The Timelines of Embalming and Cremation


The Timelines of Embalming and Cremation

When a loved one passes away, family members often find themselves scrambling as they sort through wills and wishes, reach out to friends and families and begin to make plans for an end-of-life celebration.

You might find yourself stuck as you weigh how you’ll care for the body and what the decision might mean for scheduling a memorial or funeral service.

We hope we can help ease your worries just a bit by breaking down the timeline of both embalming and cremation. Once you understand the purpose and time constraints of each method, you can move forward in selecting a date with confidence. And you’ll be able to focus on what matters most: celebrating the life of your loved one.

What is the Purpose of Embalming?

Embalming is a way to slow the natural process, giving family and friends an opportunity to remember their loved ones as they once were.

During the civil war, Americans took notes from ancient Egyptians on how to preserve the bodies of soldiers killed in action until they made the long journey home. Prior to this, memorials were often held in the family home soon after death with a swift burial to follow.

Embalming paved the way for what we often experience today: visitation, a formal funeral service and the sense of closure that many people need

What is the Purpose of Cremation?

Cremation–which may take place either in lieu of embalming or following the embalming process–offers an alternative burial option. Of course, cremation, just like embalming, is the disposition of remains and not a final destination. Some prefer cremation since ashes require less space than a casket and are far more portable.

Families may choose cremation in order to share the cremains among family members, reduce the carbon footprint or to allow for a more personal final resting place.

How Long Does Each Method Take?

After reporting the death, family members should reach out to a funeral home director to arrange for transportation of the body and to begin planning an end-of-life celebration. The speed at which the next steps take place depend on the method chosen.

Embalming Timeline

The basic embalming process itself takes up to one hour and should begin as soon as possible following death. To prepare the body for a viewing may require a few additional hours, as care is given to making sure the appearance is as realistic as possible and meets the family’s wishes with regards to hair, make-up and attire.

Many states require embalming for a formal visitation to take place or in cases where the body will not be buried or cremated within 48 hours.

Cremation Timeline

Cremation takes around three hours to complete. Most states require at least 24 hours between death and cremation, with some requiring 48 hours. Families may prefer their loved one be dressed in a special outfit, which would add to the total time, but not in a significant way.

Each cremation must be processed individually in order to ensure that the ashes are kept separate. This can delay cremation by weeks or more, so it’s best to check with your provider directly to determine when you should expect to receive your loved one’s cremains.

At Green Hills, cremations typically occur about seven to nine days following death. We’re often able to share with families the very minutes in which they can expect cremation to take place. Many view this time as significant in their mourning process and find it important to know all the details.

How Long Does Each Method Allow Families to Delay Gatherings

While home visitations and quick, backyard burials were once the standard practice, things have changed quite a bit since the 1800s. Most importantly, the fact that families and friends now stretch far and wide–across the country and even the world.

If we hope to have our nearest and dearest around for a loved one’s end-of-life celebration, we might need to allow time for travel.

On the other hand, some families prefer a quick service and the closure such timeliness brings. Regardless, be sure to take into account the care of the body when choosing a day and time to gather.

Preservation Through Embalming

Embalming preserves a body for at least one week or so. Embalming allows families up to seven days or more to reach out to friends and family, and to conduct a formal viewing, funeral and burial service. Green Hills ensures that every part of this process can be addressed without worry or rush.

Preservation Through Cremation

Ashes from cremation are preserved indefinitely. A memorial may be held at any time. Just be sure to keep two key factors in mind: If you wish for family and friends to pay their respects through a visitation, you’ll need to do that after embalming and before cremation. There may be a delay before cremation can begin. Ask the funeral director about the legal requirements in your state.

Benefits of Both

Embalming allows flexibility for planning a formal service and burial, while cremation allows creativity about when, where and how you’ll care for your loved one’s ashes.

There’s really no wrong decision here. Simply let your educated understanding of the process, as well as your loved one’s desires, guide you along. At Green Hills, whether you choose embalming or cremation, you’ll never be rushed. That’s because we know this is a precious time. Our goal is to take care of all the logistical details so you can take advantage of every opportunity to mourn and celebrate your loved one as you see fit.