Ask the expert: Is cremation right for me?

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Published on November 16, 2010 with No Comments

By Dan Moran

Marlon Brando, Greta Garbo, Gene Kelly, Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck, George Harrison, and John Lennon ñ all famous, all rich, all loved by millions and all cremated. In our lifetime, the idea of cremation has been embraced by millions. Even the Catholic Church, adamantly opposed to the concept of cremation for centuries, has accepted the process of cremation if the cremains are interred in consecrated ground.

In the spring of 1997, Rome approved an Appendix to the Order of Christian Funerals which deals with cremation. It reiterates the normative suggestion that the cremation take place after the funeral liturgy, but also permits, for the first time in Catholic history, a funeral Mass to be celebrated with the ashes in a place of honor.

The Appendix stresses the same reverence shown to bodily remains be shown to cremated remains. The ashes are to be placed in a ìworthy vessel, and finally, buried or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium, which is a structure specifically designed to hold cremated remains.î

According to Fr. Michael Heintz of the Catholic Cemetery Association, ìThe ashes are not to be scattered or sprinkled, since such actions are not in keeping with the reverence and respect the Church expects to be shown to the bodies of the deceased.î

Intellectually, cremation is easily defined as the process of reducing the body to its most basic elements through the use of high temperature for a given duration.

The ìashesî that are left over after the cremation process, called cremains, are actually bone fragments that have been reduced to a size sufficient to allow them to be placed in a worthy vessel, as the Catholic Church describes an urn.

Emotionally, it is difficult to determine the effect of cremation on the hearts and minds of family and friends. Serious thought should be given to this very serious question. Although money is an important issue in all of our major decisions in life, money should be secondary when deciding on cremation or traditional burial. Long after the money is spent, many people suffer from their loss and experience additional, surprisingly painful, emotions if they are second-guessed by friends and family who did not want cremation.

Experience has shown that many people, given a chance to have a ìdo-overî, might do things differently; especially those who scattered the ashes.

Once the cremains have been ìblown to the wind,î they cannot be recovered and there is no place for those left behind to go to during those times that they have a need to be near the mortal remains of their lost loved one. People visit cemeteries on a regular basis, especially on those big events that were shared like birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and when the urge comes to sit and talk with that special person.

So, cremation is a process, but not a final disposition.

The question of what to do with the cremains is a significant one, and can affect many people that shared important time with the deceased. The choices are to delay the decision by taking the cremains home.

Eventually though, someone will have to decide what to do with the ashes. Sadly, future generations are sometimes left with the ìfinalî decision, and oftentimes they get thrown away by grandchildren or great-grandchildren who did not even know the deceased.

Also, there is the remote possibility of a house robbery and the cremains may be stolen, which usually means they are gone for good.

At Calumet Park Cemetery, there are numerous choices of final placement, from glass front niches inside a temperature controlled mausoleum to niches to ground burial to a back-to-nature section.

There are different prices to meet the needs of almost all families. It is something to think about. Do your homework, because, whatever is decided, it affects so many people in the circle of influence of the departed.

In the language of the death care industry, there are basically two types of cremation: Direct cremation and traditional funeral services with visitation and viewing followed by cremation. That takes care of the process, but final disposition must then be determined.

Calumet Park Funeral Chapel recently lowered the price for direct cremation to a comparable level being offered by cremation societies. However, we handle everything, including the cremation in our own crematory. In other words, we see the process through from the time of pick up to the time that the beloved cremains are returned to the family with your loved one never leaving our possession.

Direct cremation ($1406.33 at Calumet Park) is made up a removal of your loved one from their place of death, meeting with a caring, licensed funeral director, all necessary paperwork for legal cremation, a temporary receptacle for cremated remains, one death certificate, an alternate container in which the cremation will be performed in, and the crematory fee.

An in-person positive identification is always required by a reputable crematory, and there is never co-mingling of two bodies during the cremation process. The cremains should be released only to you or to a designated person with proper identification.

The bottom line is cremation is totally acceptable in our society, and is a personal choice that should be based on what is right for you and your loved ones.

To have a viewing is helpful and healthy to allow friends and family to come to terms with the fact that someone important to them has died.

There is no substitute for ìknowingî that a death has occurred than to see the person in a casket. Ask the families of those who did not come home after 9/11. Many still hope, one day their mom or dad or child will walk through the door because they do not have any tangible proof that they are truly dead.

Is cremation right for you? Do some research online and talk to your family and visit your funeral director of choice to get a feel for what you want.

You can make any kind of cemetery and funeral arrangements in advance, including cremation arrangements. By pre-arranging, you will have given yourself peace of mind of knowing what is going to happen, and you will help those you love be more accepting of whatever decision you feel is best for you.

For more information, e-mail dmoran@calumetparkcemetery.com.

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