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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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What religions allow for a cremation?

What religions allow for a cremation?

How Do Different Religions View Cremation?

 

Religion can ground the trajectory of our lives, providing a spiritual and moral framework to guide how we conduct ourselves, the values we adhere to and define how we fit into our community and society. But what role does religion play at the end of our lives, specifically in regard to choosing cremation as a method of memorization? And what does religion have to say about we should care for the ashes we will eventually all become as our bodies are returned to the earth? 

 

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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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Is it Acceptable to Divide Cremation Ashes?

Is it Acceptable to Divide Cremation Ashes?

Cremation is becoming an increasingly popular method for paying tribute to a loved one who has passed. In addition to its eco-friendly, smaller global footprint, a decline in religious traditions, and its lower cost than burial services, the simple fact that it allows family members to equally divide the decedent’s ashes amongst them also accounts for its growing popularity. In the past, families would decide who amongst them would receive the ashes of their loved one. Thankfully, those days are gone, and families can now divide the remains into individual keepsake urns, and then equally divide those between family members.

If your loved one has passed, you may be wondering if it is even acceptable to divide their ashes amongst family members. Regardless of what the law and religions have to say about it, if it was your loved one’s wish to be cremated and then have their remains shared between family members, that is what should be done to pay homage to your loved one’s legacy.  We will explore the topic in more depth here, reviewing the various legal, religious, and personal implications of dividing cremated ashes.

What do Religions Have to Say About Dividing Cremated Ashes?

Depending on differing theological perspectives, the standpoint of religion varies in its views on dividing cremated ashes. According to Muslim and Jewish religious traditions, the act of cremation itself is looked down upon as it is seen as an action that dishonors the human body. Buddhism, Hinduism and other Eastern religions, on the other hand support and even strongly encourage cremation, but do not offer any specific guidelines as to how cremated remains should be handled. The Christian church is silent, on the matter altogether.

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A Guide to Attending Funeral Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A Guide to Attending Funeral Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic

With respect to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic we’re living in, times are tragic, traumatic, and tricky. We are left with so many questions about how to console one another, and ourselves. People we love are passing away, friends are losing their loved ones. In addition to people we love dying of COVID-19, we are unsure how to lay to rest our departed and how to appropriately comfort those we love who are mourning. So, let’s take a minute to address the elephant in the room — should we be attending funerals during this pandemic?

Should I Attend a Funeral Service During the Pandemic?

There are two answers to this. First, it depends on your level of comfort being around others or if you prefer to stay at home for safety. Second, and even more importantly, it depends on what the family has decided to do for the funeral arrangements. Families are deciding between a few options for funerals. If the family does decide to hold an in-person service, they may limit the number of people in attendance or keep the gathering to immediate family members. Some might even postpone services until after social distancing guidelines are lifted.
Funeral home staff members have been particularly helpful with providing alternative solutions for funeral arrangements. Some funeral homes are offering virtual services, such as live streams of memorials or other tributes. Others are providing online guest books where friends can leave notes of condolences and other personal anecdotes.
If the family prefers to hold an in-person funeral service, whether you choose to attend in person will depend on your level of comfort. For instance, if you have a family member at home who is immunocompromised, you may not feel comfortable attending the service and potentially increasing you and your loved one’s exposure to the coronavirus. However, if you do feel comfortable with personally attending the memorial to offer your condolences and pay your respects, the funeral home will most likely be observing social distancing measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to increase the safety of all those in attendance.

If I Go, Do I Need to Wear a Mask?

Most likely, yes. However, beyond the practice of wearing masks, the most important factor to preserve yours and others’ safety while attending an in-personal funeral service is to engage in social distancing. In adherence to social distancing guidelines, you may be attending an outdoor funeral with seating, six feet apart from one another. You will want to keep distanced from anyone who does not live with you in your household. Make sure to wash your hands often as well. It is an unfortunate and difficult fact of these sensitive circumstances to not be able to show affection as support for your family members and friends, but it’s best for now. You can hug and kiss those in your household who are accompanying you to the service, but otherwise your presence will serve as the best demonstration of love and support you can give.

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Different funeral practices and death beliefs

Different funeral practices and death beliefs

FuneralHomes.com has put together a list of different religious practices and beliefs for some of the more popular religions around the world. This section of our website will help in preparing you when attending a funeral in the listed religions.

BUDDHISM

There are a few different beliefs within this one religion. Japanese Buddhists funerals traditionally last for about one hour and fifteen minutes and have a prayer service at a funeral home and a eulogy is usually read. Cambodian, Sir Lanka, and Thai Buddhists have up to three ceremonies where each lasts about forty five minutes. The first one is held within two days of the death at a home of the immediate family; the second is held within two to fives days after death and this is where monks would conduct a service in the funeral home; the third ceremony which is also called the ‘merit transference’ is held seven days after the death. It is customary the people who attend the funeral bow and see the body in the casket as a sign of appreciation for its lessons regarding impermanence. Then, the monks will lead a ceremony from the house of the family or temple after burial or cremation as a closing procession.

CHRISTIANITY

In the Christian faith it is traditional that there is a service where the body is being viewed so those friends and family members can pay their respect to the deceased and the surviving family of the deceased. The Christian faith does recognize cremation as well as entombment and earth burial. At the viewing service it is customary to pass in front of the casket and then to acknowledge the family members that are sitting in the front of the room. Flowers and religious gifts are a sign of respect to the deceased and there family, as well as donations to a charity of your choice or one that is set up by the family. Usually a Christian service can last any were from 1-5 days for viewing and burial, after the viewing is completed there is a prayer service that is done and will typically take place in the funeral home or in the church if one is chosen. Directly after the prayer service there is a procession of cars that are led by the funeral director and the hearse to the cemetery or crematory where a Priest says a prayer and a eulogy may be spoken and then the deceased is laid to rest. After the funeral is completed there is usually a social gathering where family and friends gather to grieve and mourn. Food is customary to bring however it is not required unless you have been asked or committed specifically.

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