As religious rules around cremation have relaxed, more and more Americans are turning to cremation as a cost effective way to deal with the dead.
At Popular Mechanics, Caren Chesler tours Rosehill Cemetery’s crematorium and, in addition to learning about the process of cremation, she reports on how loved ones often struggle to deal with the cremains of family members. Not knowing where to store them, people put urns in closets, garages, and in storage — liminal spaces that place the dead out of sight and out of mind. Urns may be light enough to travel, but they’re often heavy with emotional baggage.
Rosehill, located about a half-hour from Manhattan, now cremates about 25 bodies a day, seven days a week, and has been expanding its facility to meet the growing demand. It already had three cremation machines, but bought an additional unit in 2013, another in 2016, and expects to have a sixth up and running by the end of the year
Altogether, it takes about an hour and a half to cremate a body, though that varies depending on the person’s weight and the type of casket they’re in. The time-consuming nature limits the number of bodies each can cremate. During my visit, all five of Rosehill’s machines were in various states of operation just to keep up with demand. Each needs to get five bodies done in eight hours. Rosehill’s cremation units run six days a week, standing idle only on Sundays.
That’s one of the advantages of cremation: You can address your emotional issues with the dead on your own terms. The disadvantage? Now you’re left with the remains, this small tangible object impressed with a whole different set of emotions. After Luke’s brother passed away, she picked up his ashes on the way home from work, as if it were just another weekday errand. The funeral home was on the way home, after all. “I was too stupid to ask someone else to pick (my brother) up, and had never done it before. I wasn’t prepared for how personal it would feel,” she said. “I threw my brother’s ashes in the trunk with a thump and cried all the way home.”
A few years later, when her stepfather passed, she couldn’t even bring herself to pick up the ashes, even as the funeral home kept calling. “I never spoke to them. I listened to one voicemail, politely reminding me to ‘come get your dad,’ It was the phrase, coupled with the fact ‘my dad’ was a bunch of ashes stuffed in a box, that just reminded me of that afternoon I picked up (my brother) Tom,” she said.