How to Personalize a Cremation September 17, 2020


Cremation is becoming an increasingly popular memorial option around the world. With increasing burial and cemetery plot prices and desire for simplicity, cremation has become the top choice in the United States since 2015. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, or NFDA, more than half of all Americans that will die this year will be cremated. In 20 years, the NFDA predicts that nearly 80% will opt to have our bodies turned to ash once we pass. 

But why the change? “Cost is a driving factor,” said Mike Nicodemus, licensed funeral director and vice president of cremation services for the NFDA. “The decrease in religious restrictions is another one, and it’s a very transient world we live in today.”

Why is Cremation so Popular?

As funeral costs continue to climb, so do prices for cemetery plots and incidentals many families don’t think about. For example, some cemeteries require grave liners or maybe charge huge amounts just to open the ground for burial. 

According to NFDA, in 2016, the median cost of a funeral was around $8,000. Caskets alone can cost between $950 and $10,000. On the contrary, the same statistics show the cost of a direct cremation in 2016 was $2,400. 

No matter what, you have to do what’s right for your family. Where Bateman-Allen Funeral Home is located in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, we have a large Irish Catholic and Italian Catholic population. And even though the Vatican has been loosening the rules on cremation since the 1960s, families still feel a strong desire to have a “proper funeral” and burial. Today, though, practicing Catholics are allowed to choose cremation; however, the church still wants a ceremony and for the ashes to be buried, not scattered

But in our culture, it’s not all about religion anymore. Changes in overall religious attitudes have also fueled the trend toward cremation. Fewer people consider themselves religious today than in the past, lessening the need for a traditional church funeral. 

Because of the changing of our families’ preferences, Bateman-Allen Funeral Home is constantly updating our services, offerings, and event styles to fit every end of life vision. If cremation is a part of your vision, we want to give you ideas on how to make it as personalized as possible. Below are some of our favorite ways families have customized their loved one’s cremation, memorial service, and ashes. 

Cremation Memorial Art

Doing something memorable with the cremated remains of a loved one is important for many people. Like Bateman-Allen Funeral Home, an increasing number of companies are offering imaginative options from which to choose. 

Memorial tattoos are a growing trend in which tattoo artists mix some ashes with the ink to create lasting memorials on a family member’s skin. If tattoos aren’t your thing, you can also have your ashes mixed with paint and made into a portrait or beautiful painting as instead.

Personalized Cremation Urn

There are dozens of options now for different kinds of urns. Today, you can find an urn in whatever material, shape, size, or fashion you can dream of! Do you want the picture of the deceased on the urn? Awesome! Or maybe their signature — very doable! Just ask your funeral director about your options.

Personalized Cremation Jewelry

Cremation jewelry is another growing trend to memorialize the ashes of loved ones. Some companies sell pieces of jewelry with small containers in which you can put bits of the ashes to wear around your neck or wrist. This way, you can have your loved one’s remains with you always. 

Memorial Keepsakes

There are lots of ways you can memorialize your loved one throughout your home as well. We’ve heard of families putting ashes into stuffed, huggable animals for the littles ones in the family. Love music? Your deceased loved one can become a vinyl record your family can enjoy. One company in the UK that provides this service says you can “record a personal message, your last will and testament, your own soundtrack, or simply press your ashes to hear your pops and crackles for the minimal approach.” You could even play your loved one’s cremated remains at their memorial! 

Cremated Ash Fireworks

Don’t fireworks just make you feel good? Some families are letting the colors of their remains burst as they shoot across the sky! “I’ve seen that; the son sent me pictures,” Nicodemus said. “This man’s father raised money to put on the annual 4th of July fireworks display in his Kansas town. When he died, there was no one to continue the tradition, but his family raised enough money to put on one last display. Sunset came, the fireworks went off, and there was dad.”

Several companies are advertising customized, professional firework displays, but there are also fireworks and rockets that can be shot by the families at home on a smaller scale. 

To have a more ethereal experience, you can choose to have your ashes shot into space. The rockets are real, suppliers say, with options that can send you into orbit around the earth ($5,000), the moon ($10,000), or even to a galaxy far far away ($12,500). Some of the ashes of actor James Doohan, who played Scotty on the original “Star Trek” TV show and subsequent films, took a trip to the International Space Station. 

If you want your remains to get a glimpse of the Earth’s atmosphere then come back, it’ll only be a mere $1,300. 

Celebration of Life Party

Celebration of life parties have become increasingly popular as culture shifts toward viewing funerals as more of a party than a time to mourn. These parties are more aligned with what you would see at a birthday party, retirement party, or anniversary than at a funeral. This is the family’s chance to have fun and celebrate the life their loved one lived. Yes, there might be some tears among the smiles, but it allows death to be celebrated as more of a memorial than a funeral. 

Some celebration of life parties, especially the preplanned ones, also have themes! Do you know anyone in your life that would love one of these themes?

Bucket List Party

A bucket list theme is sometimes popular for people who died young. You can create a bucket list of things they never got the chance to do, like attend their prom, or things they were planning to do like see the latest movie. Guests can participate in these activities together over the course of a day, week, or even month. You can have each individual or family check the items off the list over the course of a month then come together for a party where they share the pictures and stories from these experiences. Celebrate their life by actually living it for them. 

