Frequent Questions - Cremation
Cremation is a process that uses fossil fuels to create temperatures between 1700°F and 2000°F to reduce the body to calcium deposits. In the basest of terms – cremation burns away everything but the bones. The process takes between 2 and 2.5 hours and what is left are skeletal remains. These bones are swept out of the cremation chamber (also called a retort) and processed to a fine particulate mixture referred to as “ash.” The consistency and color of this mixture is variable from very fine to coarse and pale to dark grey.
Absolutely. We have extensive procedures to ensure the identification and chain of custody of remains. It is of paramount importance in any funeral home, ours included. Here are the key points of those procedures that we use:
At the time of transferring remains into our care, we put an ankle band with the person’s name and information on the body. The person releasing the body into our care – family, nurse, hospital – signs off that they are releasing the specific person to us.
At the care center (crematory), a case number is created and another ankle band matching the first and adding that case number is put on the ankle with the first one.
Prior to cremation, all the documentation and ID bands are reviewed.
A metal disk with a discrete ID matching the paperwork is placed in the cremation chamber with the body. The only thing that survives the cremation process are the bones (ashes) and that metal disk. The bones are processed and placed into a bag that is closed with a tie and that metal disk.
If necessary, you could trace this disk back through the paperwork to see all the details of the process – who transferred the body, at what time, who the cremationist was, even the wind speed at the time of cremation.
The process has been designed to have multiple checks at each stage of the process to maintain the integrity and security of the deceased, ensuring that you receive the exact remains of the person entrusted to our care.
And here is where things sound strange, but I can’t think of a way to put it that doesn’t sound a little bit detached: We have absolutely zero motivation to give you remains that aren’t your loved one, never mind the fact that it is unconscionable. We absolutely care and for that reason, we put every safeguard in place.
The process from you notifying us to the time you get the remains and death certificates can range from a few days to a week.
Many factors dictate how quickly this process moves forward. We have ordered these in terms of which factors are most likely to cause a delay:
- Day of death. If the death occurs on a Friday and Elemental is notified after noon, the odds are that nothing other than picking up the body will happen before Monday. Doctors need to sign forms, counties need to issue permits, schedules at the crematory need to be coordinated – these factors require the right people to be available to do the work. Unfortunately, doctors and bureaucrats are just as eager to get out of the office Friday afternoon as the rest of society.
- Doctor’s signature. A doctor must sign the death certificate before it is filed for permits and they have 48 hours from when it lands on their desk to get it done. There are times where a signature takes even longer. The sad truth is, if a doctor doesn’t sign, nothing proceeds.
- Your paperwork. With all the best intentions, some families get overwhelmed with the number of balls they are juggling after a death. It can take days (even weeks) for some families to get their part of the paperwork back to us. Without that important information and authorization, we can’t do anything but wait.
- Funeral homes, ours included, don’t perform services until the invoice is paid-in-full. Even if everything is in order, sometimes families miss the payment part of the equation. It’s uncommon, but it does happen occasionally.
- Busy cremation schedule. Under most circumstances, our schedule is open enough that once we have all the permits, authorizations, and payment in order, it is only a couple of days before we have the remains and death certificates back to you. There are times however (cold and flu seasons) when cremation waits are a little bit longer.
It is possible for us to perform rush cremations (under 72 hours), but an additional fee is involved. These situations take all hands-on-deck to get these permits and paperwork in place. Moving to the top of the list can require herculean efforts when it comes to doctors, permits, and crematory schedules, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Check with us to see if rushing the cremation is something that can be done in your case.
We would prefer not to use this style of urn. A very large percentage of families that we serve, however, either want their loved one’s remains mailed or they need to take them on a plane to get them home. While the plastic urn isn’t an ideal container from an environmental perspective, we made the decision to keep it because it is secure, travels well, works as a scattering urn, and most importantly – it is familiar to TSA and customs agents.
Practically speaking – no. The fillings, crowns, etc. will be returned in the remains, but they will be unrecognizable and unrecoverable. The heat destroys almost everything. If this is something that you are bent on having, you will need to hire a dentist to extract the teeth prior to the cremation process. We have yet to have anyone do this, but stay tuned… there’s always a first.
We get requests all the time for different things to be returned after the cremation. These items are the most commonly requested:
Gold crown/fillings – Most people don’t realize that a gold crown is a gold veneer over a tooth, not a full piece of gold replacing a tooth. While the crown may look like a lot of gold, the reality is that very little metal is used. The dental gold is “destroyed” in the process of cremation, meaning that it is melted and combines with the remains in the process and is unrecoverable. The only way to retain the gold is to extract the teeth prior to cremation. We have yet to have a family hire a dentist to do this, but we will update this page if someone…bites on the opportunity.
Medical implants/metal – The implants that are done surgically are technically the property of the family. We automatically send them off to a medical metal recycling program so that they are not wasted and can see another life, in whatever form that might be. Occasionally, we get a request to have a hip implant or knee returned, and we can certainly accommodate that.
Whole bones – some people want entire bones (skull, femur, tibia etc.) returned. Usually this request is couched in some disclosure of “I’m an artist and want to….” We would love to accommodate this, but unfortunately the process of the cremation renders the bones so brittle that they don’t come back whole. A point of fact though – beyond the medical metal and the ID tag we use in the cremation, bone is the only thing that is returned to you. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that “getting ashes back” sounded a lot better than “getting bones back.”
Washington State has very specific laws as to who is required to authorize the cremation process. There is no way for us to waver on this one, and we aren’t making it up to make your life more difficult. If you would like to enjoy the text of the law, you can read it in RCW 68.50.160
Absolutely! In fact, it is encouraged. While we would love to sell you something, it is so much more meaningful to have something that your family has made or is an heirloom piece. If you have found that perfect urn, let us know and we will use it to place the remains. If you have questions as to the suitability of the vessel, please let us know – we are happy to help.
Most people do one of three things with their loved one’s cremated remains (in order of frequency): Keep them at home, scatter them in a special location, or place in a cemetery. The human cremation renders somewhere between 6 – 9 pounds of cremated remains. This is about 200 cubic inches of remains. To give you a visual, human remains fill a box that is 4”x10”x6” which is basically the equivalent of a bread box. There are many creative ways of disposing of cremated remains use far less than the total of remains. In other words, you’re going to need to find some other place to put the rest of them. It must also be said that many of them aren’t strictly eco-friendly. Unique options for the use of cremated remains include making a diamond, shot-gun shells or a glass vase. It is even possible to send your loved one into orbit. None of these options are necessarily environmentally friendly. Check with us on pricing and options.
We’ve never understood this one, but it gets asked more often than not, so take comfort in the fact that you are definitely not the first person to ask. The answer is that it isn’t very practical. The human remains are more sizable than you may think, and are not fluffy ash. If you choose to flush them, it’s likely that it will be tedious and you may incur a plumber’s bill larger than the crematory bill. From the environmental perspective, keep in mind that you are going to be flushing the toilet quite a few times.
We do have a few biodegradable urns in stock but most of the urns that we sell are sent directly from our distributor. There are so many options out there that there would be no place for us to store all the possibilities. This also allows us to keep prices low because we don’t have to carry large amounts of inventory.
Caskets are large and expensive, so most funeral homes now have digital images or catalogs for you to select from. We simply don’t have any place to store them. If you pay a visit to the office, it will be clear that there’s nowhere to put a casket showroom!
Our urn and casket pages are available for you to browse. These feature some of the most commonly chosen options by our clients.