The most frequently asked questions about funerals, cremation, memorials, and much more. Explore our Knowledge Base below.
Everything you need to know about funeral arrangements.
Here's how to plan a funeral:
- Choose a funeral home
- Decide on the disposition method (funeral vs cremation, etc)
- Choose a final resting place (cemetery burial, scattering of ashes, etc)
- Consider what type of service you want to hold
- Outline the actual service (readings, prayers, eulogies, open mic, etc)
- Plan a reception after the service
You can plan more or less, but this is a fairly typical outline. Funeral planning is a big topic, so there's a lot more you might want to consider. Thankfully we’ve distilled it into a helpful Funeral Planning Guide.
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost for a funeral is around $6,500.
Other estimates put the costs in the range of $5,000 up to about $12,000. The low end of the scale will often involve direct cremation, minimal add-ons, and a small, intimate service. The higher end of the scale might include full body burial, a nice casket, and a large memorial service with catered reception.
Depending on your location in the country, these costs can be higher or lower. The best way to find out the true costs in your area is to call around to several funeral homes for quotes.
There are many ways to save when planning a funeral. Here are 50 tips to plan a funeral on a budget; you can implement as many of these as you like to bring the costs down.
Here are some best practices to save on funeral expenses:
- Educate yourself
- Shop around and ask for price lists
- Bring a friend with you (this will help keep you from emotional impulse decisions)
- Pre-plan as much as possible
- Find things you can do yourself
When choosing a funeral home, here are some things to look for:
- Friendly staff
- Attractive facilities
- A good location
- Services that are priced right and a good fit for your family’s needs
You will want to narrow down your selection by looking at a map, then calling a couple to compare prices. As you do, you can easily avoid the ones that provide poor customer service over the phone.
Finally, visit your top 1-3 choices to make sure it's the right fit, to see the facilities and grounds for yourself, and meet in person with the funeral director.
Find more details plus specific questions to ask here: How to Choose a Funeral Home.
Here are some of the more common types of funeral services and memorial events:
- Traditional funeral service
- Graveside or committal service
- Direct burial
- Direct cremation
- Memorial service
- Celebration of life
- Scattering ceremony
Learn more about each of these here: 10 Types of Funeral Services, Ceremonies, and Events
A funeral is a ceremony that commemorates and honors the dead, typically in connection with the final disposition of their body.
A memorial service is nearly identical to a funeral, with the exception that the body is not present.
This means that there will be no casket, pallbearers, or viewing. Sometimes, if the decedent was cremated, the cremated remains or "ashes" will be there in a cremation urn.
A life celebration or celebration of life is a memorial event that focuses on the life and legacy of a loved one, rather than the sadness and grief of their passing.
If you took a funeral and turned it into a party or celebration, well, a life celebration is what would happen.
A wake is a time for close friends and family members to gather together, mourn, visit, express condolences, and say their goodbyes to the departed loved one. This is a separate event from the funeral. The body is typically present at a wake. Read more here.
A viewing is essentially the same thing as a visitation, but with the body present. While it is indeed a time to “visit” with family and friends, it is primarily a time to “view” the decedent and say your final goodbyes before the funeral (or if the funeral is closed-casket).
A visitation is much like a wake - a time for family and friends to visit, mourn, and remember together the life and legacy of the departed loved one. Separate from and prior to the funeral, this is a smaller, more intimate gathering. Often, the body is not present at a visitation. Read more here.
A cremation ceremony is a brief service or observance at the time of cremation. It might include:
- Close friends and family members
- A pastor, funeral director, or family member who leads the ceremony
- Dressing up for the occasion
- Flowers and/or a photo to display
- A brief eulogy
- Sharing stories, a favorite quote, or poem
- Singing a song (a hymn, a silly song, or the decedent’s favorite)
- Playing a song (bring portable speakers)
- Saying a prayer (here are some good ones)
Other types of cremation ceremonies might refer to a funeral with the cremated remains present, a ceremony at the time of inurnment or scattering of ashes.
Read more: Cremation Ceremonies: Where, When, & How
A committal is a graveside service that occurs at the cemetery, where family and friends pay their final respects before the casket is lowered into the ground for burial.
Learn more about committals here.
A scattering ceremony happens when a family chooses to scatter the cremated remains of their loved one, rather than keep or bury them. Usually, the family scatters the ashes into the wind, at a location that was especially important to the deceased.
The ceremony itself can be as simple or ornate as you want. Most often, people say a few words about their loved one, read a quote, say a prayer, or sing a song.
Funeral participants will depend on what you choose to do in the service itself, as well as who is willing to be involved and what ways they want to participate.
