Behind the Curtain

Following on from ‘Five Most Common Funeral Myths Dispelled’ it has occurred to me that there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the process of cremation. The same cannot really be said for burial. Burial is out in the open for all to see. We see the coffin enter into its final resting place before our very eyes. The process is far more raw, matter of fact and, let’s face it, muddy! 

The process of cremation can be far more detached and clinical.

So, what does happen ‘Behind The Curtain’?

I will take some extracts from my ‘Five Most Common Funeral Myths Dispelled’ and build upon them to explain the full process.

Why do we use curtains?

The curtains at the crematorium are symbolic and signify the point at which the coffin is committed to be cremated – The ‘Committal’ Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.

They signify the finality of the departure of the deceased.

Different crematoria will use different methods to provide this symbolic gesture.

In some, the catafalque on which the coffin is resting may lower to symbolise the burial and I’ve known others use a Gate which closes in front of the coffin to symbolise perhaps the Gates of Heaven?

As it is, the curtains service no practical purpose which means that they are not required to close around the coffin. You may, if you wish, choose to have the curtains remain open.

The impacting difference in closing the curtains or having them remain open is this; If the curtains close, the coffin is taken away from you, if the curtains remain open then it is you who must walk away from the coffin. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to make funeral arrangements then it is for you to decide which option would be of better benefit to you and your family.

The curtains can be closed at any point during the service and the coffin will remain on the catafalque behind the curtain until the end of the service and until every last person has left the chapel.

Taking the coffin from the catafalque.

Once the mourners have left the chapel, the crematorium technician is able to take the coffin from the catafalque. If the curtains have remained open, then the funeral director or the chapel attendant should ideally close them in a quiet, dignified manner.

Behind the catafalque is a pair of doors which open out into the area that houses the cremators.

A hydraulic trolley is used to take the coffin from the catafalque and over to the cremator.

If there is not a cremator immediately available, then the coffin will rest in a side room for a short while.

Best practice is to cremate the coffin on the same day as the funeral service. This is the case for every coffin committed at Weston Crematorium, however, some have a policy to cremate within 24 hours. The funeral director should notify the next of kin if the chosen crematorium do not guarantee to carry out the cremation on the same day.

Before the cremation.

The Crematorium hold a strict identification policy. Before the coffin is taken from the Funeral Directors Hearse, a member of the crematorium staff will check the identification which has been placed on the coffin by the funeral director. This is done by way of an engraved plaque which is nailed to the breast of the coffin.

If the name on the coffin plate does not match that of whom the appointment was made, the coffin will be refused. 

Once the cremator is ready to receive the coffin, the identification is checked again by the crematorium technician. The technician will usually require up to three matching forms of ID. Name, Date of Death and Age are usual. Again, if the identification is wrong, the coffin will be refused.

The crematorium technician will then draw up and ID card which is attached to the cremator. The coffin can now enter the cremator. 

The Cremation

The actual cremation itself will take on average 1.5 hours and doesn’t actually reduce the remains to what we know to be ashes. What is produced by the cremator is in fact larger, brittle bone partials. 

Once the cremation has finished, the door to the cremator is opened and the process of ‘raking down’ can begin.

Just inside of the door of the cremator, there is an opening in the base. This is an opening into a temporary urn beneath the cremator. Using a long handled ‘rake’ the hot remains are pulled towards the front of the cremator, pass through the opening and down into the large metal urn.

The ID card that was placed upon the cremator is moved down nest to the urn to identify the remains within. Here the remains will rest for approx. 75mins to cool.

The Cremulator

Once cooled, the remains are processed by a piece of equipment called a Cremulator. This sorts the remains by removing any metals as well as reducing the remains to a fine powder that we know to be the ashes. 

The metals that will remain after the cremation process are surgical metals eg, joint replacements and pins used to aid in the healing of bone. Coffin screws and nails can also remain. Although the larger metals are removed by hand, the smaller are removed by the electro magnate inside cremulator. The majority of precious metals will melt away as these have a lower melting point then most other metals.

These metals are recycled by the crematorium with any financial gain given to benefit charity. The next of kin are able to keep the remaining metals if they so wish. This is a discussion which is had between the funeral director and the next of kin at the time of funeral arrangement.

The cremulator will process the remains into a large plastic urn. The ID that has accompanied the coffin to the cremator, then the remains to the cremulator is usually placed inside the urn with the remains.

The Urn

The crematorium supply a large plastic urn for each set of cremated remains. If they are to be returned to the family, the remains will usually be returned in this plastic urn, unless an alternative has been purchased from the crematorium or the funeral director. 

If you’ve any questions or feel I’ve missed something, please comment below. If you’d prefer to make your enquiry privately you are very welcome to email, call or even pop into see us for a coffee.

We’re always here for you …

Claire