1. Can I Bring Cremated Remains on a Plane?
2. What is a Direct Cremation?
3. Does It Matter What My Urn Is Made Out Of?
4. Identifying Loved Ones Before Direct Cremation
5. Funeral Documentation
6. What Can I Do With Cremated Remains?
7. When Embalming is Important
8. Do I Have To Be Embalmed?
9. What Is a Burial Vault? Do I Need One? Do They Work?
10. Containers and Caskets, What’s the Difference, and Which Should I Choose?
11. Should I Buy My Urn or Casket From a Funeral Home?
1. Can I Bring Cremated Remains on a Plane? - Back to Top
Many people decide to take cremated remains on a plane with them. It may be so that the deceased can be brought home for their final resting place, or to fulfill their wishes of being buried or scattered in another country.
If you are going to be traveling on an airplane with cremated remains, it is very important that you have the Cremation Certificate and burial/transit permit. These documents are provided when you receive the cremated remains from the crematory or funeral director and should remain with the urn at all times. Inside there should also be a letter of contents stating that cremated remains are in fact in the urn. I have yet to hear of an incident where someone was turned away for having cremated remains with them. I will suggest however that the urn not be metal so that it is easy to see its contents with an x-ray machine. Although they are heavy, cremated remains come in a container that is smaller than a shoe box and can easily be placed in carry on luggage. If shipping cremated remains through cargo they must be in an urn and wrapped securely.
2. What is a Direct Cremation? - Back to Top
A direct cremation is simply when a cremation occurs without a visitation or funeral. As soon as the deceased is transferred from the place of death into a funeral directors care, they are placed into a cremation container and brought directly to the crematory for cremation. Because of the immediate disposition without extra services, direct cremations cost significantly less than a traditional funeral. The family may wish to identify their loved one prior to the cremation or witness the cremation take place. These options are available if the family so wishes. If you chose a direct cremation for your loved one, we encourage you to hold a meaningful service of your own without the assistance of a funeral home. This may involve having a memorial service at your home or another facility. Even a get together at a restaurant with some friends can provide support during this difficult time.
3. Does It Matter What My Urn Is Made Out Of? - Back to Top
An urn is the final resting place of your loved one, and so it is important to chose the right one. The options for an urn are endless, and when choosing one, you should try to keep it personal and reflective of the deceased's personality, passions, and lifestyle.
It does not matter what the urn is made out of and in fact you can use anything you want as an urn. There are many types of urns available for purchase. They can be wood, stone, marble, or metal. Urns come in biodegradable forms as well and can be placed in water or earth. Some people chose not to purchase an urn and instead use something with sentimental value. For example, I have seen a tea packet box used as an urn for a woman who loved to drink tea, a scotch canteen for a gentlemen who loved his scotch, and a garden gnome used for a woman who loved to garden. These were things that were important to the deceased, and the families found it significant and appropriate to have this be the final resting place. When interring an urn at a cemetery, and whether it is an earth burial or nichement, you should check with the cemetery office as to their individual requirements for interment.
4. Identifying Loved Ones Before Direct Cremation - Back to Top
We are often asked “how do you know that you are cremating the right person?”. Because direct cremations do not involve a visitation or funeral, friends and family members rely on the due diligence of the funeral director who provides transportation for their loved one. Let us begin with the procedures put into place at the hospital or place of death. When a death occurs at a hospital, there are many people involved. The doctor, nurses, porters, bed control, admitting and health records all work together to fill out the proper documents and forms required for the deceased to be released from the hospital. Each member of the team has health card information about the deceased to properly identify them once the death occurs. The identification tags that are placed with the deceased and must match the wristband that is attached to every patient that is admitted to a hospital, or visits an emergency room. When a funeral director arrive at the hospital to transfer the deceased into our care, we carefully check all the forms of identification on the deceased to make sure they correspond to the names provided to us by the family. This is done in the presence of a security guard or porter to assure we are transferring the correct person.
Besides the safety measures that are put into place at the hospital and funeral homes, there are options available to you to ease this fear. A funeral home or transfer service can offer an identification, which involves you or a trusted friend to come to identify the deceased. Some funeral homes require this and will not carry out a cremation without an identification. If you are uncomfortable viewing the deceased, a photo can be provided to the funeral director who then can make the identification for you. It is important to give the funeral director any specific identifiable features on the deceased so that you can be sure that we have the correct person. These include birthmarks, scars, tattoos, amputations, etc. It is important to us that you feel assured that we have your loved one in our care.
5. Funeral Documentation - Back to Top
In order to carry out a burial or cremation, there a few forms that require a signature from the Next of Kin or Executor. During this stressful time, you may be signing documents without knowing what they are. A funeral director will explain the importance of each form as well as assist you in completing them.
Medical Certificate of Death
This document contains information about the deceased such as SSN, date and place of birth, parent’s information, etc. It is required by the government to register the death and contains information that is used as a genealogical reference.