If the ceremony is kept simple and minimalist, you may only require an officiant. Or you can have as many people involved as you want.
- Officiant (family member, close friend, clergy, or funeral director)
- Pallbearers (family members and close friends)
- Musicians and singers (hired professionals, church members, or family members)
- Readers (often family members and friends)
- Prayer (clergy, church members, family, or friends)
- Eulogy or memorial speech (family member or friend)
- Candle lighters (anyone you choose or who volunteers)
- Event planner (family member, friend, or professional)
- Decorator/florist (friends, family members, or professionals)
- Caterer for reception (anyone from professional caterers to everyone bringing a potluck dish)
The receiving line order can vary a bit depending on each person's age and family structure at the time of death.
Typically, the spouse is first, accompanied by children. Parents and siblings would be next, followed by extended family in relatively descending order of age (grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc).
Learn more: Funeral Etiquette for Immediate Family
No, you should not tip the funeral director or the funeral home staff. It is neither customary nor expected.
However, it is customary to tip several others, including the florist, caterer, musicians, drivers, and pallbearers (if hired).
See more info here. That article includes ways to show your appreciation to the funeral home staff plus a tipping cheat sheet.
Yes. Some ministers, priests, or other types of clergy and/or funeral officiants may charge a modest fee. Often, if you are a member of a congregation, the minister or pastor will do the funeral service free of charge. Even still, it is appropriate to give the minister an honorarium. This should be around $100-300, perhaps more or less depending on your situation.
Read more here: Funeral Gratuities Explained
What to include in the actual service.
Most families choose a song that the individual loved, or one that has special meaning to them.
For inspiration, here are The Best Funeral Songs of All Time. There, you'll find songs ideal for Dad, Mom, spouse, grandparents, and so on, plus songs sorted by genre (country, rock, Christian, etc) and mood (happy, sad, uplifting, etc).
The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and Psalm 23 are two prayers ideal for a Christian funeral service.
Here are 10 Biblical Funeral Prayers
Traditional funeral Bible readings include:
- Psalm 23
- Matthew 11:28-30
- John 14:1-3
- I Corinthians 15:51-57
- I Thessalonians 4:14-18
You may also want to read the decedent's favorite verse or passage.
We've put together a comprehensive list of the best and most beloved funeral scriptures here.
A eulogy is a speech, delivered at a funeral, commemorating the life of the individual who has died.
Typically, the eulogy will include a brief overview of their life, their relationships, and some special memories. It can admit their faults but will focus on their strengths. A eulogy might mention their spouse, children, hobbies and interest, work and accomplishments, religion, and community involvement.
Learn more here.
The eulogy can be delivered by anyone the family chooses to ask. Most often the eulogy is given by a close friend or family member, sometimes a religious minister or professional associate.
Rarely, because it is such an emotional time, the spouse can give the eulogy. The funeral director can also sometimes read the eulogy for you if asked.
Learn more: How to Deliver a Eulogy
We have some tips, but ultimately, don't worry about crying. If you cry at your loved one's funeral, no one will think badly of you. Just like you wouldn't judge anyone for crying at a funeral, no one will judge you.
Still, you want to deliver the eulogy well. Here are some helpful tips to avoid breaking down:
- Practice the eulogy
- Get a support person
- Eat beforehand
- Practice breathing
- Think deeply about your desire to honor your loved one in how you tell their story
- Use humor as appropriate
Read more: How to Deliver a Eulogy Without Crying
Yes. If you are tasked with delivering the eulogy, you don't necessarily have to write it yourself. You can ask a friend or family member to write it - this is a great option if you have a gifted but reclusive writer in the family - or you can hire a professional to write it for you.
One of our staff writers is also a top-rated professional eulogy writer with very reasonable rates. Check out Eulogies by Aubrey.
Livestreaming the service is always a good idea. There will often be people who can't make it who would like to watch.
Here's how to set up a good livestream.
Often, families will give out a small token or keepsake - "funeral favors" - to those who attend a funeral service. This might be a bookmark or pin with the individual's photo, a personalized stone or memorial coin, or a prayer card.
See here for a list of popular funeral favors.
When attending a funeral, you want to act, dress, and speak appropriately. We've answered all the most common questions below.
Here is the guiding etiquette principle when attending a funeral: Be respectful to the decedent’s memory and to the grieving family.
