How Long Does Cremation Take?

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The time between a loved one’s death and their funeral can feel like it stretches on forever. It might feel like you’re holding your breath, waiting for some sense of finality or the beginning of the next stage.

Or, you may feel like time passes in the blink of an eye, with days swiftly disappearing into the whirlwind of to-do list items as you work toward a new normal. Either way, time can feel strange when you’re coping with loss and grief. Knowing what to expect and how to schedule around it can help you feel more grounded.

On average, traditional funerals with a burial usually happen within three to seven days of death. However, this timeline can be a bit longer for cremation. If you’re waiting to receive your loved one’s ashes before holding a memorial service or celebration of life, it may be several weeks before the service takes place. Here’s why this process can take some time, and suggestions for what you can do with the waiting period.

The cremation process timeline

Before a body can be cremated, some legal processes must be completed. Because cremation is an irreversible method of disposition, it requires oversight from several authorities. The first step is filing for the death certificate, which your funeral director will do for you. They will also need signed authorization from the deceased's next of kin.

In some states, there is a mandatory waiting period of two to three days before a cremation can take place. New Mexico doesn't require that, but the funeral director does need to obtain a cremation permit from the county before proceeding, and that may take a few days. If a medical examiner is involved or there are any ongoing investigations, it will take longer for the funeral home to receive cremation authorization.

Once the cremation has been authorized, it will need to be scheduled and performed. The cremation itself takes several hours, with more time needed afterward for the ashes to be cooled, processed, and placed in an urn or other container. Because only one person is cremated at a time, and the cremation chamber is thoroughly cleaned between cremations, scheduling can depend on how busy the crematorium is.

Weekends and holidays can also affect the cremation timeline. Since there are multiple pieces of paperwork to file, and not every crematorium operates seven days a week, there may be some delays if a death occurs around a holiday. In general, the expected timeframe for receiving ashes from the crematorium is two weeks. Your funeral director can give you a more specific expectation when you make arrangements.

What to do when you're waiting for the ashes

Just because you're waiting on your loved one's ashes doesn't mean your grief is on hold. Over the next two weeks, there are steps you can take that will help you to process your emotions and deal with the immediate impact of the loss:

  • Reach out to friends and family members. They will need to be notified, and you can spend some time talking, catching up, making plans, and sharing in grief.
  • Have visitors and spend time with loved ones. You don't have to wait for the memorial service to gather with your support network. Your friends and family will want to support you in your time of need. A simple dinner, a chat over coffee, or even having someone come over to help you run errands can be a tremendous relief from the solitude and sadness that accompanies loss.
  • Look at pictures and memorabilia. You may want to spend some time before the memorial service planning a slideshow or collage. Looking at pictures of your departed loved one and remembering the good times you had together can feel very cathartic.
  • Plan the memorial service. Sometimes it feels good to stay busy. Thinking about details like the music, flowers, food, and other practical items can help keep your mind occupied and give structure to your days after the loss.
  • Write an obituary or eulogy. Putting your feelings into words in preparation for the memorial can help you to process your feelings and give you a way to connect with your loved one's memory while their ashes are being prepared.
  • Get some rest. Grieving is hard work. Strong emotions take a physical toll on your body. It's okay to spend some extra time relaxing during this time, whether that means catching up on sleep, getting a spa treatment, or just a cup of tea and a quiet morning.

You may also find it comforting to hold a funeral prior to the cremation rather than waiting for the cremated remains. The funeral gives you a chance to say goodbye in a formal setting, and allows your friends and family to gather and show their support and care for you and your departed loved one.

If you don't want a formal funeral, you might still arrange for a private viewing of your loved one before cremation. Your funeral director can help you understand your options and plan a farewell that will help you start on the path toward healing.

French Funerals & Cremations is here to offer as much support as you need during this difficult time. Whether you choose a simple cremation or wish to arrange a traditional viewing and funeral service followed by an ash scattering ceremony, we can help you create the service and ceremony that fits your needs. We're also here to answer questions every step of the way. Reach out at 505-843-6333 to speak with a member of our staff.

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