Cremation Meaning - Cremation Definition

Cremation Meaning, Definition, Process, and More

Last Updated on March 25, 2020

Today we’re going to be discussing the meaning, definition, and process of cremation. Not just those things, but we’ll start with cremation meaning and go from there into all sorts of fascinating topics.

In short, we’ll tell you what to expect when it comes time for the cremation.

Along the way, you’ll learn the answers to these common questions:

  • What happens just before cremation?
  • How does the crematory identify the body?
  • What goes on during the cremation process?
  • How long should I expect it to take?
  • What happens right afterward?
  • When can I expect to pick up my loved one’s ashes?
  • What do I do with the remains after that?

We’ll answer all your questions and satisfy your curiosity about cremation urns, too, so be sure to stick around til the end.

Cremation Meaning

What does the term cremation mean to you? What all do you need to know about it?

Well, if you have just lost someone who was very dear to you, cremation meaning has an awful lot of significance right about now.

At this moment, you probably have quite a lot of emotional attachment to the whole idea, and that is normal and understandable.

What we’re trying to say is this: If you are currently grieving, what cremation means to you personally goes deeper than what we can explain here in simple text. So it may be beneficial to stay on the surface, explanation-wise, and look at the actual dictionary definition of the term.

If you’re interested in the deeper “meaning and significance” of cremation, we can point you to an interesting article which discusses the symbolism and significance of scattering ashes.

Cremation Definition

What is cremation?

Cremation is the act of reducing a body from its organic elements to that of inorganic elements via combustion. Or, to put it simply, cremation is the process of burning a dead body until it is reduced to ashes.

Here is the definition of cremate from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary:


: to reduce to ashes by burning

Webster’s Dictionary: Cremate

Cambridge Dictionary takes it a step further with their cremation definition:


: the act of burning a dead body, or a part of a funeral ceremony in which this is done

Cambridge Dictionary: Cremation

While these answers offer clarity, cremation definition is of course very general. So let’s reach beyond that now and take a look at the cremation process itself.

Cremation Process

From start to finish, the cremation process is usually very straightforward. In all cases, identification of the remains is of utmost importance.

Here are a few frequently asked questions for you to consider:

What happens before cremation can take place?

Following a death, the funeral director will speak to the family about their wishes in regards to final disposition. If a family selects cremation, a date for cremation should be provided in conjunction to when the funeral will occur.

All necessary paperwork, including cremation authorization, will need approval before anything can happen. All relevant parties (next-of-kin who will be receiving the remains back) must provide signatures before anything can happen.

At the time of cremation, the crematory operator will carefully confirm identification of the decedent. The body will be in either the casket (non-metal caskets are acceptable for cremation) or a simple container – oftentimes a heavy cardboard – if direct cremation is to take place.

Before the operator inserts the casket or cremation container into the retort (cremation chamber), he or she will be sure to include with the body a metal ID tag, which will remain with the decedent throughout the entire cremation process (see below).

How exactly is the body identified?

Using any relevant documents as well as visual confirmation, the crematory operator will check and double-check identification of the decedent, as well as cremation authorization.

Throughout cremation, a metal ID tag- bearing a number unique to only this particular decedent- will also accompany the decedent to ensure identity. This tag will not leave the remains thereafter and will even accompany it into the urn following cremation.

What occurs during the cremation process? How long does it take?

Once the body has been inserted into the retort, the operator shuts the compartment and turns on the machine. The retort should have already been heated beforehand, so it shouldn’t take too long for the process to be complete.

As for how long the actual process takes, there are many important factors that can play into this, the main ones being:

  • The decedent’s fat-to-muscle ratio. Fat typically burns faster than muscle and other tissues
  • The temperature of the retort. Temperatures are usually between 1400-1800 degrees Fahrenheit, but can reach up to 2000.

With these points in mind, from start to finish, cremation generally takes 1-3 hours.

