For many people, the moment when the curtains close at a crematorium is the moment when they say their final goodbye to the person they loved. However, it can be a jarring moment if you don’t know what comes next.
When the curtains close at a crematorium during a service, the coffin stays on the catafalque until all of the mourners leave. Then, a hydraulic trolley typically takes the coffin through to the cremators.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss the purpose of curtains at a crematorium and what happens after they’re closed so you can have peace of mind next time you attend a funeral service. I’ll also walk you through the cremation service and cremation process so you know what to expect.
Why Use Curtains at a Crematorium?
During a typical cremation service, the casket holding the departed is placed on a catafalque in front of the room. There are usually curtains surrounding the casket that are open until the end of the service when they close around the coffin.
After the curtains are closed, the casket will remain on the catafalque while the mourners leave the room. Then, the crematorium technician transports the casket to the cremators, usually with a hydraulic trolley. The casket and the body are usually cremated right away. For more information about the actual burning aspect of cremation, you can read my article about if they burn the casket during cremation.
Curtains at a crematorium serve various symbolic purposes during a service. For example, closing them can represent the moment of commitment to the cremation. Symbolically, until the curtains are closed, the cremation doesn’t have to take place, and the coffin hasn’t been committed to the process. For this reason, this part of a service is sometimes referred to as “The Committal.”
Of course, if you’ve planned the funeral, you’ve probably already committed to the cremation financially and legally. However, this symbolic gesture of closing the curtains can make this decision feel final and certain. If you are unsure if a burial or a cremation is right for you or a loved one, I offer guidance in my article: Burial vs. Cremation.
Another purpose of the curtains is an emotional one. For many mourners, the moment the curtains close creates a sense of finality, as it is the last time they’ll ever be in the presence of the person’s body ever again. For religious people, the curtains may symbolize the gates of Heaven.
It isn’t required that the curtains close around the casket, however. Some choose to keep the curtains open, as it allows mourners to take their time saying goodbye before leaving the crematorium. Giving people the opportunity to say goodbye on their own terms is more intimate than closing the curtains and invoking that farewell simultaneously for everyone.
Furthermore, keeping the curtains open can help mourners begin the process of letting go, as they will have to be the ones to choose to step away from the casket and walk out of the room.
If the curtains are kept open for the service, the crematorium technician will close them after everyone has left before transporting the casket to the cremators.
The Cremation Service
Knowing what to expect before attending a cremation service can help the experience feel less overwhelming.
This is what to expect from a typical cremation service:
- Mourners assemble at the crematorium.
- The casket or other container holding the departed is brought to the crematorium, usually in a hearse. People having a service before a cremation typically pick a casket to hold the body, but this is not necessary. For more information, check out my article: Do You Need a Casket for Cremation in the United States?
- The casket is displayed on a catafalque, a raised platform surrounded by curtains. It can be open or closed, depending on the family’s wishes.
- The service occurs with the casket displayed in the front of the room. The service may include hymns, musical pieces, eulogies, prayers, poems, speeches, and more.
- At the end of the service, the casket may or may not be covered with curtains to symbolize the final commitment to the cremation process.
- Mourners leave the crematorium, and the crematorium technician transports the casket to the cremators for the cremation to begin.
- Mourners may attend a wake or funeral reception if there is one. For more about funeral receptions, you can read my explanation of what they are and what to expect.
A cremation service is a great way to gather friends and family of the departed to remember and honor them before they take their final journey and are cremated.
The Cremation Process
Once the curtains close in the crematorium, it is time for the actual cremation process to begin.
Here’s what that entails:
- The crematorium technician transports the casket to the cremators. Usually, someone is available to begin the cremation immediately. If this is not the case, the casket may spend some time in a small side room.
- A crematorium staff member checks all identification to ensure that the name on the casket (or another container) matches the name of the person who is meant to be cremated at that time.
- The crematorium technician double-checks the identification and removes any jewelry, prosthetics, or other items that cannot be burned.
- The technician places the casket in the cremation chamber and exposes it to high temperatures for approximately two hours.
- What remains is left to cool.
- After the remains are cooled, the cremulator reduces them to ashes.
- Crematorium staff place the ashes into a plastic urn unless the family has supplied an alternative container.
- The ashes are returned to the family.
After the curtains close at a crematorium, the coffin will stay where it is until all the mourners leave the location of the service. After everyone has left, the coffin is transported to the cremators, typically by a hydraulic trolley. Then, the cremation carries on while the mourners have a wake if they choose to do so.