25 Weird Questions About Cremation That People Always Ask

Questions about Cremation

Sometimes, we know the question we have is weird, but we still need to ask it. Thankfully, we have the internet!

You probably have a bunch of odd, quirky questions about cremation. Do bodies sit up during cremation? What happens to the teeth, internal organs, casket? Is there a smell?

All that is actually pretty normal. We all wonder about this stuff!

But maybe you don’t want to ask the funeral director, or you’re embarrassed to ask in front of your family, or maybe the thought just occurred to you as you’re scrolling through your phone, waiting in line, or watching Netflix.

Whatever the case, we’re here with the answers to common – but sometimes bizarre – questions about cremation.

1. What really happens when you are cremated?

The funeral director or crematory operator would prepare your body, placing it in a wooden cremation casket or an alternative container. Made from heavy-duty corrugated cardboard, an alternative container is a simple casket-shaped box with a lid.

The retort (AKA the cremation chamber) will be turned on and allowed to heat up to 1400 to 1800 degrees. Once optimum temperature is reached, and your body is placed into the chamber, and the door is closed.

As the cremation takes place, the tissue and organs from your body will be completely incinerated in the extreme heat. All that will be left is bone material. After the retort cools, the remaining ashes and bones are collected, pulverized into a fine powder, placed in a temporary urn, and then returned to the family.

Learn more: The Cremation Process: How Does Cremation Work?

2. Are the ashes really the person?

The ashes or cremains are actually bits of bones. So, yes, it really is the person. And it really is your person.

Every crematorium has safety and identification protocols in place to make sure that each body (prior to cremation) and the cremated remains (after) are always and 100% correct.

The ashes you receive will be the ashes of your loved one.

3. How common is cremation?

According to the National Funeral Director’s Association, the current rate of cremation is projected to be 56% versus 37% for traditional burial.

Cremation is more common in people’s final arrangement plans, too.

According to this report by the insurance firm Choice Mutual, 44% of Americans are planning on being cremated, versus 35% who plan on traditional burial. The remaining 21% are divided between don’t know or don’t care (10%), donate body to science (6%), natural burial (4%), and “other” (1%).

In short, it is safe to say that cremation is the most common disposition method in the country.

4. How soon after a funeral is a body cremated?

Cremations are scheduled to take place as soon after the funeral as possible. The cremation will usually take place the same day as the funeral.

Related: What is the Cremation Timeline?

5. Can you be cremated without a funeral service?

Yes, you can be cremated without a funeral service. A cremation without a funeral service is a direct cremation. You can have a funeral service at a later date (with the cremated remains present), or not at all.

Related: What Is Direct Cremation?

6. What is the cheapest way to be cremated?

A whole-body donation includes a cremation at no cost. If donating your body to science is not for you, direct cremation is the least expensive.

7. Are bodies removed from the casket before cremation?

The body will be removed from the casket if the casket is not suitable for cremation. The casket will be cremated with the body if it is suitable.

Suitable caskets include eco-friendly natural woven caskets, all-wood caskets (no metal components), and cardboard containers. Non-suitable caskets include anything with metal.

8. Do caskets get reused?

All rental caskets do get reused. A rental casket is what the funeral home will use for a traditional funeral service followed by cremation.

The body never touches the inside of the rental casket. The casket has a new insert for each body. The end of the casket opens, and the insert slides out. The insert is cremated with the body.

It is against the law to reuse a traditional casket.

9. How many bodies are cremated at once?

Cremating one body at a time is the law.

10. Do you have clothes on when you are cremated?

Have you opted for a direct cremation? If that is the case, you will be cremated in what you died in. Supposing you died naked, with a direct cremation you would be cremated naked.

But most families opt for the more traditional viewing, funeral service, and then cremation. If so, you will be cremated in the clothes that you were viewed in.

11. Does the body feel pain during cremation?

A body is dead when cremated. Pain cannot be felt because there are no nerve impulses.

12. Do bodies sit up during cremation?

Bodies do not sit up. During to the cremation process, a body may go into a “pugilistic stance.” The pugilistic stance is the post-mortem, “boxer-like” body posture of flexed elbows and knees and clenched fists, caused by the shrinkage of body tissues and muscle due to dehydration caused by heating.

The high-temperatures in a fire cause a pugilistic stance. The high-temps result in muscle stiffening and shortening. While this may give a slight indication of movement or change from the traditional flat posture, it is a far cry from “sitting up.”