Sometime a witness cremation takes place. This is when a family wishes to view the cremation as it occurs. Often, the mortuary will have a little room with a window looking into the crematory for this purpose. Sometimes, it’s even possible for the next-of-kin or other family member to proverbially “push the button” to start the process.

See here for more detailed information about the cremation process and how it works

What happens when the cremation process is over?

Once cremation is complete, the ashes and any remaining bone fragments (and metal ID tag) are removed from the retort.

Once cool, the operator will then gently and respectfully sift through the ashes to remove any metal pieces (such as silver teeth) so that they can further pulverize any remaining fragments.

After that, the remains will be place in a plastic bag and then into either the urn the family has chosen, or what’s known as a temporary cremation urn.

When will the funeral home call me to pick up the ashes?

Depending on the crematory’s location and how busy they are, it can take anywhere from a few days to over a week to receive back your loved one’s remains.

However, if the cremated remains are to be present for a service, the funeral director will have considered this and planned for it appropriately.

If you ever have any questions as to where things are in the cremation process, you shouldn’t have to wonder. Do not hesitate to call up the funeral home. The director will be happy to answer your questions and provide you with a time frame as to when you can expect the remains.

What comes next?

Pick up the remains

As the next-of-kin, the funeral home will notify you when the ashes are ready for pick-up.

If you purchased or brought in a cremation urn, they will have transferred the remains for you already. If you have not purchased an urn, the ashes will be returned to you in a temporary urn (plastic or cardboard).

You must provide your ID at pick-up to ensure that you are the one with legal authorization to do so.

Using a cremation urn

If you received a temporary urn, whenever you do pick out a permanent cremation urn simply take both the temporary and permanent urn back to the funeral home. They will take care of the transfer for you. If you prefer to transfer the remains yourself, see here for videos and info on how to open and close most urns.

Final disposition of ashes

Lastly, you must decide what to do with your loved one’s cremated remains. Here are some of the most popular ways to memorialize someone following cremation:

  • Urn display. Have the remains placed in a permanent urn and display them in a special place in your home, such as on a mantle.
  • Scatter the ashes. Scattering ashes can be a private family affair or a scattering ceremony can occur. Keeping in mind local laws, a family can scatter ashes over waterways, into the wind, at a place that was special to the deceased, etc.
  • Get a tattoo. Seriously – you can use the remains in tattoo ink. These days, it’s becoming more and more popular to get a memorial tattoo, with the ashes of your loved one mixed into the ink.
  • Divide. Split the ashes up among family members. Each member can take a small urn to keep, or the ashes can be placed into special jewelry. Again, the funeral home will be happy to do the transferring for you if you like.

Cremation Urns

When you choose cremation for your loved one, the funeral home will likely offer you a cremation package. In this package, you can choose from services, flowers, catering, and even urns.

But you do not have to pick one of these packages; in fact, it may be prudent not to. The funeral home will have only so many urns to choose from. So, just like you would with a casket, you have the right to consider choosing to purchase a cremation urn elsewhere.

You will still receive a temporary urn from the funeral home if you do not choose a permanent urn. Unless you plan to bury or scatter the contents of this temporary urn, you’ll want to begin the search for a permanent replacement befitting of your loved one and their life’s legacy.

At Urns Northwest, we have many different styles, colors, designs, and personalized options. Whether you are looking for specialty urns, a metal or glass urn, a wood urn, an eco-friendly option or anything in between, we have something for everyone’s tastes. In addition, many of our urns have themes and are available for personalization, as well.

Want to find out more? Here are 8 Things You Need to Know About Cremation Urns

Thank you for reading! We hope that we were able to enlighten you just a little bit in regards to cremation meaning and definition, the cremation process as well as urn selection.

If you have a question about what you’ve just read or a question regarding urn selection, we would be happy to help. Just drop us a comment below, message Urns Northwest for more information, or read our cremation urn FAQ page.

Cremation Definition

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