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Death and Dying – cremation

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By Marta K. Dodd

Special writer

In Chris Sherwood’s 16 years as owner, funeral director and operator of Sherwood Funeral Home & Cremation Services, increasing numbers of people have chosen cremation rather than a “traditional” casket burial. About 60 percent of Sherwood’s customers currently opt for cremation. The “World War II” generation typically (but not always) chooses a traditional casket burial. Many Baby Boomers prefer cremation.

However, no cremations take place at Sherwood’s eponymous Grass Lake facility.

“In the State of Michigan, a funeral home is not allowed to have a financial interest in a crematory or a cemetery,” Sherwood said. “We use a family-owned crematory in Hudson, Mich.”

Funeral homes arrange cremations, including bringing the deceased person’s body to their facility, getting the cremation authorization from the next of kin, the cremation permit from the county medical examiner’s office where the person passed away and taking care of the death certificate and other logistics.

If someone has multiple “equivalent” next of kin, such as multiple adult children, the cremation authorization requires signatures from a majority of those relatives.

“Once we have the authorizations, we transport the deceased to the crematory,” Sherwood said.

The deceased must be in some type of container for that transfer and for cremation. In a direct (basic) cremation in which there is no viewing, visitation, casket or memorial service, that would be a specially made reinforced cardboard container. A basic cremation at Sherwood’s costs approximately $1,600.

“The price should include everything – the professional services of the staff, the removal of the deceased from the place of death, the cremation container, the crematory fee, and the cremation permit,” Sherwood said.

If the family opts for a viewing, visitation, traditional casket or other services, additional charges apply.

“We also have rental caskets for a viewing or a funeral followed by cremation,” Sherwood said. “The inside of the casket becomes the cremation container, then later the casket is replenished with a new interior” for reuse as a rental.

Chris Sherwood

Family members can watch their loved one’s casket or cremation container enter the crematory retort, the machine where cremation takes place. They do not see the actual cremation.

Depending on the cremation equipment technology, the size of the deceased person’s body, and other factors, cremation could take up to several hours, due in part to the human body’s high water content. The temperature in the retort reaches 1,400 to 1,800 degrees. Any larger pieces of bone that remain after cremation go through a pulverizer.

“Bone accounts for most of the cremains (ashes),” Sherwood said. The crematory staff places the cremains in a bag, then in a plastic container, then in a cardboard box.

“People can purchase cremains urns from us or other sources,” Sherwood said. “My only advice is to know what you are buying. It just depends on what quality you want.” Many families also buy cremation jewelry that holds a small amount of the cremains, for loved ones to wear.

“When people are cremated in a traditional casket, it’s usually a wood casket,” Sherwood said. “They can be cremated in metal, but the metal then has to be removed from the cremains. Anything the family wants inside the casket or container with their loved one should be combustible, and not explosive.”

Some families keep their loved one’s cremains in their home, at least for a time. Before burying cremains in a cemetery, it is important to verify whether that cemetery requires an urn vault or whether burying the cremains in only the plastic container is acceptable.

“I have not run into a situation where someone says their religion does not allow cremation,” Sherwood said, but different faiths have different policies.  Some people have cremation as a personal preference unrelated to religion, and some appreciate that it can be less expensive than casket burials.

“Some people are uncomfortable with the fire during cremation,” he added, “but I have had people say they don’t want to be buried in a casket because they are claustrophobic.

“We’re here to serve the family. The living is left here to grieve. Grief is the most important part, where people are taken care of and are on a healthy road to recovery. To say their goodbyes is very important.”

Sherwood’s wife, Janelle, and father, Dave, also work at the family-owned business.

Some cemeteries have scatter gardens for cremains. Property owners can legally scatter cremains on their own land. Before scattering cremains on someone else’s land, or on waterways, check with the governmental unit (township, city, county, state, national) that oversees that specific location, to avoid conflict with any regulations that individual entity has in place.

Cremains can be scattered in ocean waters at least three nautical miles from shore, but within 30 days of the scattering, someone must file a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “Burial at Sea” form. The form is available at www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/burial_at_sea_reporting_form_sept8.pdf.

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