To this end, proper funeral etiquette means you:
- Attend the funeral when invited
- Arrive a few minutes early
- Wear appropriate clothing
- Offer condolences to the family
- Respect the family’s beliefs and heritage
- Minimize distractions (for example, sit towards the back with kids)
- Extend all courtesy towards those around you
- Sign the guest book
- Avoid smartphone use
- Attend the reception if possible
When attending a funeral, you want to wear elegant, formal clothing in darker colors. For women, consider a black dress or dark skirt & blouse or pantsuit. Men should wear long pants, collared shirt, and/or a suit. Avoid bright colors and patterns, shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops.
You should attend the family if you were related to the person, a friend or regular acquaintance, business associate or work partner.
Bosses, coaches, teammates, teachers, students, neighbors, employees, coworkers, or fellow volunteers or church members can choose to attend or not attend the funeral based on how close their relationship was to the decedent.
If you are an ex, use your judgment. It is appropriate for an ex-spouse to attend, especially if they had children together. If you are an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, your attendance will be a judgment call based on how long ago your relationship was and how close you have kept to your ex and their family.
Ultimately, the best etiquette for whether or not to attend a funeral is this: If you have been invited, you should go. It's an important way to honor the deceased and support their family and loved ones.
Immediate family members sit in the front few rows, which are typically reserved for them. Since the casket or urn is usually at the front of the service, the idea is that the closer you are in relation to the deceased, the closer you should sit to the person’s body or remains at the funeral.
So the spouse, children, and parents will sit closest to the front. Grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews will all sit in the front rows behind the immediate family.
After that, friends, distant relatives, and professional acquaintances fill up the remaining seating.
Yes. If you’re invited to both, or if you knew the decedent very well, you should certainly attend both the wake (or visitation/viewing) and the funeral.
If you’re unsure whether you were close enough to the person to attend both, read this to help you decide.
Making funeral arrangements in advance will give you peace of mind and save your family a lot of time, money, and stress.
In addition to the typical funeral arrangements, which we cover here, when planning a funeral in advance you should also:
- Plan ahead to cover the expenses
- Write down you wishes and share them with your family so they know what you want
- Make a will and organize your personal and financial documents (here's a list)
- Figure out what to do about all your passwords when you die
Arranging a funeral ahead of time is smart.
- Write it down (apart from your will, which is often only looked at after the funeral)
- Let your family know what you want and how to access your funeral plan
- Pay for the funeral ahead of time
- Create an advance directive
- Assign durable power of attorney
Learn more here: 5 Steps to Make Sure Your Funeral Plans Are Followed
Including the cremation or burial costs, a funeral will typically cost somewhere in the range of $5,000 to $12,000. You can certainly spend more, and there are also ways to be frugal and spend less, but those are fairly typical figures when all the costs are factored in.
Learn how to save here: 50 Tips for Planning a Funeral on a Budget
To pay for the funeral, you can
- Save money in a bank or investment account
- Purchase a pre-paid funeral plan
- Get some form of burial insurance
There are other options, and variations on each of the three listed above as well.
Here are some ways to save on funeral costs:
- Start saving and planning now
- Write down your wishes (this will help keep your family from making emotional "impulse buys")
- Purchase what you can in advance (you'll get what you want, plus protect against inflation)
There are several important steps to take when a loved one dies. You'll want to start by contacting people - not only close family, but especially medical professionals, EMTs, hospice care workers, funeral directors, and others as the situation calls for.
Absolutely. There are:
- Pastors and clergy members for your spiritual health
- Counselors for your mental and emotional health
- Hospice and palliative caregivers for your physical health
One newer but increasingly popular type of caregiver is the end of life doula. Like a birth doula, who provides holistic personal care and aid at the beginning of life, the end of life doula provides holistic care and advice at the end of life.
Learn more here: What is a "Death Doula" (or "End of Life Doula")?
When you die, you will undoubtedly have a plethora of accounts that will need to be transferred, closed, or cancelled. From financial accounts to utilities, from Netflix to Costco, from recurring deliveries of supplies to that hobby site you subscribed to, there are plenty of loose ends to wrap up.
Beyond just the practical things like planning (and paying) for your funeral, your will, and so on, it's important to also think about more philosophical things like:
- What will my legacy be?
- How do I want to be remembered?
- What will I regret not doing?
- How should I prepare for dying?
- Am I afraid of death?
Thinking about "the big questions" will often help guide you as you are dealing with the more practical aspects of estate and funeral planning.
Everything you wanted to know about cremation urns, including the questions you didn't think to ask.
A cremation urn is a container to hold the cremated remains of a departed loved one. It can range from the simple plastic container provided by the crematorium to any number of beautifully crafted memorial boxes or vessels.
