What is cremation – exactly?
Cremation is simply the process of reducing the body to bone fragments through the application of intense heat. With the technology that exists today, the cremation process is very quick, clean, efficient – and dignified as well. It involves a combination of high heat and air in a specially-designed chamber. At all times, the remains are treated with care and reverence.
What is the history of the process?
Cremation in one form or another has been practiced for virtually the same amount of time that mankind has used fire. Scholars have found references to cremation in writings and drawing since the beginning of recorded history. Ancient peoples in both the East and West practiced cremation for both spiritual and sanitary reasons. Oftentimes the deceased were cremated to free the soul and expedite the journey to heaven, but more practically to prevent the spread of disease. For practical reasons, too, soldiers slain in battle in ancient times were often cremated so that their remains could be transported home more easily.
With the rise of Christianity, cremation fell into disfavor as a “pagan” ritual. Indeed, the practice was essentially banned universally in the West, since it was believed to prevent resurrection. For nearly 1500 years, cremation was not considered “civilized” by people mainly in the Western hemispheres.
In the nineteenth century, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the growth of great cities, activists began to champion cremation as a means of disposing of remains that might spread disease, but also for ecological reasons: cremated remains took up less space in cemeteries which were already becoming overcrowded.
Forest Hills Crematory was the first crematory established in New England. It was founded in 1893 by the Massachusetts Cremation Society. In 1925 the Crematory became part of the institution of Forest Hills Cemetery. Lucy Stone, famed women’s rights activist, was the first person cremated at Forest Hills. Over the years numerous prominent citizens have been cremated at Forest Hills, many with their urns (including that of Lucy Stone herself) still carefully maintained in our Columbarium. All records since the beginning of the founding of the Crematory are in the possession of Forest Hills.
Over time, “cremationists” and activists, in part spurred by the efforts of Lucy Stone and other proponents of cremation, spread their doctrine to the extent that today cremation is widely accepted. For many, cremation is the preferred method of disposing of remains.
How widely is cremation accepted now?
Society’s acceptance of cremation continues to grow worldwide. During the past twenty years, Japan’s cremation rate has grown to 96% and in places like Sweden, Denmark and Great Britain, the rate has grown higher than 60%. In the United States, cremation varies widely between geographic regions. For example, cremation rates in California are often in the 60% to 90% range, while rates New England and Northeastern states are closer to 15% to 20%.
What are the principal reasons that people choose cremation?
In most cases, people choose cremation because it is “simpler” – a way of helping family and friends avoid the stress and high emotion of an in-ground burial (although an urn can be interred in a burial space, if desired). But people choose cremation or all kinds of reasons. For some, it is a question of economics. Cremation can be less expensive than an in-ground burial. For others, environmental considerations are key. Others find the finality and confinement of a grave troublesome – they just don’t care for the idea of their body being placed in the ground. The fact that cremated remains can be strewn in a favorite place is a common reason, although professionals recommend that the remains be situated in a permanent place so that loved ones can visit conveniently.
Isn’t cremation against the tenets of most religions?
Most emphatically “no.” Many religions permit cremation. Exceptions to this include the Greek Orthodox tradition, Islam, and Conservative and Orthodox Judaism. By contrast, many Indian religious such as Buddhism and Hinduism mandate cremation. The Catholic Church, once opposed to cremation, now accepts it and indeed cremations of Catholics have increased significantly over the last twenty years. Protestant faiths are generally welcoming to the notion of cremation.
Is cremation simply “an inexpensive alternative?”
Cremation is now considered a meaningful and respectful choice. Spending less money by choosing cremation as an option by no means involves giving up any of the caring and sincerity of traditional burial. A cremation service can have as many rituals and as much or more ceremony as a standard funeral. It does not have to be a substitute for a casket or in-ground burial.
Some families may approach the disposal of remains on the basis of cost primarily –assuming that traditional burial methods are expensive and cremation is inexpensive. Studies have shown, however, that either method can be as expensive or inexpensive as those involve care to make it.
