What is cremation?

   By Irina Jordan

Let's say you die--sorry, but it happens to the best of us--and your family has decided to cremate you. (Hopefully, you approve.) First, you will likely be placed in a plain coffin or cardboard container. You may have a tag put somewhere on your body or a metal disc placed inside your vessel with a unique number along with matching paperwork so the crematory operators know you are you. But for now, you are no longer you. You are a number that has been assigned to you.

Once you have been properly ID'd and all the paperwork is in order--which generally includes a permit from the state and authorization by the next of kin--you are placed into the cremation chamber. It is going to get hot, maybe up to 1,800°F (982°C).

After at least an hour of intense heat and flame, you are reduced to grayish ash that will be raked into a box and left to cool. If you have had surgery, there may be a couple of screws or some wire left behind. That is removed. But there is also the problem of your femurs--they did not burn completely--along with several other bone fragments. Those are put into what is essentially a giant food processor, which pulverizes them with spinning blades. They are joined with your campfire-like ashes, which are then returned to the family.