Eternal Birthday Party

Celebrate the birth and life of your loved one with an eternal birthday party. Host a traditional birthday party on your loved one’s next birthday with the theme of eternity. Instead of gifts, guests can share memories or donate to causes the deceased was passionate about. 

Celebrate You Scavenger Hunt Party

Take friends and family on a celebratory adventure that includes stops at all your loved one’s favorite places. Create a scavenger hunt list that includes the names of restaurants, specific snacks, and town landmarks the deceased enjoyed. Ask guests to venture out in pairs or small groups and take selfies with these specific items. Gather back at your venue for a party to award the scavenger hunt winners. For prizes, you can give out small possessions from the deceased that were not willed to specific people or memorial trinkets.

Heaven or Hell Party

Here’s a big disclaimer: Please consider the personality of the deceased before planning this one. A more religious individual may not love this idea.  But if the deceased is a bit more relaxed about the idea of hell, you can ask guests to dress in either heaven or hell costumes (depending on where guests think – jokingly – the deceased ended up). You can all act as if you’re in Heaven or Hell celebrating with your loved one. Tailor your menu, playlist, and decorations to match the theme.

Memorial At Sea

Another alternative becoming increasingly popular is to have your ashes scattered in the sea or even become a man-made memorial reef. Cremated ashes are mixed with concrete and poured into a mold, which can be placed at designated memorial reef locations along the coastline of Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, Texas, and the Coronado Islands near the US-Mexican border. 

According to the US Funerals Online, which keeps a directory of funeral homes, costs for a memorial reef range from $2,400 and $6,995. Think about it, if your loved one adored the beach, they could be there forever while also helping with marine wildlife habitats! If the price is a bit too much, for about $600 you can also place ashes in a small reef ball that can be kept at home in a fish tank or water feature. 

Those are some of our favorite ways families have truly personalized their loved one’s ashes and memorial. Before we go, let’s go into some of the details of what actually happens during cremation. 

How Cremation Works

In addition to helping families choose what options are best for their vision and budget, we also are on a mission to educate the public more about what exactly goes into the funeral, burial, and cremation processes. There tends to be fear and reluctancy towards talking about death in our culture and we want to change that. Death is a beautiful transition from the physical world to the beyond, and we should appreciate, maybe even celebrate the time. Focused on our mission, let’s learn a little more about cremation. 

Cremation is the process of burning a deceased body at very high temperatures until there are only brittle, calcified bones left, which are then processed into “ashes.” These ashes can be kept in an urn, scattered, or even incorporated into objects as part of the last rites of death. 

Unfortunately, no, typically cremation doesn’t include a Game of Thrones-style canoe, sent adrift down Riverrun, as the eldest son shoots (and potentially misses a couple of times) a flaming arrow to catch it ablaze. It’s a bit more scientific than that. 

In modern cremation practices, the body is stored in a cool temperature-controlled room until approval for cremation has been secured. A coroner or medical examiner is often required to sign off to make sure no medical investigations or examinations need to be done since, unlike after a burial, the body can‘t be exhumed once it’s cremated. The funeral director also must prove the identification of the body. 

The body is then prepared by removing pacemakers, and any other implantable battery operated device which can explode in high temperatures. Radioactive “cancer seeds” (injectable or implantable radioactive isotopes used to treat several types of cancer) are also on the removal list. 

The body is then put into a container or casket made out of flammable materials such as plywood, pine, or cardboard. In some countries, workers remove other external items such as jewelry or glasses, while other countries prohibit workers from doing so.

The crematory is preheated to about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit and the mechanized doors are opened as the container slips quickly from a rack of rolling pins into the primary cremating chamber, also referred to as a retort. 

Sometimes, family members can watch the first few minutes of the cremation process from a window, or in cases such as Hindu cremations, a family member can “start” the fire by pressing a button.  

Once the door is sealed, the body is subject to a column of flame, aimed at the center point of the container. The heat ignites the container and dries the body, which is still composed of 75 percent water. As the cremation progresses the the body begins to rapidly break down.  The bones, which are the last to burn, become calcified as they are exposed to the heat and begin to flake and crumble. 

An average human body takes from two to three hours to be completely cremated and will produce an average of 3 to 9 pounds of ash. The amount of ash depends usually on the bone structure of the person and not so much their weight. 

During the cremation process, a second column of the flame is used in a secondary chamber to burn off any particles or dust in the air leaving the retort to eliminate emissions and smoke. 

Once the body is completely cremated, the chamber is then cooled and the cremated remains, are removed from the main cremation chamber. At this point all non-biological material is then removed and properly disposed of.

The bones and remnants are then processed and the remains are placed into a lined container or an urn of the family’s choice.

An interesting fact: if the family requests, the ashes can be mailed via USPS, but requires a sift-proof box and signed confirmation upon receipt. UPS and FedEx do not ship ashes. Often, a disk identifying the person will be included with the remains throughout the process. ID papers that travel with the body are placed on the outside of the crematory and the box of ashes is also tagged and identified to avoid mixup. 

The cremation chamber, which is just big enough to accommodate one body at a time, which is the law, can reach temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s lined with a heavy-duty density fiber brick designed to retain heat.

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