Knowing What to Expect When Receiving a Relative’s Cremated Remains

Often, families who choose cremation for a relative do not see or touch those ashes. They purchase an urn to be buried or kept in a storage structure known as a columbarium. Some columbariums are standalone buildings while others are situated inside mausoleums. Families who plan to hold and scatter the cremated remains should learn what the material is like. Their expectations may be quite different from reality.

The Content of Cremated Remains

The container received by the family technically does not contain ashes, but a substance known as cremains. People think of the material as ashes because cremation involves intense heat. Funeral homes and crematoriums often use the word ashes since that is the commonly used term.

Cremains consist only of pulverized bone. The material is almost completely made of carbonates and calcium phosphates, the substances that make up human bones. A limited amount of metal is included. Bones store some metal that has been consumed through supplements and food. People know that essential minerals like iron, copper, and zinc are metals. Yet it may seem odd to think about eating metal and having it stored in the body's cells.

The Weight

One of the more startling aspects is the heaviness, ranging from about 5–10 lbs. for an adult. Because cremains consists of bone, they weigh significantly more than the same volume of fireplace or campfire ashes. During cremation, every other body part is eradicated in the intense heat.

This individual's weight while alive is not connected with that of the cremains. This only depends on the deceased person's bone structure at the time of death. The cremains of men typically weighs more than those of women. Men are taller on average and generally have larger denser bones. There are racial differences, however. Black men and women have denser bones than white persons do, on average. 

Appearance and Texture

Cremains are off-white or light gray. They may contain some dark gray material that looks like pulverized charcoal. The texture is similar to coarse, gritty sand rather than any other ashes people are normally accustomed to touching.

Receiving the Cremains 

Unless the family requests a permanent urn through the funeral home or crematorium, they receive the ashes in a plastic bag that has been placed in a cardboard or plastic container. If they would like to keep some of the ashes in a family member's home and scatter the rest, they can choose to purchase a permanent urn as well.

For more information, contact local cremation services.