13. Do teeth burn in cremation?

Teeth usually burn up during cremation. Any tooth fragments that may be left are ground up with the bone fragments during the processing of the cremated remains.

14. Does the skull burst during cremation?

The skull does not burst during cremation. The skull will become fragile and crumble. This gives the illusion of bursting.

15. Is a body drained before cremation?

Draining a body of fluids does not happen before cremation.

If a body is embalmed before cremation, the bodily fluids are exchanged (drained, and then replaced) with chemicals during the embalming process. These chemicals are also fluid. But the body is not drained prior to cremation, whether or not an embalming has taken place.

Both embalmed and non-embalmed bodies can be cremated.

16. Are organs removed before cremation?

Removing organs before cremation does not happen. Even if an autopsy has been performed, the organs are cremated.

17. Does everything burn when you are cremated?

All the body burns when cremated. If there is an artificial joint, it will not burn or melt. Titanium makes up the hip and knee replacements. Stainless steel makes the screws.

The crematory operator removes and places the metals in a recycle bin.

18. Is there DNA in cremated ashes?

There is essentially no DNA in cremated remains.

It is the bones and teeth that can hold some viable DNA for analysis. The crematory operator will process the bone and tooth fragments into a fine powder after completing the cremation. This makes it extremely difficult (though not impossible) to extract any viable DNA from the ashes. So, cremation destroys nearly all traces of DNA.

19. Do human ashes smell?

There is no detectable odor from cremated remains.

The remains may absorb odors from the way they are stored or the ambient surroundings, but there is no smell inherent to ashes.

20. Are there other things mixed in with the ashes?

The cremation process completely incinerates the body and clothing. The only thing left would be artificial joints or surgical screws. The crematory operator removes all of the metals before he will process the cremains.

There should be nothing else included in the cremated remains.

21. Can you view the body before cremation?

Yes, you can view the body before cremation. You can spend a few minutes with the body, or even have an entire memorial ceremony at the time of cremation. You can view the body even if it hasn’t been embalmed.

22. Can you watch a cremation?

Yes, you can see the body placed into the retort AKA cremation chamber. You won’t be able to stay for the whole process. The cremation process takes a few hours to complete.

Learn more: Can You Witness the Cremation – And Should You?

23. Which is better, cremation or burial?

Cremation is cost-effective and saves on ground space. It also allows you to keep your loved one with you. Cremation is an irreversible process, so take the time to truly consider what your loved one would have wanted, and what you think is best to honor their memory.

It is a personal decision: cremation, or burial? Please honor your loved one’s wishes.

Read more: Burial or Cremation: Which is right for you?

24. Who puts the ashes into the urn after cremation?

The crematory operator or funeral director will place the cremated remains into the urn.

If you don’t have the permanent urn yet, they will place the remains in a plastic bag inside of a plastic temporary urn. You can take the ashes home and transfer the remains yourself once you have the permanent urn, or bring it back in to the funeral home for them to do it for you.

25. Can you bring in your own urn?

Yes, you can bring in your own urn. The funeral home will have you sign a waiver to protect them from any damage done to the urn.

To find the perfect cremation urn for your loved one, start by looking at these best-selling urns from Urns Northwest.

Read Next: 8 Things to Know About Cremation Urns

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Everything You Need to Know about Cremation

25 thoughts on “25 Weird Questions About Cremation That People Always Ask”

  1. My parents are in a double niche. Would it be possible to put another urn( their son ) in the same niche

  2. Daniel Szczesniak

    Hi Lori,

    Absolutely! It’s certainly possible to put an additional urn in a niche; the main thing is to contact the funeral home or cemetery and find out whether there is space in the niche and also whether they will permit it. There may be an additional charge, or an opening fee, depending on their policies. Best to contact them directly and find out.

  3. I seem unable to find out specifically what is done to a body prior to a private viewing before cremation. For example, is anything done to keep the mouth closed? Eyes totally closed? I am currently doing preplanning and considering a private viewing, but I don’t want that to cause such cosmetic work to be done and if it is required then probably would not have a private viewing. It seems these questions as to the technical aspects are not answered, probably because it might be considered to “gory” for most to understand properly.

  4. Hi William,

    I think that would be a great question to ask the funeral home what their standard practice is. I’m sure they will accommodate any reasonable request.

