When a loved one passes away, you have many different things to consider. The process is often complicated and emotionally charged, and it can be difficult to keep all the options straight, let alone know what questions to ask about each.

If you’re considering cremation, there are still plenty of factors to keep in mind. At Cremation Society of Colorado, we streamline the process as much as possible because we want you to be able to focus on other important needs. But we know that this a time of big decisions, and whether you choose to go with us or another provider, we think it’s always beneficial to be well-informed.

Below is our list of important questions to ask when considering and arranging cremation. Some of these are questions to ask your cremation provider, and some of them are important questions to ask yourself.

What are the basic options for final disposition?

This is really starting at the beginning, and if you’ve already decided upon cremation, then you’ve no doubt already considered this question. But if you’re still undecided, it’s worthwhile knowing how cremation differs from other kinds of disposition.

Cremation has become increasingly popular in Western society in the past few decades. Beyond cremation, traditional burial remains the most common mode of disposition. Traditional burial usually involves placing the body in a casket and interring it at a cemetery or designated burial plot. Most often, the body is embalmed, but it’s not required by law in most places, and it may help you to do some research on embalming processes. It’s also possible to opt for above-ground burial in a mausoleum or crypt. And there are also less-common alternatives to consider, such as donating a body to science or alkaline hydrolysis (sometimes confusingly referred to as “water cremation,” though the chemical process is fundamentally different from traditional cremation).

How does cremation work?

Traditional cremation reduces a body to its constituent elements through heat. This is done in a special furnace called a cremation chamber or retort. After the cremation process is complete (usually 1.5-2 hours), any metals are removed and the remains are ground to a texture that we think of as ashes. They are then returned to you in a temporary container or urn. 

Do you want to have a gathering with a viewing of the body?

There are many aspects of cremation to be considered (and we’ll talk about them below), but one of the first things to think about is whether or not you wish to have a funeral or memorial service that includes a viewing of the body. Cremation can occur either before or after a funeral, but the logistics differ slightly depending on which option you choose.

If you plan to have a viewing before cremation, the body does not need to be embalmed, but will require refrigeration. Please note that embalming a body is NOT required, and it is illegal for any funeral director to tell you otherwise.

It’s also possible to hold a funeral after cremation, during which the urn, photos, and other mementos can be displayed. And of course, it is just as valid to hold a memorial service entirely separate from the body or ashes.

Funeral home or cremation service?

To some extent, the question above helps determine the answer to this question. If you are interested in a funeral with a viewing (and therefore also embalming), you may want to go with a more traditional funeral home or mortuary, since they tend to offer a very full range of services. Cremation services or cremation societies, on the other hand, specialize in cremation only, are generally lower in cost, and in our case, try to keep the process as simple as possible. This tends to be a good option if you wish cremation to be performed before or entirely independent of a memorial gathering. It is often well-suited to families who choose home-based memorials and alternative methods of disposition.

What services are included?

This one is crucial. You are going to want to know how much a cremation costs. Whatever provider you decide to go with, make sure that you ask them to go through the pricing of their services in depth, listing exactly what is included in each price range or package. You want to know exactly what services and goods are being delivered for the fee you’re paying—no one wants to be surprised by previously unannounced costs for the cremation casket or delivery of the ashes, for example.

This is why, at Cremation Society of Colorado, we emphasize transparency and a single price that includes everything needed for a simple, straightforward, dignified cremation. We list everything included in our Simple Cremation upfront. No surprises or hidden fees. 

How is the body prepared?

Generally, it’s not possible to include extra items in a cremation, whether those are items of personal importance to the deceased or something like prosthetic limbs. Most providers recommend removing jewelry and gold teeth before a cremation, and pacemakers need to be removed because of the very dangerous potential for the batteries to explode when exposed to the extreme heat of a cremation furnace. Pacemakers and prosthetic limbs can often be donated to charitable causes. As for items such as dentures, implanted hip joints, and so on, their metal components are generally separated from the ashes after cremation. Several organizations exist to recycle this metal and donate the proceeds to charity.

Is a casket required for cremation?

Not necessarily. All that is required is that the body must be placed in rigid, fully combustible container, with a top and no metal parts, during cremation. This allows for dignified handling of the deceased as well as safety for the crematorium staff. Cremation Society of Colorado provides a fiberboard container in the cost of our Simple Cremation, but you are free to purchase a different container elsewhere if you prefer. In some cases, if you wish to have something other than a basic container, you may be offered options such as a wooden cremation casket or even a rental casket, which is not itself cremated, but temporarily holds the body and cremation container before the process begins.