Cremation urns are made of a wide variety of materials. The most common materials for a cremation urn are metal, wood, marble, granite, ceramic, and glass.
Each of those materials have many specific types; for instance, wood urns can be made in oak, bamboo, cedar, maple, mahogany, walnut, and many more. Metal urns can be brass, alloy, pewter, bronze, and other types of metal.
Browse the many types of urns here.
Cremation urns are also commonly referred to as:
- Memorial urns
- Ashes urns
- Urns for ashes
- Funeral urns
Less common terms include cremains containers, cinerary urns, funerary urns, and cemetery urns. In general usage, all of these are synonymous terms. They are just different ways of referring to a vessel that holds cremated remains.
Occasionally, people will use a more narrow term such as “burial urn” (which is an urn designed for burial) to mean the more generic “cremation urn.” But the most common (and most accurate) term would be simply “cremation urn.”
Learn more about cremation urn terminology here.
The simple rule of thumb is that 1 pound of body weight will equal approximately 1 cubic inch of cremated remains. Thus, a 200 lbs person will need an urn with a capacity of 200 cubic inches.
For more detailed information, see our Urn Size Calculator.
There are two ways to figure out the size (specifically, the capacity) you'll need for the urn.
- Estimate the amount of ashes based on body weight and size
- Measure the actual box you receive from the crematorium
For more detailed information, see our Urn Size Calculator.
Cremation urns for adults are designed to hold 200 cubic inches of cremated remains or “ashes.” This is the industry standard capacity for an adult urn.
As for the exterior size or outer dimensions of an urn, this can vary quite a bit depending on the style and design.
Generally speaking, most typical adult urns with standard embellishments will measure around 12” by 10” by 8” on the larger end of the spectrum.
A “temporary urn,” a simple rectangular container of 200 cubic inches, measures approximately 8.5” x 6.5” x 4.5”; this is about the smallest you’ll see for a full-size urn.
First, bear in mind that the 1 lbs = 1 cubic inch is a handy rule, but it’s not 100% accurate. Typically, the amount of remains will actually be less.
That’s actually why the rule works so well - a 200 lbs person’s remains will readily fit into a standard adult urn of 200 cubic inches because there will (generally) be less that 200 c.i. of remains.
Second, the cremation process completely incinerates all body fat and tissue, leaving only bone fragments. This means that the person’s weight isn’t always the determining factor for the size urn they’ll need. Rather, it’s their height and bone structure.
Now, each person and each cremation will be slightly different, so there’s no guarantee until you actually have the remains from the crematorium. But the ashes almost always fit into a typical 200 cubic inch urn. Read more here.
If you still need a larger urn, check out these double-sized companion urns.
Companion urns hold the remains of two people (think, a husband and wife), they have approximately double the capacity of a standard adult urn at 400 cubic inches. Thus, companion urns are also known as double urns.
However, the exterior dimensions are only a few inches larger than the standard urns. This is because when you add height, length, and depth, the capacity gets exponentially larger.
More info: What Size Companion Urn Do We Need?
Yes, we offer the Marquis Cremation Urn, which holds the standard 8.5" x 6.5" x 4.5" temporary plastic urn.
But you really, really don't need that extra step. The remains are secure inside of a plastic bag in that temporary urn, and you can easily pull that bag out and place it into any standard sized urn. If you're not comfortable doing this, ask the funeral director and they will gladly assist you.
You do not need to limit yourself to the Marquis unless you truly want to. There are simply so many beautiful urns out there that will honor your loved one in a special way!
A companion urn is a container designed for the cremated ashes of two people. Typically a husband and wife, sometimes also used when a larger-than-normal urn is needed or if you would like additional room inside the urn for keepsakes.
Learn more: The Complete Guide to Companion Urns
First, open the urn. Most rounded vessel-type urns (ceramic, glass, and metal “vase” urns) open from the top by removing the lid. Rectangular, square, or other box-shaped urns (most wood and stone urns) have a bottom-opening plug, stopper, or removable panel.
Second, open the temporary urn. Inside you’ll find the remains secured in a plastic bag.
If the permanent urn has a bottom-opening panel or other large opening, simply place the plastic bag into the urn and close it up again. No need for sealant, as the plastic bag will keep the ashes secure inside the urn.
If the permanent urn has a smaller opening, you have two options:
- Line the urn with another plastic bag, and pour the remains inside. Twist the bag closed and secure with tape or a twist-tie. No need for sealant.
- Pour the remains directly into the urn. Unless you plan on scattering the ashes at a later point, you’ll probably want to seal the lid, especially if the lid is not threaded or otherwise secured.
Watch videos of how to open several types of urns here.
