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October 9, 2020 Beyond The Dash

What is a 'Witness Cremation'?

Involvement in the cremation process helps families say goodbye

What is a 'Witness Cremation'?
Witness cremation allows families to view and participate in the cremation process. (Shutterstock)

All families and individuals have their own ways of handling death. For some, the process of laying a loved one to rest is best left in the hands of funeral directors. Funeral directors handle the memorial arrangements, body handling, burial or cremation, and even counsel the family as they process the recent tragedy. These professionals take on the most unpleasant tasks, so families can grieve more comfortably together. 


Then there are those who prefer to be directly involved in the duties pertaining to the body preparation and disposition. For peace of mind, families that value this involvement often choose a witness cremation when their loved one is to be cremated.


What is a 'witness cremation'?


A witness cremation is a service provided by most crematories that allows family the option to watch as their loved one is cremated. This service is usually performed for an additional fee, and there may be limitations on the number of viewers are permitted to attend.


How it works


A small, private family prayer or service may precede a witness cremation. Often, families will gather to talk, and prepare for what they are about to witness. Once everyone is ready, the crematory operator will place the body in the retort. The crematory operator will push the button that begins the incineration of the corpse. At the family's request, a family member may push the button instead of the crematory operator. 


This is the end of some witness cremations, as the entire process takes approximately 3–5 hours. Depending on the crematory's facilities, family and friends usually watch some or all of the cremation from a viewing room.


Why people choose witness cremation


Witness cremation appeals to certain mourners for a range of reasons. Here are some of the most common reasons a family will opt for this service when a loved one has passed away:


1. Religious reasons


Some religions prefer cremation to burial, such as in the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Often, it is expected that the loved ones of the deceased remain with the body until it is ready for its final disposition. In some families, this philosophy includes accompanying the body of the deceased to the crematory and participating in the incineration process. 


 


2. To ensure a respectful service


Funeral directors can be trusted to attend to a loved one's body and arrangements in a respectful and dignified manner, but some families prefer to ensure this personally. There may be cultural expectations as to how the body should be handled, or simply a personal determination to see the funerary rites conducted in honor of a loved one. Having direct control of the body from the time of passing to the moment of cremation affords some families peace of mind when their lives are most chaotic.  


3. To accompany the deceased to their place of final rest


Survivors sometimes feel the need to protect and accompany a loved one's body to its place of final rest. Both a spiritual and practical custom, supervising the body of a loved one helps the bereaved express their love and care, all while assuring the body is handled in accordance with their wishes. Some believe their loved one's spirit stays close to the body after death, and hope to keep them company as their physical form departs the earth.


Is witness cremation for you?


If you are considering a witness cremation for a loved one, this service might be a good way to honor them. Those who subscribe to death positive principles see engaging with death and corpses as beneficial on both a personal and philosophical level. 


However, many people have no interest in witnessing this process, and understandably so. For many, embalming is an integral part of the funeral service, as this procedure allows them to see their loved one in a lifelike condition a final time before they are physically gone. People who fall into the camp of wanting the funeral to be as gentle as possible for mourners generally do not opt for a witness cremation. 


Ultimately, the choice remains with those who were closest to the deceased, if the deceased person left no wishes to the contrary. The final choice should take into account the emotional needs of survivors, as well as budget. 

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