Don’t most people feel cremation is “impersonal” and disrespectful of the dead?
Now that is it more widely understood, cremation has gained acceptance as a thoughtful and caring process, often representing the carefully-considered wishes of the deceased. Families have learned that cremation is, after all, just the preparation phase for “final disposition” (i.e. where the cremated remains will be permanently kept) and memorialization. Virtually everyone, according to psychologists who have studied the subject of death and grieving, needs to know that the remains of loved ones have been honored and can be visited again. Cremation does not limit one’s choices. Cremation, in fact, is only one part in a series of events that lead to long term respect and remembrance.
Does cremation rule out a funeral of tradition “farewell?”
The choice of cremation in no way eliminates a funeral. A traditional or contemporary service is often planned to take place before the cremation process – or after it has occurred (sometimes both are done in different locales). Some families prefer to gather at a convenient time for the final committal of the cremated remains. A ceremony may be highly personalized to reflect the life of the deceased and, thus, have special meaning for those present.
Is a Funeral Director necessary for the process?
In the strictest sense, no. But for practical purposes, a Funeral Director can be of great help throughout the process. A funeral service professional should be contacted to obtain all the necessary permits and to transport the body to the crematory from wherever the death has occurred. A professional, in addition to transporting the body, can assist with funeral and cremation arrangements. Funeral Directors are prepared to lend guidance, with understanding and consideration.
Is a wooden or metal casket required?
No. To be cremated, a body must be enclosed in an acceptable rigid container strong enough to assure the protection and safety of the crematory operator. The container, usually made of fiberboard or similar material, must be combustible and should provide a proper covering for the body. This, however, does not preclude the use of a metal casket for the purpose of holding a traditional funeral service. The body can be transferred to an acceptable cremation container after the service and prior to the cremation.
Aren’t most cremated remains “scattered?”
There are many methods of disposing of cremated remains, and scattering–although an increasingly popular choice–is only one of the options. Cremated remains may be placed in an urn, and these are available in a variety of styles, sizes and materials. An urn serves the same purpose that a casket does with burial: it holds the remains and becomes a part of the memorial site. Popular places for a permanent resting place are urn gardens, standard cemetery plots, or within a niche in an indoor or outdoor columbarium.
Cremated remains may be scattered in cemetery gardens especially created and dedicated for this purpose. Fern Hill at Forest Hills Cemetery is an excellent example. This dedicated cemetery property will never be used for any other purpose. Often the individuals whose cremated remains have been scattered in the garden are identified on a special memorial plaque or marker. For example, at Fern Hill, the name of a family member whose remains have been scattered there can be inscribed on a nearby granite tablet.
Can ashes be scattered anywhere?
Not necessarily. The scattering of remains may be done over a designated geographical spot—or water—in accordance with state laws and the wishes of the deceased. However, it is highly advisable that a spot such as a cemetery garden be chosen… a locale that provides for a permanent memorial so that a place of pilgrimage will be available to those who want to remember and celebrate the life of the loved one.
Where do environmentalists stand on the subject of cremation?
Increasingly, cremation is becoming a popular choice among those concerned with protecting treasured natural resources. With cemeteries in urban areas becoming filled to capacity—and the price of land everywhere continuing to escalate—cremation often seems to be the logical, and responsible, means of disposing of remains.
Should arrangements for cremation be made in advance?
Having a plan and sharing it with loved ones is one of the most special gifts anyone can give—to help spare family and friends from making difficult decisions at a time of grieving. Nothing can be more thoughtful than making arrangements for a funeral ceremony, interment or cremation on a “pre-need” basis and making your wishes known to a funeral service professional. You may want to specify whether you want a period of visitation prior to the service; whether you want an open casket; whether you want special music and prayer; and of course, you should specify your wishes as to the final disposition of your cremated remains.
Whatever the case, it is important to keep in mind that today arrangements are as individual as the persons for whom and by whom they are made. A ceremony may be personalized to reflect the life of the deceased—and therefore have special meaning for those who are left behind.