What is Cremation?

Table of Contents:

  1. What is Cremation?
  2. The Process of Cremation
  3. A Brief History of Cremation
  4. The Benefits of Choosing Cremation
  5. Preplanning for a Cremation

Whether you’re deciding if cremation is right for you or you’re making this decision for a loved one who has already passed on, understanding the process can be helpful. In this article, we provide a comprehensive look at the cremation process and cremation preplanning.

Please note: To some, the content in this article may be considered graphic. We wish to present this information in simple terms so we can best explain the process, and the section on “The Process of Cremation” may not be something everyone wants to read. If you feel uncomfortable with the topic, skip ahead to the section on the benefits of cremation.

What is Cremation?

Cremation is the act of converting a body to ashes. It is performed in a very specific and sanitary environment using equipment that can bring the deceased to a very high temperature quickly to ensure appropriate conversion. Once the process is complete, the cremated remains can be stored in an urn, converted into jewelry, scattered in a favorite location, or interred in a cemetery. These are some of the more common disposition choices for cremated remains, but families have many more options, including creating tattoos with the ashes.

The Process of Cremation

The process of cremation actually begins when the next of kin reaches out to a cremation provider to arrange transportation of the deceased to the appropriate facility. How this occurs, and how quickly it occurs, depends on a number of factors, including:

  • the situation surrounding the death
  • the location of the deceased
  • whether the deceased previously made plans for his or her final arrangements.

Your cremation provider can assist you with some of the steps involved, but if you’re planning ahead, you might consider downloading our cremation preplanning guide.

Once the deceased is at the cremation facility and all paperwork and certificates have been completed and signed, the cremation itself can be scheduled.

The process can take place with only crematory staff and next of kin, in the event they choose to be present and view the actual cremation. Please note that there usually is an additional fee for this type of viewing. Only one or two people can typically be present for the viewing, and if they choose to watch the cremation, this is normally possible through a small window into the cremation chamber.

Loved ones usually choose not watch the deceased being prepared for cremation.

Preparation is required to ensure that the deceased is properly cremated and that the equipment and people at the crematory remain safe. The crematory staff may ask if your loved one has a pacemaker, for example, because certain medical equipment or prosthetic devices may need to be removed.

Once the deceased is prepared, he or she is placed in the cremation chamber, which is only large enough to accommodate one body. This ensures that when families receive the cremated remains of their loved one, they are only those remains. The crematory also uses a metal tag system to ensure loved ones receive the correct remains.

Within the chamber, the deceased is exposed to temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees fahrenheit, required to properly reduce the deceased to cremated remains. The actual cremation process, from preparing the deceased until ashes are rendered, can take between four and six hours. The deceased is usually in the chamber for approximately two to three hours.

The total time it takes, from the time a death occurs until the cremation is completed, varies by location and factors associated with the death. Each state has different laws, but typically cremation providers must wait for appropriate certificates and approval from law enforcement or the coroner’s office if an investigation is taking place. It can take two weeks or more for all of the paperwork and signatures to be obtained before a cremation is scheduled.

A Brief History of Cremation

As early as 3000 B.C. (during the Stone Age), a form of cremation was being used in Europe. Funeral pyres, for example, are commonly seen in both ancient literature and historical texts. Around 800 B.C., cremation became a pivotal part of Grecian burial customs, in part spurred by Homer’s encouragement of the process. Cremation was seen as a safe, clean, and appropriate way to handle end-of-life arrangements for centuries. It wasn’t until after Constantine spread Christianity across his empire that burial replaced cremation as a standard manner of disposition.

The History of Modern Cremation

Modern cremation in a chamber dates back to 1873, when Professor Ludovico Brunetti of Padua, Italy, showcased the first practical cremation chamber. Queen Victoria and her advisers began to advocate cremation in England because it was seen as beneficial for public health. During that period, crematories became popular throughout Europe. The first crematory in America was built in 1876, in Pennsylvania.

Cremation Today

Over the past 15 years, the rates of cremation in the United States have doubled. In 2016, the cremation rate surpassed that of traditional burial.

Cremation is no longer seen as an “alternative” for final disposition; it’s a mainstream choice with a number of benefits. In past decades, many people opted for traditional burial because they felt there were religious or cultural taboos regarding cremation.

The Benefits of Choosing Cremation

The major benefits of choosing cremation include costing about one-third less than a traditional burial, it’s environmentally gentle, it provides flexibility for the family, and there are many options for disposition.

How Much Does Cremation Cost?

The average cost of cremation costs approximately $3,500 – far less than a traditional funeral.

