Cremation of a loved one? Do you have the correct ashes?


Cremation is the preferred method of disposal of our physical remains today . But have you ever wondered when handed your loved one’s ashes if they really are your loved one? Has the thought occurred to you that this might be a mix of Thursday afternoons ashes or a share of a weeks ashes?

Many people I’ve spoken to have had the same suspicions as myself that the later might be the case. The economics of dealing with so many deaths might make solo cremations a thing of the past.

Well, I can now reassure you first hand this is not the case. I have seen with my own eyes the processes of cremation from when the curtain closes at the service to the point where you are handed the remains of your loved one.

It happened by chance, I was at Falconwood crematorium early on a Monday morning for the burial of my fathers ashes. It was a warm summers morning at the cremation official brought the copper pot to the agreed spot in the garden of remembrance, he was polite and dignified as they are trained to be but soon got to friendly chatting as he realized my lady and I were not traumatized by the occasion.

It lead me to ask the question that had been haunting me for a long time – “How do I know these are my fathers ashes?” To which he replied that they were and if we were interested to see the process he would happily give us a guided tour of the Crematorium since there were no services for at least an hour. I jumped at the chance.

We started at the other side of the curtains. A holding room where as the coffin slides through the curtain it comes to rest on a trolly mechanism. Pinned to the wall above the curtain is the documentation of permission for burial that you have to get signed by the coroner and has been passed to the funeral director.

As the coffin comes through the paper work physically then follows the body through the next processes. At busy times the coffin might be placed in some holding fridges until an oven becomes available.

Falconwood crematorium is one of the busiest crematoriums in the country, disposing of up to 40-50 bodies a week. It has three ovens and they are all modern state of the art computer controlled machines manufactured in America. Clean air laws have become stricter and stricter on the emissions allowed from such premises.

The oven area is large enough for only one coffin at a time. As the body is placed in the oven the coroners paperwork is attached with a magnet to the outside of the oven. The heat and time is set relative to the body size and condition, apparently different diseases and health conditions affect the burn rate of the bones and have to be accounted for. As the fire does it’s job all remains are reduced to bits of bone no bigger than a few inches in length and dust contaminated precious metals if medals or rings are worn or the body has fillings like gold teeth.

At this stage there is also the remains of the coffin, the pins and plates that held it together mixed in.

These remains are dropped into a lower collecting tray to cool and the paperwork is correspondingly moved down the oven. When cool the remains are then removed from the oven into a large plastic jar and a label from the coroners paperwork is placed on the outside of the jar. These remains are then taken to the next room where they are sorted.

At this stage the light metals of the coffin are removed and placed in a holding tray. Any contaminated precious metals to a second bowl and any unburned parts like knee joints etc are removed to a third.

The rest of the remains are then passed through a mill to produce the fine ashes we receive. The jar being designed to fit into the milling machine and the process is all done in an airtight machine.

We were shown the knee joints and the bowl of contaminated (with ash) precious metals and told that these annually were sold to a company in Holland who recycled the materials and that the money raised went to charity.

Having seen the whole process from start to finish, having seen the shelves of jars neatly labeled with names and dates and having seen the paperwork following the process I felt assured that the ashes I received were those of my loved one.

I’m pleased to say I left the Crematorium confident that my relation had been treated with respect and dignity to the end and it gave me a peace of mind that what was left was what I thought it was – a loved one’s remains. If you want ideas on how to treasure the memories of loved one’s still with us as well as passed then these ideas might be of interest .


Brian Russell

Copyright May 2015.