Cremation Application Form
This document, like the Certificate of Death, contains information about the deceased and is required by the crematory. It is important to read through and understand the important information that is provided about cremation. This form requires your signature for permission to cremate. The crematory will accept a fax copy of your signature so the cremation can occur in a timely fashion. An application with a genuine signature can then be mailed to them at a later date, with your funeral director coordinating this through the U.S. Mail.
Cemetery Information Sheet
If you are arranging a burial, you may have to fill out a Cemetery Information Sheet for the cemetery. This form contains some information about yourself and the deceased and allows the cemetery to know who you are, who owns the plot and who is buried there.
The contract itemizes and lists all the services that will be performed and their costs. It also lists merchandise that you have purchased and disbursements. It is extremely important that you and the funeral director sign this document. Without it, we cannot serve your family.
6. What Can I Do With Cremated Remains? - Back to Top
Once a cremation is completed, the remains are put into a plastic bag and then into a plastic or cardboard container. This is how the crematory provides them for the family. So what now? Here are your options.
If you purchased an urn, the cremated remains will be placed into them by your funeral director. You can then have the urn buried or placed into a columbarium. A columbarium allows the urn to be placed into a niche in a wall instead of the ground. The niche either has a solid covering or a glass covering which allows the urn to be viewed. You can also take the urn home if you wish. It can be placed in a special place or wherever you wish.
If you do not wish to purchase an urn, you can provide your own. I have seen many interesting urns as a funeral director. Families have provided containers that have special meaning to them and wish for the cremated remains to be placed in them. This is allowed and welcomed. For example, I once was asked to place cremated remains into a garden gnome because the deceased loved to garden. If you wish to bury the cremated remains of you loved one, check with the cemetery office about individual cemetery requirements for burial.
If you wish to scatter the cremated remains, a permit may be required. You must check with your municipality, scattering may be considered “littering”. If you chose to scatter on private property, you must have permission from the property owner. There are some cemeteries that have scattering gardens. A small fee must be paid to scatter the remains there.
7. When Embalming is Important - Back to Top
There are three purposes that embalming serves. Firstly, embalming disinfects the body. With the application of antibacterial soaps and chemicals, both internally and externally, we are able to eliminate or greatly reduce the infectious agents that may be present on the body. Even if the deceased did not die from an infections virus or bacteria, there are pathogens that can be picked up from the hospital or morgue, and others that proliferate on a human body once it has died. These pathogens are extremely dangerous to the living, and so it is necessary, but not the law to embalm when a family wants to view the deceased. It is very important for your loved one to be pathogen free, especially if there is an open casket viewing. Many people touch or kiss the deceased as a final goodbye, and this can be extremely dangerous if the deceased is not embalmed. Most funeral homes will not allow you to have an open casket viewing without embalming. Not only is it dangerous for you and your loved ones, but also for the funeral home staff.
Secondly, embalming restores the human body to a more life like state. When we die, there are natural processes that occur, changing the way we look. Our blood stops flowing through our veins and begins to settle. This causes our skin to lose its pinkish hue. Because our muscles no longer work, eyes and mouths do not stay closed on their own. Embalming allows us to restore the life like color of the deceased and position them in a way that makes them appear to be asleep and at peace. Funeral directors are also trained to restore bruises, cuts and more traumatic injuries that occur due to accidental deaths. These may be unsightly and hurtful for the family and friends to view.
The third purpose of embalming is preservation. When we die, our body begins to break down and decomposition occurs. These processes can be slowed greatly by embalming. There are many instances when a viewing or funeral cannot occur right away. Sometimes families are forced to wait for friends and relatives to arrive from out of town, or funeral homes are booked until a later date. If a body is to be viewed, it is necessary to embalm the deceased. The chemicals added to the body by the funeral director, greatly impede the decomposition process, allowing time for the family for whatever reason they may need.
8. Do I Have To Be Embalmed? - Back to Top
I am often asked if it is a requirement by law that everyone be embalmed. The answer is absolutely not. There is no law stating an embalming requirement unless certain circumstances arise such as the deceased is being shipped out of country, or if the deceased is being shipped out of state by common carrier, i.e. air line or train. In fact there are only a few reasons for embalming to be performed (see "When Embalming is Important").
There is one instance where embalming is required by law. If you wish to ship the deceased out of country, it is an absolute requirement that the body be embalmed. All countries, including our own, will not accept a body that has not been embalmed. Shipments by airplane or ship can take months to arrange, and the body will completely decompose during this time. As well, countries do not want to take the risk of accepting a body that may have an infectious disease that can be spread if not embalmed.
When making arrangements with a funeral director, they must obtain permission to embalm from you. They cannot go ahead with the process without your consent. It is important to keep in mind the importance embalming serves when viewing the deceased. If you choose to have a direct burial or cremation, and will not be viewing the deceased, embalming is not necessary.
