Can You Get DNA From Ashes

The limitations of positive identification become pronounced when dealing with commercially conducted cremations. The scope of analysis extends only as far as determining whether the recovered remains align with the expected life history and accompanying personal effects of the deceased.
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In most cases, positive identification cannot be established with commercial cremation. This is because DNA does not survive the cremation temperature.  Analysis of the remains can only determine whether they are consistent with the life history and accompanying materials of the deceased.

Gold Fill

At a traditional Khmer funeral, for those of Cambodian descent, a gold or silver coin is often put into the mouth of the deceased before the body is cremated. They believe that if they do this then the dead person can bring wealth to the family through their everlasting soulings are not removed.
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The notion of placing precious metals within the departed's mouth is intricately tied to the Cambodian belief in the transmigration of the soul. It reflects a profound belief in the enduring nature of the human spirit and its ability to transcend the boundaries between life and death.

Body Gets Drained Before Cremation

The methodical extraction of blood is a meticulous undertaking, carried out in adherence to established funeral industry standards and regulations. The specialized equipment utilized ensures precision and thoroughness in the removal process, emphasizing the commitment to treating the deceased with the utmost care and dignity.
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One of the processes of preparing a deceased person for cremation involves draining their body of blood and it is removed from all the blood vessels with special equipment that the funeral team use. This is another procedure that is not mentioned to the family as it is distressing.

What Colour Are The Ashes?

The absorption of various metals from the surroundings intricately weaves the tapestry of ash pigmentation. Dark grey hues, though infrequent, offer a glimpse into the dynamic nature of this phenomenon, suggesting a heightened concentration of specific elements.
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Ashes are grey or grey-brown in colour, as a rule. The colour of a person's skin has no bearing whatsoever on the colour of the ashes. It is the metals that are absorbed into the bones from the environment that affects the colour. Occasionally, ashes can be dark grey.

What Happens If You Open An Urn?

When embarking on the solemn journey of opening an urn for the first time, emotions may range from trepidation to sorrow, as the bereaved may grapple with uncertainty despite prior guidance from the funeral director.
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Opening an urn for the first time can be both frightening and distressing as the relative might not know what to expect, even though the funeral director will have told them.  There will be a sealed plastic bag inside the urn which contains the ashes.  They can be clearly seen through the bag.

Ashes To Diamonds

In the intricate process of crafting a memorial diamond, carbon is derived from the cremated ashes of the departed. This symbolic transformation not only underscores the significance of carbon as a timeless element but also encapsulates the essence of eternal remembrance.
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Carbon is used to create all diamonds both lab-grown and natural diamonds. Because of this, a memorial diamond can be made by extracting the carbon from the cremated ashes.  The diamond is then made into a ring or necklace so the deceased can stay close to the person they have left behind.

Can Dogs Smell Human Ash?

Despite the lack of a distinct odor associated with ashes, these remarkable canines possess an extraordinary olfactory capability that allows them to discern the subtle nuances within the aftermath of a blaze.
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As we said earlier, ashes do not have a distinct odour but specially trained dogs can easily identify the remains from the smell.  If a person has sadly lost their life in a house fire, at up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, our canine friend will be able to pick out the human ashes.

Keeping Ashes At Home

It has become a poignant and tangible way to keep the memory of a loved one alive, as urns find a place on bedside tables or mantlepieces, becoming a focal point that serves as a constant reminder of the enduring bond shared with the departed.
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Even though the practice of keeping ashes at home is legal, most people prefer to scatter them at a place where the deceased had experienced happy times when they were alive. Having said that, it's not uncommon to see an urn kept on a bedside table or mantlepiece.

Does The Body Sit Up During Cremation?

Advancements in forensic science and a deeper understanding of human physiology have cast new light on this phenomenon. The combination of heat and residual muscle tissue activity can indeed trigger subtle movements, causing the body to shift in a manner that mimics a sitting position.
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Due to the heat and the muscle tissue, the body can move to an extent where it is almost sitting up although this, obviously, does not happen inside the coffin so will not be visible to the mourners.  It was thought to be a myth that the deceased sat up but it has been scientifically proven.

Does The Body Feel Pain During Cremation?

When confronted with the inevitable reality of death, it is natural for grieving family members to seek solace and understanding about the fate of their loved ones. In moments of profound loss, questions often arise regarding the physical sensations experienced by the departed. One common inquiry pertains to the existence of pain after death.
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When someone dies, they don't feel anything any more, so no, they don't feel pain.  Cremators are quite used to family members of the deceased asking questions like this and are specially trained and sympathetic in answering them.  They can be a great comfort to the mourners.  A cremator will explain that the body is put in a warm room and turned into ashes. It is a peaceful and painless process.