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Celebrations of Life

The History of Cremation in the Western World and the U.S.

The History of Cremation in the Western World and the U.S.

Since ancient times, people have been honoring their loved ones through the practice of cremation. While cremation as a method of memorialization has increased in popularity in recent years, cremation has a rich history dating back to as early as the Stone Age. In ancient Greece, cremation began as an act that was associated with celebrating the bravery and valour of heroes who died in war, paying tribute to them with an ending as grandiose to how they had lived their life, serving their land and people. The Romans also honored their military heroes through cremation and the epic and extravagant method of memorialization revealed the status of the decedent. In India, cremation has always been recognized and appreciated as an important practice helping to free the soul on its journey through reincarnation. 

While cremation has been practiced for centuries, the method of memorialization as we know it today did not develop until the late 19th century in Italy. In this article we will take a look at the history of cremation in the western world and North America, and explore how it transformed into the act of cremation we are familiar with today used in modern times.

How Did Modern Cremation As We Know It Today Begin? 

Cremation as we understand of it today started when Professor Brunetti invented the first cremation chamber in Italy in 1873. Prior to the invention of an enclosed chamber in which the deceased would be incinerated using high temperatures of concentrated heat to turn into ashes, people honored their deceased loved ones by burning them on an open flame. Cremation performed in this manner in a cremation chamber was viewed as possibly a healthier method of paying tribute to someone who has passed as compared to traditional burial that was then considered to be potentially hazardous and detrimental to public health.  After Brunetti’s invention, a movement started in Europe and the U.S. to foster interest in cremation as a method of memorialization. This movement led to the creation of the first crematorium built in North America in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1876.

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Can You Still Hold Traditional Funeral Services if You Choose to Do Cremation?

Can You Still Hold Traditional Funeral Services if You Choose to Do Cremation?

Cremation is becoming a popular choice for families as a way of memorializing their loved ones. It is a common misconception however, that if you choose to do a cremation for your loved one, that you cannot hold a visitation, wake or other traditional funeral services. You need not be concerned about this. In truth, it is not only accepted to hold a visitation or funeral service before a cremation; it is completely appropriate to do so. The important thing is to honor your loved one in a way that will be sentimental and meaningful for you and your family that also abides by your loved one’s personal wishes. One of the benefits to choosing cremation is that families can enjoy more freedom in choosing which kind of ceremony they would like to hold to pay tribute to their loved one. So, the key takeaway here is that most likely, your needs and wishes can be accommodated to honor your loved one before or after cremation. 

Are Traditional Memorial Services Held Before or After the Cremation Process? 

While a traditional memorial service can be held prior to or after the cremation process, it is more common for it to take place before, This also enables you to have the opportunity to hold an open casket as well. Usually, in a wake, family members visit their loved one prior to the funeral service, with the casket present and the body of their loved one embalmed inside. With visitations on the other hand, it is not necessary for the casket or the body of the deceased to be present. Visitations usually occur one day before or the same day as the memorial services. 

How is the Casket Handled in Cremation? 

If your loved one is cremated prior to visitation, a “rental” casket would be used for the visitation or wake ceremony. The exterior of the casket would be of a hardwood shell, and would look as such to any one viewing it, but the interior would contain the cremation container holding your loved one’s remains. The hardwood shell casket would be re-used while the interior will be cremated with the deceased, making it a more environmentally conscious as well as economical option than if you were to use a cremation casket. 

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Dealing with the death of a loved one

Dealing with the death of a loved one

Different types of grief and methods of dealing with the grief

Anytime a loved one passes it is usually a very traumatic and emotional ordeal, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their passing. However, there are those deaths that hit a little closer to the heart, and those are generally considered deaths of the immediate family.

1)Death of a child

A parent should never have to endure the soul-numbing agony of losing a child. When a child is lost, both parents and siblings lives are changed forever. Depending on age, and the circumstances, siblings will typically feel a great deal of guilt after the overwhelming sense of shock has subsided. It is only after these powerful feelings have been honestly and completely experienced that true healing can begin. Siblings often times seek to start rebuilding their lives relatively quickly after their grieving process. The process for parents on the other hand, can be quite a bit longer. A complete recovery is next to impossible. Most parents never even consider the possibilities of their children dying before them, much less having to actually deal with the reality of that loss. It is crucial that compassion, patience and understanding be the rule of the day. Most parents will feel anger and great frustration combined with feelings and thoughts of “why not me?” Support groups and marriage counseling can be invaluable tools as each parent may feel that they are the only ones that have endured such a tragic event, when in reality many people have experienced the same feelings and can be invaluable resources in the healing process.

2)Death of a spouse

Losing a spouse can have a crippling effect on your entire being, mind body and soul. A loss such as the loss of a spouse can be one of the most deeply hurtful experiences ever. Most widowers will always feel that a significant part of their life is forever gone. These feelings are normal and should be embraced, not ignored or denied. It is also often the case that the spouse makes all of the funeral arrangements; this can leave the grieving widower dangerously exhausted. This exhaustion is as much psychological, as it is physical, and if not properly monitored can often times result in hospitalization. Strong involvement from family and friends is crucial during this time of mourning. Some people enjoy doing activities with others that were similar to those that the couple had formerly engaged in together. However it would be a mistake to assume this for everyone. Just the thought of those activities may be way too painful for many to even comprehend. The main key, as with the passing of most loved ones, is just to be there for the widower. Try to make sure they stay active and reinforce how much they are loved, and just as importantly, needed.

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