Cremations urns are designed to securely hold the ashes. Most urns are designed in such a way that you will not need to “seal” the urn. However, some families prefer the peace of mind that comes with adding a sealant.
For many urns, you can place the plastic bag (in which the remains come from the crematorium) into the urn. This plastic bag effectively “seals” the urn.
Other types of urns have small openings that are closed by a threaded lid (vase-style metal urns) or a bottom-opening threaded gasket (marble and other stone urns). These are typically very secure without any sealant.
Explore more considerations here: Should I Seal a Cremation Urn?
Glass and ceramic urns are the styles most often sealed. You can place an empty plastic bag into the urn, then pour the remains into it and twist-tie the bag inside the urn. The lid can then rest on top and the remains will be secure. Alternatively, you can pour the remains directly into the urn and then seal the lid with silicone.
If you do choose to seal the urn, we recommend a simple clear silicone (for most urns). This results in an effective seal that can (should the need ever arise) be easily scraped or peeled off to allow access to the urn without breaking the memorial. We do not recommend more permanent types of sealants, such as glue or cement.
No. When the cremation process is complete, the crematorium staff will put the remains into a plastic bag which goes into a basic container. This is a plastic or cardboard box which they call a “temporary urn.”
If you purchase an urn, you can bring it in with you when picking up the remains and the funeral director or crematorium staff will transfer the remains into your urn. Otherwise, they’ll give you the basic container, which you can use as long as you like.
Of course, we recommend going with a gorgeous decorative cremation urn, but ultimately it’s up to you. You don’t need to have an urn for the cremation.
What do you do with a used urn for ashes… I’ll bet there was a time when you never dreamed you’d be looking for the answer to that question.
Most families just use the “temporary urn” container that the ashes come in from the funeral home for scattering. Often, the family is ok with simply tossing the empty urn into the garbage.
But if you don’t feel comfortable with that, or if you had a premium (i.e., expensive) urn, what do you do with it after scattering?
Here are several options.
- Reuse it for other family members or relatives; it’s an heirloom!
- Give it away to someone in need (donate to a church/funeral home, list on Craigslist)
- Keep it and fill it with keepsakes, letters, photos, etc
- Repurpose it as a container, vase, planter, etc
- Dispose of it (respectfully) in the garbage (it really is ok!)
Read more here.
Your loved one’s urn can be personalized in many ways. Here are a few options:
- Engraved inscription. Many urns can be laser engraved with name, dates, and more
- Other inscription. Other urns can be personalized in different ways; for instance, our ceramic urns have decal lettering applied, which is glazed over to make the personalization permanent
- Name plate. You can have a name plate made which can be affixed to an urn with a flat surface
- Separate plate. There are also free-standing name plates that can go next to or in front of the urn (this is ideal for rounded urns that won’t take a flat name plate)
- DIY. You can do your own personalization through paint, markers, an etching pen, or other means
- 3-D printing. With modern technology, you can make an urn into any shape - a boat, a car, a teddy bear, etc.
- Commissioned art. You can commission an urn as a unique art piece; depending on what you do, it may or may not have personalized text on it but it will certainly be custom!
Read more here: Urn Personalization Guide
Haha! Good one. No.
But you can shop for some beautiful hand-blown glass urns here.
Learn about cremation, how it works, when and how to time it along with the funeral, and more.
- The first and most important step in the process is identification of the deceased. They always know exactly who is going into the chamber.
- The body placed in the retort, aka the chamber of the machine where cremation is to occur. If the body is in a non-metal casket or cremation container, that will also go in. The retort is heated to 1,400-1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cremation begins. The entire process usually takes a couple of hours.
- The remains are removed from the retort and allowed time to cool. Any metal pieces (such as silver teeth) are removed from the ashes. This is so that remaining bone fragments can be properly pulverized. The cooling period lasts several hours or longer.
- The ashes are respectfully transferred into a sturdy plastic bag, along with the metal tag, and then placed in their temporary or permanent urn.
- The next-of-kin is notified that cremation is complete.
Learn all about it: The Cremation Process: How Does Cremation Work?
Either way. You can have the cremation soon after death and then you will have more flexibility when scheduling the funeral or memorial service.
If you prefer to have the body present at the funeral, you will need to schedule the funeral soon. Then the cremation can take place once the service is over.
The coffin, typically wood or cardboard, goes into the cremation chamber with the body inside. All the material will be completely incinerated.
Caskets or coffins made of metal or other types of materials are not permitted for cremation.
To arrange the cremation, you will need to:
- Choose the vendor. This will either be with the funeral home, or directly through the crematorium.
