What are cremains? | Understanding Cremation

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National Free Planning Kit

November 16, 2016

While cremation has become more popular in recent years, the public understanding of the process hasn’t necessarily increased at the same rate. When it comes to this burial method, there are still large gaps in the public knowledgebase.

Many of the most common questions regarding the process have to do with the physical remains of those who have been cremated. The interest is understandable. These remains are connections to the lives of those who have passed. And, for many people, this connection is made incredibly powerful because it is so tangible.

So, let’s take a look at a few common questions that people have about cremains in an effort to understand them more fully.

Why are they called cremains?

People are often curious about the word “cremains”, itself. In fact, people commonly refer to cremains as the “ashes” of loved ones.

Referring to cremains as ashes is actually inaccurate, as cremains aren't ashes at all. Additionally, the word "ashes" calls to mind a material that looks substantially different from the cremated remains of loved ones.

For this reason, the term “cremated remains” is preferred. The phrase was first shortened to cremains in the 1950’s, and has seen increased usage in the following decades. Both cremated remains and cremains are commonly used today.

What do cremains look like?

As mentioned above, the term “ashes” doesn’t accurately convey the appearance of cremains. So, what do cremains look like?

Well, during the cremation process, organic material is removed, leaving only bone remnants.  Because of this, cremains are generally a pale grey to dark grey powder, with about the same texture and appearance as coarse sand.

What are some things that can be done with cremains?

Many people are also unsure what can be done with cremains after the cremation process. While scattering cremains is generally one of the better-known options, there are actually a variety of options available. Many of the options, though, begin with the reception of an urn.

An urn is a decorative personal container designed to memorialize the loved one whose cremains it holds. An urn can be buried, along with a burial marker to memorialize the burial site. Alternatively, the family of the person who has passed can also keep the urn.

Other options involve converting cremains into jewelry pieces, or other memorial artifacts, to honor the individual.

Finally, cremains can be scattered. Many cemeteries offer designated areas, called scatter gardens, for families to scatter the cremains of loved ones. This provides the family with a place to return to, as well, to honor the memory of the person.

Where can you scatter cremains?

Some people choose to scatter cremains in areas outside of scatter gardens. While this can be a way to honor a loved one’s relationship to a place, it’s important to keep in mind that there may be regulations restricting this practice, depending on the area.

A few common guidelines: cremated remains can be scattered on your own property. On another person’s private property, you must obtain that person’s consent. On public property, you should check with local authorities before scattering cremains. The same goes for scattering in a public body of water.

Learn More About Burial Options

Hopefully, this information has been helpful in increasing your understanding of cremains. If you want to learn more about what method of burial may be right for you, get our free kit. The more that you know, the better you’ll feel about making the best decision for you or for your loved ones.