When you have to make the decision about a loved one who has died, it can be helpful to understand what is involved and what that might mean for the care given to your loved one.
It’s easy to visualise the mechanics of a traditional burial, but many people are unaware of what actually happens during a cremation and what special considerations apply.
Cremation is a very dignified way of honouring a life well lived, and the most popular choice in the UK. In this post, you’ll find out more about how the body is prepared and other facts about cremation.
How the hospital or hospice staff prepare the body
Treating people with respect and care doesn’t stop when their lives end. If your loved one passes away in hospital or a care home you can be certain that the staff will take a lot of care in preparing the body for cremation, treating it with respect throughout.
The following steps are considered best practice:
Personal care after death
If your loved one was a registered organ donor, medical staff at the hospital will remove the organs.
Within 2-4 hours after the time of passing, the deceased will be laid on their back, their limbs straightened, and their head supported with a pillow.
Their eyes will be closed by applying light pressure, the face and hands cleaned. The mouth is cleaned and any dentures removed and placed in a named container.
Other medical devices such as hearing aids and catheters should be removed and the person’s hair may also be combed or even lightly washed.
These preparations are done so that the body is suitable for a viewing by family members before any preparation performed by the funeral provider, so they look dignified and at peace.
The final step is cleaning the body which may be covered by a simple gown before transfer to the mortuary.
While uncommon, it is possible for family members or carers to assist with the personal care after death, depending on individual wishes, cultural, or religious requirements.
Nursing home staff will be able to provide a similar level of care, but may leave the removal of medical devices to the funeral provider.
When a loved one passes at home
When a loved one passes at home, the level of preparation of the deceased will depend on who is in attendance and how involved you wish to be.
The things to do when someone dies include ensuring the death is verified by a qualified person which could be a nurse, a doctor or a paramedic. Your chosen funeral provider will NOT be able to move the deceased until this verification has been completed.
It’s also your responsibility to call the deceased’s GP to inform them of the death. They may visit to see the body, but if the GP saw your loved one within the 28 days prior to their death they can simply issue the Medical Certificate of the Cause of Death that you must take to the Registrar.
How does a funeral director prepare the body?
A funeral director will collect the body of the person who has died from the place of death such as a hospital, hospice, care home or own home. If the Coroner is involved, the body will be collected from the public mortuary. Every UK funeral director should have appropriate temperature-controlled facilities for the care of the body until it is time for the cremation.
Transfer of the deceased
The privacy and dignity of the deceased are a top priority at all times, even during transfer from the place of death. The procedures used respect the values of personal dignity.
The body is usually enclosed in a body bag or waterproof sheet, then placed on a stretcher that is covered completely before being conveyed to the transfer vehicle. This vehicle may be an estate car of a private ambulance (a specialist van that can only be used for this purpose).
The funeral director will follow your instructions for the aesthetic preparation of your loved one, which may include dressing them in clothes you have provided and applying make-up. However, not all funeral providers offer this service.
Embalming is not usually necessary but some funeral directors insist on this as part of the preparation for viewing the deceased in the chapel of rest. There is an additional cost for this service which replaces all the blood in the body with a tinted preservative fluid, which can improve the colour and tone of the skin. A skilled embalmer will also be able to perform restorative work to ensure that potentially distressing trauma is covered or minimised prior to family viewings.
Jewellery should be removed, logged, and stored securely until it is clear whether these items should stay with the deceased or be returned to the family prior to the burial or cremation. Any jewellery, even precious stones, will be damaged or completely destroyed by the cremation process and cannot be returned.
Records the care of the deceased
All aspects of your loved one’s care are dutifully recorded by the staff responsible for their care after death. Nursing and medical documentation have to be completed and the professionals involved in the care are identified. The medical and nursing records are updated and organised as quickly as possible so that they are available for completing the death certificate and funeral documents.
If you need Pure Cremation’s help, please refer to the key steps we’ve outlined for you to take immediately when a loved one passes away.
Preparing the body for cremation
To prepare the body for cremation, the funeral director will remove or deactivate any devices that might prove hazardous during the cremation. This includes pacemakers, implanted dosing devices and fixion joint implants.
External mechanical prosthetics will be removed, however there is no need to worry about artificial hips, shoulder joints, metal plates or stents as these will be separated from the remains after the cremation is complete. On rare occasions families ask for these medical implants to be returned to them!
These preparations are an important part of the cremation process.
Here at Pure Cremation, we firmly believe that every bereaved family deserves to know what they should expect from a reputable direct cremation provider. As leaders in the field, we have drawn up the very first direct cremation Code of Practice, which sets the standards for this style of service.
Our aim is to deliver the same level of care and dignity to the bereaved and the deceased as would be expected from the best traditional funeral providers. We transport, prepare, and shelter the remains of your loved one in a professional, caring, and conscientious manner.
How do you know you get the right ashes?
Every cremation is an individual event and there are strict protocols in place to ensure families receive the correct ashes after the cremation.
You might be wondering, are cremation ashes mixed? There are strict identification systems in place that identify the remains at each stage of the process from the acceptance of the coffin to the labelling of the ashes container . Most use a simple card system, whereas Pure Cremation uses hospital-style digital tracking that records who has performed each stage of care and when. The final touch at Pure Cremation is the use of a ceramic disc that accompanies the coffin into the cremation chamber and is carefully recovered so it can be presented within the ashes container as the most tangible proof of identity.
If you’d like to learn more, here's how to carry out a simple direct cremation, whether you're in the UK, Scotland, or Ireland.
Preparing a body for cremation FAQ
Does a body get drained before cremation?
NO. Embalming replaces the body’s natural fluids with a tinted preservative liquid.
Do they leave clothes on when someone gets cremated?
Yes. The body is not disturbed once placed into the coffin. The only clothing items that cannot be cremated are footwear and larger items made from petrochemicals, such as pleather (PVC).
How is a body dressed for a cremation?
You can ask for the person to be dressed in their favourite outfit, or something simple such as a nightgown, or simple funeral gown or shroud. The funeral director will usually be able to carry out your instructions but check first if this is important to you.
Do they burn the coffin in cremations?
Yes, the coffin plays an important role in the safe handling of the deceased, the safe placement within the cremation chamber and provides fuel for the cremation, lowering the consumption of the gas or electricity that powers the process.
How long does a body take to burn in a crematorium?
Each body is unique and so the time taken to complete the cremation can vary. This can depend on the skeletal mass, the medication used in life and the volume of any tumours. Typically the cremation of an adult will take approximately 90 minutes.