- Decide on the memorial service. Before the cremation, with the body present? Or after, which gives you more time and flexibility?
- Get the death certificate. This is a must. Any funeral home and most crematoriums will know what you need to do.
- Transport the body. You can do this yourself, but the funeral home or crematorium is better equipped for it.
- Fill out the paperwork. There's always paperwork involved.
- Choose a casket for cremation. Most cremations include a basic container. You can upgrade, if desired.
- Choose an urn for the final resting place. You can go with the plastic urn provided, but most families tend to go with something a little more elegant, like one of these.
Learn more: How to Arrange a Cremation
You can, but generally no. If you do not purchase or provide a casket for the cremation, the crematorium will use a simple cardboard container. This is sometimes called a cremation casket, or a minimum cremation container.
The "minimum cremation container" is often included in the cremation fee, or it may (more rarely) be listed as a separate line item.
Some families prefer the dignity afforded by having their loved one cremated in a traditional casket. Others prefer the low-cost option of the minimal container, since it will be reduced to ash in any event. Ultimately, it’s up to you.
Learn more here: The Cremation Process
No. All crematoriums only cremate one person at a time.
You might be interested in reading this: 9 Cremation Myths That Everyone Thinks Are True
No. Again, all crematoriums only cremate one person at a time.
Yes. Clothing is technically optional, but (as with full body burial) most families prefer to honor their loved one during this time by keeping the body clothed.
When cremated after a funeral, the body is typically wearing formal clothing such as a dress or suit. With direct cremation the person will be cremated in the clothing they were wearing when they passed away.
Direct cremation is an option where the body is cremated immediately (or very soon) after death, without a funeral service or embalming. This is a low-cost alternative because it is handled directly by the crematorium, rather than in conjunction with a funeral home and the assistance of a funeral director.
Some crematoriums are owned and operated by funeral homes; even still, most will have an option for direct cremation at a more affordable price.
Read all about it: Direct Cremation & How It Can Save You $$
No, the body does not need to be drained of fluids prior to cremation.
If the decedent was embalmed, the yes, bodily fluids are drained as part of the embalming process. The natural body fluids are replaced with chemicals to preserve the body for a period of time prior to burial or cremation.
But even when the deceased is embalmed, the body is not drained of embalming fluids prior to cremation.
No. The person being cremated has already died.
On average, the cremation takes about 1-3 hours. Then the remains (at this point, bone fragments) cool for another hour.
The crematory operator runs a magnet over the remains to pull any metal, then runs the bone fragments through a machine that grinds them down into the final cremated remains, also known as “ashes.”
There is often time in between each of these steps as the crematory operators work on other tasks, so you can expect to receive the remains in about 2-3 days time.
Aside from a crematorium, there are a few other ways a body can be cremated:
- Alkaline hydrolysis, aka “liquid cremation” (legal in some states)
- Open-air cremation, aka burning a body on a funeral pyre (this was done in ancient times but is not legal anymore)
You have questions about cremated remains, a.k.a. "ashes," and we have plenty of answers.
Cremated ashes are coarse and gritty, with a medium to dark gray color. Initially after the cremation there will be bone fragments, but these are run through a machine to grind them down into the coarse sand-like substance you will receive.
Read more: What Are Cremated Ashes Like?
Cremation ashes are the bone fragments left after the cremation process is complete. These fragments are placed into a machine that grinds them into a coarse powder.
The chemical composition for cremated remains is mostly calcium phosphate. There are typically trace amounts of other minerals as well. For instance the salts of potassium or sodium, and perhaps a small amount of carbon in the form of carbonate.
The exact chemicals will vary for each person. This is because of things such as genetics, diet, age, and other factors.
Read more here: What Are Cremated Ashes Made Of?
You can bury, scatter, inter, divide among relatives, or keep them at home. Here are some of the more creative and curious things you can do with ashes.
However, most people do one or more of these things:
- Get a nice cremation urn to honor the loved one's memory
- Keep the urn at home
- Scatter the ashes
- Bury the urn
- Place the urn in a columbarium niche
Learn more: What To Do With Ashes After Cremation
There are many reasons why you might want to divide the remains.
Sometimes the family divides the ashes equally, or each family member may get a small token amount to put into a cremation necklace or other keepsake. Sometimes the remains are buried, and one or more family members want to keep a small amount.
Here’s our resource on How & Why Ashes Are Divided.
Here are the most common methods for burial (plus some unusual ones) and the questions people often ask about the different options.
