Ask Malisa: An Honest Look at Cremated Remains

Malisa Riceci is Solace’s lead funeral director. Malisa is a licensed director and embalmer with over 15 years experience serving families. This is part of an occasional series we call “Ask Malisa.” Read our first “Ask Malisa” blog here.

What are cremated remains?

Most people know and use the term “ashes” when talking about cremated remains, but in fact the remains are bone fragments, processed into the consistency of ashes. They can range in color from white to gray and resemble dusty sand. The remains have no odor and, while breathing them in is not recommended, they are not toxic.

While the ceremony of cremation has been around since 3,000 BC, the modern practice of reducing the fragments to a fine dust came about in the mid-1960s and quickly became commonplace in the United States.

How do I know I’ve received my loved ones’ remains?

This is a common, and natural, question. There is a lot of trust placed with your funeral home and crematory to properly handle your loved one’s disposition. One thing to keep in mind is that death care is a highly regulated, professional industry. Funeral directors and crematory operators are licensed by the state, go through background checks and are required to renew permits that are dependent on good standing and a clean record. Also, the funeral industry is filled with hard working, empathetic people who chose a career in death care because they want to help people. We all have families and people we love and would never dream of dishonoring the trust families place in us.

Outside of the moral obligation and regulatory checks in place, there are multiple internal systems to ensure that a facility always knows who is in their care. When a decedent is brought into the care of a funeral home the removal team gathers vital information regarding who they are picking up. This information is placed on a tag that is then kept on the person’s physical body. Once the person is back at a facility, a metal disc with a crematory number and more labeling takes place.  Cremation only gets scheduled once all the necessary authorizations, permits and special requests are submitted to the crematory operator. These documents and the disc ID are compared against the tags on the person and signed off by multiple witnesses before the cremation process begins. While the cremation is taking place the paperwork and disc are secured to the outside of the machine, and then again to the tray of remains at the end of that process. Remains are then processed and placed in an urn to which a label is affixed, the disc is secured to the bagged remains, and the paperwork is kept with the urn until returned to a loved one.

What can I expect when receiving my loved ones urn?

I’m not going to sugar coat it: it is a hard day getting your loved one’s remains. Hopefully having an idea of what to expect can help take some of the anxiety out of it.

While the final amount of cremated remains varies depending on the size and bone density of the decedent, most adults end up being between 5-7 lbs. The remains are placed in a thick clear plastic bag that is secured with a zip tie to ensure keeping the remains contained. This bag can be filled or placed in a display urn or in a temporary urn provided by the funeral home. Temporary urns are typically made of plastic or cardboard and are a suitable choice for storage, scattering, or traveling by plane. Whatever your urn, there should be a label placed somewhere discreet so that the vessel is easily identifiable. This may seem unnecessary, but it is common for urns to be stored in homes and found later by relatives or strangers who did not know the decedent and would have no way to identify the contents.

At Solace, we believe in empowering our families with information so they can feel confident in their decisions. Whether you want to keep your loved ones’ remains at home, inter in a cemetery, or scatter them at a beloved location, we hope that you have the comfort of honoring a life lived.

Photo by Grace Young

Solace Cremation offers online arrangements for direct cremation services with one flat price and 24-7 customer service. Solace proudly serves the Portland and Seattle metro areas. Learn more.

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