  5. I’ve heard that thin bodies smell like fireworks during cremation, and large bodies smell like bacon. Is this true?

  6. Daniel Szczesniak

    Hey Kevin,

    Karen (the author of this post and a funeral director) said she hadn’t noticed those particular smells, but that there is a general odor of cooking meat. Which makes sense, because that is what is happening during the cremation process. I’ve seen that comment you mentioned on other blog posts, ostensibly from a mortician (anonymous, of course). It may or may not be true, and there is a bit of subjectivity to smells so… perhaps. The bacon part makes sense (bacon is mostly fat), and the fireworks smell might too depending on the machinery used.

  7. I have a two-part question. My parents have a special urn (still empty) that won’t be big enough to contain all the ashes of both of them, but I would like to keep them together, when the time comes. Is it acceptable to blend two people, and is it a common practice to contain only part of the cremains, perhaps spreading the rest?

  8. Daniel Szczesniak

    Hi Jamison,

    Yes, absolutely. It is acceptable and it is a common practice to divide and/or mix the remains. It’s called commingling when you combine the remains of two people. Read more about dividing the remains here; families will divide the remains so that each family member can have a small keepsake urn or jewelry piece, or the family may scatter some and keep the rest, and so on. I hope this helps!

  9. I don’t want a showing so thinking of being cremated. I have a cemetery plot next to my mom and dad. Can my ashes be buried in the cemetery? If so, what’s standard procedure, be buried in an urn or other container and will the normal criteria for a burial have to be done since there won’t be a coffin?
    If I were to donate my body ( I have a genetic disease that’s fairy rare) could my body or ashes still be buried in my plot after science is done with it?
    One more question. If I donate my organs can I still be cremated and who pays for that?
    Thanks

  10. Daniel Szczesniak

    Hi Pam,

    Yes, your cremated remains can be buried in a cemetery. Talk to the cemetery management about how to arrange it. The typical burial procedure is an urn that is placed inside a protective vault. Read more about that here.

    And yes, if you donate your body to science then, when the research is complete, your family will get your cremated remains back and then you could be buried in the cemetery plot. If you are an organ donor, you can still be cremated afterwards; you (or your family) would still pay for the cremation.

  11. I had my husband cremated and put in an urn purchased from the funeral home. When I pass, I want both our ashes to be scattered together. Is the urn from the funeral home permanently sealed or will it be able to be opened and ashes scattered with mine?

  12. Daniel Szczesniak

    Hi Judy,

    Great question! It depends, but if you got a “companion urn” and the funeral home knew that you intended your remains to go in the urn as well, then it’s highly unlikely that they sealed it. Most companion urns are designed to be able to be re-opened. Also, with most urns the remains are already in a plastic bag which is placed inside the urn, so there is no need for a sealant as the plastic bag keeps the remains secure.

    I hope this helps, and for more information see this article.

  13. Daniel Szczesniak

    Yup, you’d be surprised at the number of people that regret irreversible processes. It might seem silly to say it out loud, but some people really do need to hear it.

  14. Daniel Szczesniak

    Hi Nancy,

    Typically any medical devices or prosthetics will be removed prior to cremation. Acrylic melts at 320 degrees and the cremation machine is much hotter than that, so no, a prosthetic eye will not withstand cremation.

  15. Can my husband request to reclaim the surgical titanium from my body after cremation?

  16. Daniel Szczesniak

    I believe so. As much as possible before cremation all surgical implants are removed. Then anything that still remains is sorted out afterwards. You’ll have to speak with your local crematorium about it to verify.

  17. Hello. My mother who just passed was on the fence about burying or cremation what we came to decide however may not be possible. We are wondering if there was a way to bury the body and cremate the organs or have them turned into a fertilizer for tree. She had a green thumb And we want to always have a piece of her with us however the burial zone would take place in her home town very far from where we reside. I have heard of people planting trees over biodegradable caskets but we won’t be able to plant a tree where they are burning her because its a military cemetery.

  18. Daniel Szczesniak

    Hi Alexandria,

    No, a crematorium cannot cremate part of a body, only the entire body or remains. See here for related information.

  19. Daniel Szczesniak

    Hey Charles, great question! Most morticians do not remove gold crowns or fillings. The cost of removal does not justify the value of the small amount of gold, so most crowns are buried or cremated along with the decedent.

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