Here are the most common burial options:
- Ground burial at a cemetery
- Above ground burial in a mausoleum
- Entombment in a lawn crypt
- Natural burial
- Cremation with burial of ashes
Read more here: Disposition Options for Burial, Cremation, and More
Sometimes, a non-traditional person calls for a non-traditional burial. Here are some unusual burial options:
- Burial at sea (full-body or with cremated ashes)
- Preservation, such as eco-embalming or plastination
- Burial pod that grows a tree
- Buried in a dedicated compost heap
- Tibetan sky burial
- Plus all sorts of things that can be done with cremated ashes
Read all about these options and more: Here's the complete list of everything you can do with your body after you die
A mausoleum is a building with space inside for entombment or burial of bodies above the ground. Essentially, it's a room or enclosure with spaces for bodies to be interred.
When people refer to above-ground burial, they usually mean a mausoleum.
Our team went to several different cemeteries and funeral home that had mausoleums and took photos.
A crypt is a vault or enclosure for the entombment of the dead. Crypts are often underground, but they can also be above ground inside a mausoleum.
So a mausoleum would be the entire structure, and a crypt would be one burial space inside the mausoleum.
There are several different types and sizes of crypts. You can read more here: 9 Things You Need to Know About Crypts
With burial, the decedent’s body is buried in the ground. With entombment, the body is placed into a niche within a burial structure such as a crypt or mausoleum.
Learn more about these two options and the differences here.
The cemetery is where the physical remains of your loved one will be buried. It's important to know your options and have all your questions answered.
You'll want to look for a cemetery that is a good location for you, with lovely, well-kept grounds, helpful staff, and a reasonable price.
Ultimately, a good cemetery is the one that is right for you. But what else do you need to know, so that you can make sure you choose the right options, get a good deal, and so on?
- Be respectful to the dead, courteous to those who mourn, and considerate to those who work there
- Observe cemetery rules and visit during posted hours
- Don’t drive fast and think about where you park
- Keep a respectful distance away from burial services or other mourners
- Don’t walk on the graves or sit on the headstones
- Clean up after yourself (and your pets)
Sometimes you can't be near to the cemetery where your loved one is buried. Of course you'll want to visit when you can, but what else can you do?
We suggest that you come up with some creative way to make a memorial or tribute to your loved one away from the cemetery.
This might be a memorial bench or garden, a plaque or statue, a scholarship fund in their name, a donation to have a park or street in their name, and so on.
Here are more than 18 public and private Ways to Create a Memorial Away From the Cemetery
If you're visiting a cemetery to find the grave of someone recently deceased, you can typically call the cemetery management or funeral home and ask. They'll tell you.
But if you're looking for an older grave, that can get tricky, especially with some cemeteries that aren't actively managed. Here's what to do:
- Gather basic info (name, dates, etc)
- Research online
- Interview family members who may know
- Talk to the cemetery management staff
- Check with the local county clerk
- Research church records
- Look at newspaper archives
- Then, simply walk through the cemetery and start looking
Learn more: How to Find a Grave in a Cemetery
A coin left on a grave means that someone has visited the grave site to pay their respects.
Often, for military service members, the type of coin has a special significance:
- Quarters mean that the person who left it there was with the fallen soldier when they died.
- Dimes mean that the two served together at some point in their careers.
- Nickels mean that the person who left it there trained with the deceased.
- Pennies mean that a fellow serviceman or woman has recently stopped by to pay their respects, whether or not they knew them personally.
Read more: Leaving Coins on a Grave - Meaning & History
Browse these FAQs to learn about choosing, buying, carrying, and burying a casket or coffin.
The easiest, simplest way to shop for a casket is to purchase one from the funeral home or cemetery.
However, it is typically ideal to shop around, at least a little. You can check other local funeral homes and compare prices, and even purchase a casket from a different funeral home than the one that is helping you. (But note: there may be transportation fees that wipe out any savings.)
Lastly, you can order many caskets online. The ones you find on the internet can often be less expensive, but they may be of lower quality as well.
Physically, it is easier for the pallbearers to carry the weight on their shoulders.
Visually, it’s a more striking image, with the height of the decedent’s casket signaling respect and honor (much like a champion being carried aloft).
Symbolically, the pallbearers carry their friend or loved one much like friends shoulder one another’s burdens.
The casket should be carried feet first.
Caskets should be oriented with the decedent’s head on the left and feet on the right. This is because caskets are designed with the hinges on the body’s left side. Thus, when the casket is opened, the lid does not block the interior view.
At the graveside service, the casket should be placed in line with the open grave. As when buried, the head will be close to the headstone, with the feet pointing away. The cemetery crew will take care of this for you.
