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The practice saw a resurgence in Europe in the s, mostly in an effort to curb the spread of disease. The first modern crematory was built in the U. By , there were The practice got another boost in , when the Catholic Church reversed its opinion on cremation during the Vatican II reforms and said cremation was permitted. There are fewer religious prohibitions, and consumers are seeking simpler, less ritualized funerals. Acceptance varies by state and ethnicity, according to a report by the National Funeral Directors Association.

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While the practice is not as popular in the Bible Belt and among certain cultural groups, including Catholics, Jews, and African-Americans, in places like California, Oregon, and southern Florida, 60 to 80 percent of the dead are now cremated. Koslovski and I pass through the double doors. As we stand on the floor of the crematorium, a bell rings out. The bodies arrive in caskets occasionally made of wood or metal, but more commonly cardboard, and are kept in these containers during the entire stay. Human remains must be enclosed in caskets for ethical and health reasons, such as protecting the cremation technician from infectious diseases, but also for the safest handling of the remains prior to cremation.

Koslovski says that Rosehill endeavors to perform all cremations and return remains to the family within 24 hours. And most states require a hour waiting period between when someone dies and when cremation can occur. When something is so final, you want to take a pause. Six large cremation units occupy the floor, each covered in aluminum diamond-plate like you might see on a fire truck or a high-end toolbox.

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Cremation Equipment in Altamonte Springs, Florida. When a body is ready to be cremated, the casket is removed from refrigerated storage and placed on a hydraulic lift table that looks like a gurney, then wheeled over to one of the machines. An error would be catastrophic and unforgivable, so Rosehill uses two forms of ID to make sure the family gets back the right remains.

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A copy of the receipt is attached to the outside of the cremation unit, and a metal ID tag accompanies the deceased inside the unit. While the door can open about 30 to 36 inches wide, most operators open it only a foot or so, enough to accommodate the width of the body. Any more than that will let out too much heat, exposing the operator and the room to fiery temperatures. Rollers on the table slide the casket in. The typical primary chamber has brick-lined walls, and a floor and roof made of high heat refractory concrete. A burner in the roof heats the chamber to about 1, degrees Fahrenheit. The resulting gases and particulates travel into the after-chamber, a foot maze designed to retain the gases for at least one second. The after-chamber subjects the gases to a temperature of 1, degrees Fahrenheit to make sure the particles and odor are negligible before everything goes up the stack and out into the atmosphere. Gamage compares the secondary chamber to the catalytic converter on an old car, which neutralizes the emissions of the exhaust system.

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The particulates emitted must be less than 0. Problems arise when the volume of gases smoke becomes too great for the after-chamber to process and it overflows. As macabre as it may sound, weight is something crematorium operators must worry about. It just does its job. If you have a body that weighs pounds, at least of them will be fat that burns rapidly. If you put that person into a very hot machine, as a cremation unit tends to be at the end of the day, the chamber may emit smoke and odor out of the stack. Although some crematories can process a body faster, basic facilities finish a cremation in about an hour and a half.

The time-consuming nature limits the number of cremations each unit can handle in a day. Each needs to get five bodies done in eight hours. We come from the Earth, we return to the Earth. That may be true, but the way we return to the Earth matters on more than an emotional level. As cremation continues to replace burial as a go-to way of dealing with the dead, the emissions that come along with this process have become a concern—so much so that people are starting to consider some wild-sounding alternatives. There is now a water-based process called alkaline hydrolysis, which was invented as a way to dispose of animals infected with mad cow disease.

It is being marketed as a more environmentally friendly postmortem option for humans because it produces less carbon monoxide and pollution. Alkaline hydrolysis involves placing a body in a chamber that is then filled with water and potassium hydroxide and heated up to degrees Fahrenheit at high pressure. After three hours, the body becomes a green-brown-tinted liquid, and bones are soft enough to be crushed.

The bones can be returned to the family, while the liquid can be sent into the sewer system. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this process has not really taken off. There are legal issues, too, because the process is prohibited unless a state passes legislation specifically allowing for it. When Lisa Tomasello was growing up in a large Italian Catholic family, the death of a relative was just the beginning of a grueling two or three days.

Visitors would arrive at the funeral home and sign the guest book, then form a line to get to the casket. People would sit in front of the body of the deceased, kneeling and praying and making the sign of the cross, before kissing them on the hand, face, or lips. The immediate family sat in the front row, receiving visitors in front of the dead body. Tearful outbursts and cries in Italian were commonplace. During the breaks in the wake, the family would go out for dinner and laugh and tell stories before returning to the funeral home for several more hours of crying.

And all that was before the funeral, which would start at a funeral home, resume at a church, and culminate at a cemetery before everyone was invited back for lunch. But once the body was buried and the headstone placed, then what? When her father followed a few years later, they made a toast to him with a shot of Jack Daniels, then had him cremated and divvied up the ashes.

We want to keep them near, sometimes even anthropomorphizing the urns that hold them as a way of bringing our loved ones back to life. There is no easy way to say it: The physical attributes you picture when you envision a loved one—the eyes, the skin, the hair—disappear during the cremation process.

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Once the cremation process is complete, the remains are put onto what looks like a silver baking tray. A technician runs a magnet over them to remove ferrous materials that did not combust during the cremation process. The technician will then visually inspect and remove any material the magnet missed—say, the bits of glass left behind because someone wanted their father cremated with a bottle of Scotch.

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Those pieces are disposed of by the crematory. The crematorium puts the bones and ash that remain into a pulverizer, not unlike a food processor, to reduce them to a more uniform powder-like consistency. The remains are then put into a container for the family— but not always. Some Asian cultures want to be able to pick through the unpulverized remains to take bone fragments.

A skull or hip bone is prized. Other families just want to observe the process—about a dozen make that request each week.

How Cremation Works

Rosehill allows them to do so, from an observation deck. I press him on the stories, the urban legends about crematoriums. Is any of it true? Do cremated remains from one person ever wind up getting mixed in with another?

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He explains that every cremation is performed individually and the cremation unit is swept thoroughly after each one. Cremation, like death, is final. Non-permanent urns, also referred to as biodegradable, will decompose.