Tahlequah Daily Press

March 7, 2013

Cremation growing in popularity

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Few decisions are more difficult, or more permanent, than the “final arrangements” on what happens to your body after you die.

Cremation - disposing of a body by burning - has gained popularity and acceptance over the years, but it often leaves family members asking all kinds of questions about the process.

David Dick, owner of Green Country Funeral Home and Crematory, has the only crematorium in Cherokee County. He decided to construct the facility after a horrendous cremation scandal occurred in Georgia in 2002.

The Tri-State Crematory, in Noble, Ga., was the subject of a national incident leading to litigation and criminal prosecution. Over 300 bodies that had been consigned to the crematorium for proper disposal were never cremated, but instead were dumped on the crematorium’s surrounding land.

“I decided right then to invest in the equipment and build the crematory,” said Dick. “I never, ever want anyone in my community to have a concern about their loved ones after death. There should never be a question about where the body is or who is handling it.”

According to Dick, cremation services are as varied as the individuals requesting them, and are not necessarily less expensive - or much different - than standard earth burials. A basic cremation, merely providing the clinical service, costs about $1,700.

“Some prefer just a viewing before cremation, while others will have a full funeral service before cremation,” said Dick.

For those choosing to have a service - either a viewing or funeral - before cremation, Dick said families often opt to rent a casket.

“Then after the body is moved to the crematory, we remove every bit of the fabric interior of the used casket and replace it,” he said.

Caskets aren’t generally cremated with the body.

“It adds unneeded residue to the ‘cremains,’” said Dick, speaking of the ashes. “We use a specified container for cremation, which is made of highly combustible material, so there’s not a lot of excess residue that shouldn’t be there. We do have some caskets made specifically for cremation, though, so it is an option.”

According to funeralassistant.com, many states – including Oklahoma – require each cremation to be authorized by the coroner or state medical examiner.

Brian Kester, funeral director and embalmer at Hart Funeral Home, said every cremation has to have a permit.

“Families apply for the permit through the state medical examiner, which costs $150 and is required by law,” said Kester. “Sometimes, it takes a couple of days to get a permit to perform a cremation.”

In the meantime, a body must be either embalmed or refrigerated.

“I would say 75 percent of [our] cremations are direct,” said Kester. “State law requires a body be either embalmed or refrigerated within 24 hours of death. We just don’t have the volume of cremations to warrant having a crematory and the other required equipment, so we have a contract with a person in Tulsa to perform our services. From a financial standpoint, it’s better for us.”

Dick has a refrigeration unit in his crematory, and explained the rigorous process used to ensure safety and proper disposition of a body.

“The body is kept cold until cremated, and is logged into the cooling unit, using both a name and number,” said Dick. “It is logged out when removed from the cooling unit, then logged in to the crematory. It’s very much like the security used in a hospital nursery with newborns.”

According to funeralassistant.com, crematory ovens range in temperature from 1,600 to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

“And there is no good answer for how long any given cremation takes,” said Dick. “It depends on the unit [container or casket] and the size of the individual. I always tell family members that I will call them when the cremains are ready to be picked up.”

Dick said options for the cremains are also boundless. Urns range in style and price and range from brushed metal cylinders, to marble, to wood, to china. They also vary in shape, size and style.

“Final disposition is as broad as the imagination,” said Dick. “You can choose an earth burial at a cemetery, mausoleum imtombment, a scattering of ashes, or retain the cremains in a keepsake urn or jewelry.”

Dick said it not uncommon for cremains to be divided among family members.

“Keepsake urns are also popular, for instance, if someone wants [his or her] ashes scattered, but a portion of the remains can be kept in smaller keepsake urns for family members,” said Dick.

Melodye Fann, funeral director and embalmer at Reed-Culver Funeral Home, said the business use a cremation service in Tulsa.

“We use Funeral Directors Cremation Services, which is a really nice, ultra-modern facility. They offer filming services and a waiting room, and special amenities if we need a specific service - like viewing while cremation, Hindu, for instance,” Fann said.

Fann said the filming service is offered to provide an added layer of security. She also agreed cremation is gaining popularity.

“I think values have changed from generation to generation,” said Fann. “Families aren’t quite so apt to do traditional ceremonies anymore; it’s more about getting together and remembering the loved one, maybe sharing food and having video presentations. But cremation doesn’t mean you can’t have a full funeral.”


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