There is a tradition of being buried facing the east. This means that an upright headstone faces east, with the head toward the west end and the feet to the east.
In Christianity, this tradition probably began due to the expectation that the second coming of Christ would come from the east:
“Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God.” Revelation 7:2
And of course Jerusalem, where many believe Christ will return, is to the east of the European/Western world. While that may be a dubious interpretation of that verse from Revelation, these two reasons are likely what gave rise to the tradition of burial facing east.
With the orientation as described above, feet pointing to the east, when 'the dead are raised' the newly risen believer would be facing towards Israel.
There are also ancient practices of sun-worship that involve being buried facing the rising sun, as well as Christian and other religious practices facing other directions. For many others, the direction is of little importance. For those to whom it matters the most common practice is burial facing east.
It may depend on how large the deceased person is. Many funeral homes/care centers utilize mechanical lifts that make it easier to move and position a body perfectly into the casket bed.
Here is how the body is placed into the casket, step-by-step:
- Straps are placed under the body and securely locked
- The body is slowly lifted up and over the casket bed
- The lift is slowly lowered until the body is completely in the casket bed
- The straps are unlocked and carefully removed from under the decedent.
Note: embalming always takes place before the body is placed in the casket.
Yes. While often the casket lid is arranged so that only the head and shoulders of the person can be seen, the entire body is fully clothed in a respectful manner.
The deceased may wear whatever outfit their family chooses, or what they themselves wished to wear following their passing. They can be dressed in formal attire, aka their “Sunday best,” or something more comfortable they preferred to wear in life (think overalls, yoga pants and a sweatshirt, even pajamas or a nightgown).
Most caskets open in such a way as to only show the decedent from the waist up. So shoes are optional; it is left up to the family to decide.
Most often the decedent is dressed in appropriate funeral clothing by the funeral director or embalmer (this is usually the same person, but not always).
Sometimes, a family member prefers to dress the body themselves. This is a normal and appropriate choice that can be an important part of the grieving process. However, most typically the funeral home staff will take care of this for you.
The face, hands, and legs of the decedent are usually positioned just prior to embalming. Embalming renders the extremities a bit firm, so posing needs to be done beforehand.
If no embalming is to take place (as in cases of direct burial/cremation/a closed-casket service) positioning can occur once the body has been casketed.
How a decedent is posed for their funeral service ultimately depends on a family’s wishes. Generally, on adult decedents:
- The face is maneuvered into a relaxed stance. A slight smile may even be appropriate.
- The arms and hands may be laid on either side of the torso, or one hand may be placed on top of the other over the abdomen (left hand always over right).
- The neck will be positioned as straight as possible. The head will be allowed a proper angle for viewing (a slight tilt toward the right).
Yes. Most modern caskets are equipped with a raising and lowering mechanism that adjusts the interior "bed" on which the body rests.
This adjustment requires use of a little tool called a casket key. The funeral director can insert this tool into a slot, usually located on the head end of the casket, and crank it until the bed has assumed the ideal position for viewing.
When the lid is to be closed, the key can again be used to lower the bed down, and to lock the lid into place.
If you are comfortable doing so, absolutely. If their service is open-casket and taking place at a funeral home, they will most likely have been embalmed, and their hair and makeup seen to.
Yes, traditional Jewish caskets must:
- Be made with no work done on the Sabbath (Saturday)
- Only using natural, biodegradable materials (generally wood)
- Minimal adornment, representing the equality of all people at death
- A plain or polished exterior is acceptable
- The casket may be decorated with a simple Star of David
- Nothing in the casket except the body and perhaps some earth from Israel
Yes. Located at the foot of most modern caskets, there is a little clear tube (glass or sturdy plastic) that screws securely into its own little slot. Before burial, the funeral director or embalmer will unscrew this tube and insert a slip of paper into it. This paper will identify the remains, the funeral home that took care of the decedent, the date of the burial and any other important information.
This is just in case any future identification of the decedent is ever required (following exhumation, catastrophic flooding, or another natural disaster that dislodges the casket and/or remains).
Interesting tidbit: The funeral director will most likely write this note in pencil as opposed to pen. Pencil lasts much longer than pen ink, and will not drastically fade when in contact with water.
Coffin is the older term, and refers to the six-sided container designed and shaped to hold a body. Wider at the top and narrower at the bottom, it is roughly the shape of a person's body.
Caskets are four sided rectangular containers to hold a body for burial. The rectangular shape is more appealing to most since it doesn't immediately bring to mind the shape of the deceased's body.
Most people choose caskets, but coffins are still readily available and widely used.
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