How Long Does It Take to Cremate a Body?

Learn about the cremation process, including how long it takes to cremate a body and what you and your family can expect during and after a loved one’s cremation.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Victor Buonfiglio of Boston cremation. Our topic today is, how long does it take to cremate a body? Welcome, Victor.

Victor Buonfiglio: Hi, John, thanks for having me.

How Long Does It Take to Cremate a Body?

John: Sure, so, Victor, how long does it take to cremate a body after somebody has passed away?

Victor: Well, there’s two parts of that question. The first part is because Massachusetts requires 48 hours to have somebody cremated and there’s a lot of paperwork that’s involved. We typically tell folks that complete turnaround time is about five to seven business days. The reason it takes so long is because, one, we have 48 hours before the person can be cremated. We have to wait. Nothing’s getting done during that time except our due diligence. If it’s on a weekend, the administrative offices are closed and the municipalities are closed, so we’re not even getting death certificates and things like that filed.

John: What is it that’s happening during that first 48 hours?

Victor: During the first 48 hours, the doctor’s going to sign the death certificate. That’s the key thing. That gets it started. The doctor signs a death certificate and then we obtain vital statistics information from the family in order to complete the funeral directors portion. That would be the name of the deceased, their social security number, birth date and things like that. That’s all for vital records that gets filed with the state. Once the death certificate is completed from the doctor and from us, then we file it with the state. The state will issue us a cremation permit.

We take that cremation permit and then we file an application for the medical examiner to review all the paperwork. The medical examiner reviews all the paperwork, views every body before cremation takes place, because it’s an irreversible process.

John: Does it take a long time to get the medical examiner to come in?

Victor: The medical examiner goes to the crematory every day, but they have a certain window that they’re there. Sometimes our paperwork’s not ready in that timeframe. We might get our paperwork after one o’clock and the medical examiner leaves at 11. Sometimes it might hold us over a day. That’s why we tell folks it’s five to seven business days. In a perfect world, it could probably be done in 72 hours. There’s just a lot of red tape involved.

John: If we can get that medical examiner to come right on the second day and then do the cremation the next day. It could be really quick.

Victor: Exactly right. Everybody’s busy, the medical examiner is busy, the crematory is busy and we’re busy. We have to make sure that all of our schedules work. Typically, after all the paperwork is done and we get to the crematory, it’s usually that 5th or 7th business day by the time we get them back.

The Actual Cremation Process

John: Tell me a little bit about the actual process once you’re actually doing the cremation at the crematory. How long does it take for the actual cremation itself to happen?

Victor: Because they only do one cremation at a time in each retort — that’s what the cremation machine is called, a retort — from start to finish, it’s about three hours. The body is placed into the retort, which is 1600 degrees at three hours. After the three hours is up, the cremated remains are actually too hot to handle. There’s actually a cooling period before they can be handled and processed into a fine consistency before they’re returned back to the family. The process is quite complex and takes a little bit of time.

Can Families Stay During the Cremation?

John: Does a family typically stay, come for the actual cremation and stay that whole period of time?

Victor: That’s a good question. Most families don’t, but we do have some certain families who [due to] religious beliefs, or whatever, they need to be part of the process. The crematories will allow the family to be present during the cremation. Some will actually allow the family to wait for the entire process to be done. The family can sit in a waiting room. They may sit there for three hours or so. It’s just a meditation time for them. A time for them to sit and gather and reflect. Not too often, but we can accommodate for the ones that do need that.

After the Cremation

John: Is there time that takes place after the cremation itself happens? Again, you’re doing some sort of a memorial service or something like that?

Victor: Yes, if a family wishes to do a memorial service afterwards, we usually schedule that once we know that their cremation has taken place.

John: So, you don’t even schedule it until after?

Victor: We never schedule it [ahead of time] for all the reasons that we just talked about.

John: If it takes an extra day, then people are coming from out of town or something like that. It throws everything off.

Victor: Exactly, it throws everything off. If the medical examiner’s busy or if the crematory is busy and we can’t get it done, we’d hate to have people coming in and have a schedule that we can’t keep. We never schedule until we know we have the ashes back.

John: How long out do people have to schedule that? Is that a week later or is it a couple of days later?

Victor: No, it only takes a couple of days to schedule it. That part’s easy, it’s just getting all the paperwork and due diligence done before that. Again, most people have already made the notifications that they need to let family members know that it’s coming up.

John: A total of five to seven days or so and the whole process can be completed?

Victor: Yes, pretty much. Like I say, we’ve seen it be done a little bit quicker and sometimes on occasion a little bit longer. For the most part, that’s a safe bet.

John: All right. That’s really great information, Victor. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Victor: Thanks for having me.

John: For more information visit bostoncremation.org or call 781-322-0909.

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