Common Costs Associated with Cremation

  • The cremation process itself ($1,100 on average, but can range according to specific needs)
  • An urn; with so many options to choose from, families can find affordable options or very high-end luxurious items (average cost is $10 to $250 or more, depending on the type, size, and quality of the urn)
  • Death certificates, which involve fees associated with each county (ranging between $12 and $30 per certified copy)
  • A memorial service, if desired, which can include a large range of options and take place in private homes, rented buildings, places of worship, or outdoors (cost can range from minimal for a small service where family and friends provide the location and other items to thousands for large, formal memorials in rented locations)

Common Costs Associated with a Traditional Funeral and Burial

  • A casket, which can range from basic to luxurious but is almost always more expensive than an urn (average cost is around $2,000, with prices ranging from much less to as high as $10,000)
  • Embalming services (average cost ranges from $495 to $1,290)
  • The purchase of a gravesite, as well as payment for grave digging, lining, and other cemetery services (average cost for cemetery goods and services is around $2,000, split about evenly between the space itself and the fees associated with opening/closing the site)
  • Headstone or grave marker cost, as well as engraving fees (costs can range from $1,000 to $2,000)
  • A burial container, which contains the casket during burial (typically included in one of the other costs)
  • Death certificates (between $12 and $30 per certified copy)
  • Memorial services, including the costs associated with the wake, any viewing services, and/or a memorial/funeral service (For a minimal viewing, costs can be around $1,000; for a memorial or funeral service, they can range up from there according the wishes and needs of the family)

As you can see, the costs associated with traditional burial aren’t just higher than those associated with cremation. There are more things to pay for and consider, which makes cremation a more efficient choice as well for many families.

Cremation Is Environmentally Friendly

The process of cremation is environmentally gentle, and can also lead to an eco-friendly final disposition. Cremated remains take up less space and inurnment can even take place in above-ground niches. Cemeteries in some areas of the country don’t have additional burial lots to sell because burial requires a certain amount of land. In some cases, inurnment can actually make it more possible for a loved one to be laid to rest nearby.

Cremation Provides Peace of Mind

Cremation affords more flexibility than traditional burial, which means memorial services can be planned when more loved ones are able to attend (even if that means they are held months or longer after a loved one passes).

The cremated remains can be stored in a beautiful, meaningful urn. Even after the memorial service, disposition itself is flexible. Ashes can be scattered to honor the memory of a loved one, they can be placed in a niche in a cemetery, or they can be kept in a place of honor in the home.

Disposition Options Following Cremation

When discussing cremation, “disposition” refers to the final placement of cremated remains. There are numerous means of disposition, and the flexibility is one of the reasons that cremation has gained so much popularity in recent years. Below are a few examples.

  • Placement in an urn. Family members can select from hundreds of types and styles of urns, including beautiful display pieces, pictorial urns, or urns that incorporate certain interests, careers, or military services. These urns can be displayed in family homes and kept close for the ongoing comfort of loved ones. Urns can also be used to hold cremated remains as they are placed in a location such as a columbarium.
  • Scattering ashes. Ashes can be scattered in a location that is beautiful or meaningful. Loved ones can return to that location to think of the deceased and recall special memories.
  • Jewelry. You can purchase bracelets, rings, or necklaces that incorporate some of the deceased ashes, letting you keep them close at all times.
  • Unique keepsakes. Ashes can also be incorporated into a variety of keepsakes to bring family comfort over the years. Ashes can be placed inside special teddy bears, for example, and even incorporated into tattoos.
  • Unique locations. Cremation allows for a final resting place in much more diverse locations than traditional burial. One option, for example, is placement in the Neptune Memorial Reef. The largest human-made reef in the world, the Neptune Memorial Reef supports a variety of unique sea life and provides a permanent legacy for those who loved the ocean.

Preplanning for a Cremation

Preplanning for a cremation involves working with a provider ahead of time to pay for and plan your final arrangements. Considering your own death can seem morbid; in reality, taking the time to plan these things now provides benefits for both you and your loved ones.

Some benefits of planning ahead include:

  • You and your family will have peace of mind knowing that when the time comes, a plan is in place.
  • You can ensure that your exact wishes are understood and will be followed.
  • By planning now, you lock in current prices and can save yourself and your family money in the future.
  • You can pay now or talk to your provider about a payment plan that lets you finance the cost over the next few years.
  • Give your loved ones time to grieve and celebrate your life, rather than wondering what you would have wanted or scrambling to pay high funeral fees.

If you’d like to find out more about preplanning your cremation — or if you are a next of kin or family member at need — contact us today to find out about your options and how you can create a cost-effective, meaningful end-of-life plan.


The Neptune Society is the nation’s oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.

Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.