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Why families choose to witness the cremation of a loved one - Phaneuf

Why families choose to witness the cremation of a loved one

As more people choose cremation, our funeral directors are frequently asked, can you witness a cremation? Yes, that is an option for family members. Watching a cremation is not for everyone, though families may choose this service for a number of reasons:

Religious traditions

For Hindu and some Buddhist traditions, cremation rituals include participation from immediate family members. The main rituals are performed by a priest in Phaneuf’s chapel followed by a procession of the loved one and the family members to the crematory.

In the crematory, the eldest male relative is typically  instructed to turn on the cremation machine, also known as the retort, while the family members chant. Once the priest concludes his rituals, the family helps place their loved one in the cremation chamber. It is symbolic for the family to help guide their loved one to the afterlife.


Some family members want to say their final goodbyes due to distance or the pandemic. The attended cremation service gives the family about 15 minutes to spend with their loved one in the crematory prior to the cremation.

This also gives the family an opportunity to place  personal items with their loved one: photos, letters, a crucifix, flowers, etc. Some families will recite prayers, poems or a personal eulogy. If the family is comfortable witnessing the cremation, the crematory operator directs the family where to stand while the operator opens the door and places their loved one into the cremation chamber.

Some family members may find comfort in assisting in the process. They are welcome to open the door and/or help place their loved one inside the chamber, then close the door.


Due to some misinformation or unfortunate scandals in the funeral industry, some families may be skeptical about the cremation process. For family members who are concerned they will not receive their loved one after cremation, the attended cremation is an option.

They are able to spend time with their loved one and then see them enter the cremation chamber. To ensure 100% confidence, we also welcome families back to witness the removal process of their loved one’s cremated remains from the retort. This gives them the closure and confidence that it is in fact their loved one’s remains that return to them in an urn.

What to expect while witnessing a cremation

Each step of the process is optional and tailored to the comfort level of the family. Families are briefed prior to arrival at the funeral home so they know exactly their options and what to expect. Because it is an emotional experience, some families may change their mind in the moment to either excuse themselves from the crematory prior to cremation or choose to be fully involved in the process. A funeral director and crematory operator are standing by to assist and advise the family through the entire process:

  • We welcome the family to the funeral home at a designated time, about 15 minutes before cremation. 
  • We brief them on what to expect in the crematory (sights and sounds) and the physical condition of their loved one. This is the appropriate time  to voice any questions or concerns.
  • The family enters the crematory with the funeral director. Their loved one is in the center of the crematory in a state-required cremation container, typically of corrugated and plywood construction. 
  • The cremation container rests atop a hydraulic lift. 
  • The features of the loved one have been posed and they appear to be resting comfortably.
  • The funeral director and crematory operator step back to give the family private time with their loved one. We instruct them to wave to us if they have any questions or  are ready to proceed with the cremation.
  • Some families may excuse themselves at this time because they have decided not to witness the cremation. 
  • Other families will remain in the crematory but stand away from the machine and simply witness the crematory operator place their loved one in the machine.
  • Finally, if the family chooses to participate, they will be given instructions by the crematory operator and will work with the operator to place their loved one in the machine.
  • Once their loved one is in the cremation chamber, the family is welcome to gather together in an office or chapel for private time before departing the funeral home.

The cremation process takes roughly four hours. Most families come back the following day to bring their loved one home. However, if the family attends an 8 a.m. cremation, they will be able to bring their loved one home the same day.

If you have any questions related to witnessing a cremation of a loved one, please reach out.

Preplanning your final arrangements ensures that your family understands your final wishes and alleviates a great deal of stress.

Why families choose to witness the cremation of a loved one - Phaneuf

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