9. What Is a Burial Vault? Do I Need One? Do They Work? - Back to Top
A casket or urn is usually considered the final resting place of a loved one. Have you ever considered what happens to the pricey urn or casket once it is buried? I can guarantee that a casket gets cracked and an urn damaged. To some, this is obvious and just a part of death. It is organic and an event that is inevitable. For others, this is hard to swallow. What is the purpose of burying an expensive urn or casket if it is just going to be destroyed? The solution lies in the invention of the burial vault.
A burial vault is solid container that is placed into a grave before a burial. They are usually made out of concrete and lined with layers of metal or polymers. During the burial, the casket or urn is placed into the vault. A vault can serve multiple purposes. Firstly, their purpose is to create peace of mind. They are designed to have a seal, greatly reducing the amount of elements that can penetrate the vault, protecting the contents of the vault. They are also designed to withstand thousands of pounds of pressure, to keep the casket or urn safe from the ground above and the heavy cemetery machinery that drives on it. Unlike a burial vault, a grave liner does not keep the elements away from an urn or casket. They are made from porous cement that can cave in from the pressures exerted from above. Grave liners cover only the walls of the grave and the top of the casket or urn, and do not completely encapsulate it.
Some cemeteries require the purchase of a vault or grave liner for a burial. The reason for this is that the cemetery grounds are unstable, due to soil quality or the amount of ground water. A vault is required as a safety precaution, so that the earth on top will not collapse under the pressure from the activities above.
Burial vaults are usually guaranteed to work by their manufacturers. Vault producers use multiple forms of technology to ensure that the vault can equally distribute weight and withstand the forces from above. Some companies have a lid that uses the same seal technology as airplane windows.
If you are not required by the cemetery to purchase a grave liner or burial vault than the choice is yours. If you feel it will give you peace of mind that the casket or urn is protected from the elements, than the purchase may be the right choice for you. If you feel the processes that take place with a burial are natural and should remain that way, do not feel pressured to purchase a grave liner or burial vault.
10. Containers and Caskets, What’s the Difference, and Which Should I Chose? - Back to Top
Whether arranging for a burial or cremation, it is necessary to choose between a container or a casket. Both containers and caskets are available for cremation or burial, and the options may seem endless. It is important that you understand the differences between a container and a casket, and decide on which you feel is most appropriate.
A container is a simple version of a casket. It can be as simple as a cardboard box (available for cremation only), or made out of wood. Unlike a casket, containers do not contain a lining of material on the inside. Because of their simplicity and low cost, containers are used mostly for cremation, but can be used for a burial if preferred.
A casket can be made out of wood or metal, is usually ornamented and contains an inner lining. Caskets are more expensive than containers because of the fabrics, wood and metal used in their production as well as the cost of labor that goes into making them. Caskets are chosen mainly for burials but there are many cultures who do choose to cremate their loved one’s in a wooden casket (metal caskets cannot be cremated).
Whether you wish to cremate or bury your loved one in a container or casket is simply personal preference. Some people cannot imagine burying or cremating someone they love in a simple container, and others do not understand the concept of spending large amounts of money just to burn or burry an expensive casket. The best thing you can do is think about what the deceased would have wanted, what your beliefs are, and how much you are willing or able to spend. Do not allow funeral homes to pressure or persuade you into a purchase you are not 100% comfortable with. Always tell your funeral director what you are looking for before entering a casket selection room and let them know whether or not a fancy casket or simple container is the right choice for you.
11. Should I Buy My Urn or Casket From a Funeral Home? - Back to Top
Whether you purchase an urn or casket from the funeral home you have arranged with is your choice. To be honest, it WILL upset the funeral director and funeral home owner if you purchase elsewhere because the casket or urn is usually the most expensive item on your contract. Funeral homes are able to “mark up” the value of the casket and urn, and therefore, lose a large sum of money if you purchase from another company.
There are many funeral merchandise stores and online companies that you can purchase from. Even Costco’s and Walmart’s are offering caskets and urns for a lower price. However, I must offer some advice after personal experience dealing with some of these companies. Like most things, you get what you pay for, and this applies to urns and caskets as well. I have seen countless caskets and urns delivered to funeral homes filled with dents, chipped paint, missing ornaments and other obvious mistakes. Once these faults are discovered, it is often too late to have them fixed or sent back. A funeral cannot be put on hold to have a new casket shipped. The difference between purchasing from the funeral home is that they take pride in the expensive merchandise that you purchase, and do everything they can make sure your purchase is flawless and worth every penny. Funeral homes work very closely with the companies they use and have delivery workers who know how to handle delicate caskets and urns. If a situation were to arise where a casket needed to be replaced, it could be arranged in a timely manner.
Another thing to consider when purchasing from an outside company is that it is no longer up to the funeral home to arrange the transportation and delivery of the urn or casket. It will be up to you to make sure you purchase is sent to the right place by the appropriate time. Some less scrupulous funeral homes may require you to be present when the casket is delivered. While this is to protect them from liability this can be an inconvenience for you and your family.
It is important to consider this information before purchasing from an urn or casket store that is not affiliated with the funeral home. It will save you time if you purchase from the funeral home directly, and you can be assured that your purchase will be worth the price.