Cremation involves reducing the body to grit by first burning it in a special furnace called a retort which generates temperatures of 1,600 to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Pacemakers are removed before cremation, as they can explode in the retort. The body is tagged with a metal disc that identifies the deceased and survives the fire. Within two hours, flesh is reduced to an ash residue, leaving a skeleton, which is then pulverized. Any dental work, joint replacements, or medically implanted pins and screws that survive the fire are screened out of the remains.
A container must be used to put the body into the retort, either a cardboard box or a wooden casket built for cremation. Those who want a funeral with a fancy looking casket and then cremation have the option of rental caskets, designed with removable beds and liners that are burned with the body.
“I hate it when people throw a naked body in a cardboard box for cremation and don’t want to remember the person,” said Gloria Salazar, with Reflections Funerals and Life Celebrations. “Trying to shove it away as quickly as possible isn’t healthy.”
My friend Gary commented, “I don’t care if I’m cremated in a cardboard box. I won’t be around to notice.” He also doesn’t care if his cremated remains are kept in a cardboard box on someone’s shelf.
The resulting cremains can be buried or placed in a niche or columbarium in a memorial park, scattered on land or in water, kept in a box or urn at home, distributed among family members, or treated in a number of creative ways that reflect the personality of the deceased. The ashes of Gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson were fired from a cannon atop a 153-foot tower of his own design, along with red, white, blue and green fireworks. There are companies that will shoot your ashes into space (www.memorialspaceflights.com), mold them into diamonds and other gemstones (www.lifegem.com), and create marine reefs with them (www.eternalreefs.com).
In most states, the local county medical examiner’s office, or sometimes the local Health Department must issue a certificate before cremation can occur. This step is taken to ensure cremating the body will not prematurely destroy evidence that may be needed in a criminal case. The additional fee for cremation permits can range from $50 to $250.