Are you allowed to witness? Do you want to?

For some families, it’s important to have a personal presence at the crematorium when their loved ones are cremated. Not everyone wants this, but for many, it brings additional closure and peace of mind. Usually, if witnessing is permitted by the crematorium, only the first part of the cremation, in which the casket enters the retort, is viewed. At Cremation Society of Colorado, we will arrange the time and date of cremation with you and offer you and your family the choice of viewing your loved one beforehand.

Does your provider own their own crematorium?

Here’s a question you should pose to whatever provider you decide to go with: Will the cremation be subcontracted or onsite? If a funeral home, for example, does not own their own cremation facility, they may contract with a local crematorium. Likewise, funeral homes that are part of a chain may work with one centrally located facility.

There is peace of mind in knowing that the facility in which a loved one is cremated is actually owned by those in charge of arranging the cremation. Cremation Society of Colorado owns and operates all of our own facilities. This ensures your loved one is never out of our care.

Where is the body taken once your provider picks it up?

No matter where the crematorium actually is, you should always ask your provider where the body will be taken, how long it will stay there, and what will happen every step of the way pickup to cremation. In our case, once we take your loved one into our care, they are taken to one of our facilities and remain under our care for free for up to 72 hours. If you decide to go with a different mortuary or cremation company, we’ll happily transport them there for free too.

Is your provider up-to-date on their licenses, permits, and liability insurance?

This question is about really doing your due diligence. While it’s very rare for a reputable funeral home or crematorium to fail to be up-to-date on their licenses, it’s not unheard of. You should be able to check with the licensing board in your state about the status of the license of whatever provider you choose. Likewise, it’s not a bad idea to check that your funeral home or crematorium is covered by liability insurance. Although the likelihood of needing it is slim and funeral-related liability claims are relatively rare, human error, negligence, and “acts of God” do occasionally happen.

When will you receive the remains?

Because cremation is an irreversible process, in the state of Colorado we’re required to wait two days before a body can be cremated. At Cremation Society, remains are returned to you within about a week after the cremation process. The timing of this is most important when you are planning a memorial activity, such as a scattering, with friends and loved ones. In some instances, funeral homes may be willing to hold remains a little longer if, for example, you are waiting for a specially-ordered urn to arrive. At Cremation Society, we notify you when your loved one’s ashes are ready to be picked up, and we are happy to work with you to arrange an alternate delivery method if pick-up isn’t possible for you.

What do you want to do with the ashes?

In our experience, taking the time to memorialize your loved one is important, whether you decide to keep the ashes or not. Actively choosing what to do with your loved one’s remains is often part of coming to terms with death in an emotionally healthy way.

When ashes are returned to you, they generally arrive in a plastic or cardboard container called a “temporary urn.” Although it’s referred to as “temporary,” in most cases there is no reason it cannot be used as a long-term urn if you so choose. But, as the name implies, this vessel is most often replaced with another. Cremation Society of Colorado provides a simple urn in our cost of cremation, but you are free to purchase your own as well.

You have many options available to you regarding what to do with the ashes. You may decide keep them in an urn at home or in a columbarium (a building with many niches dedicated to storing cremated remains). If that’s the case, there are myriad urn options available, ranging from the most traditional of ceramic and metal vessels to wooden containers. But “burial” and “cremation” aren’t mutually exclusive terms. You might consider burying ashes in a small cemetery plot. You can also plant a loved one’s ashes together with a seedling as a memorial tree. And of course, scattering them at some meaningful place, whether on land or over water, is always an option. You can even have your loved one’s remains sent into space.

There are also other options available for memorializing your loved one that are less common but are increasing in popularity. Cremation jewelry—particularly cremation rings, lockets, or pendants that either store some of the ashes or incorporate them into the material of the jewelry itself—can be a wonderful way to remain close to lost loved one. You might also look into cremation diamonds, where some of your loved one’s ashes are turned into gems under extraordinarily high pressures.

At Cremation Society of Colorado, we believe love is in the details. But each family is different, and the details that memorialize each individual best will vary from family to family. That’s why we leave those important decisions up to you.