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What is Cremation?
Although cremation was widely practiced since the beginning of recorded history the advent of Emperor Constantine's legalization of Christianity in 313 A.D. saw earth burials completely replacing cremations. It wasn't until 1873, when a perfected cremation chamber was displayed at the Vienna Exposition that interest in cremation began anew.
Cremation in the United States
In the U.S., the first crematorium was built in Pennsylvania three years later in 1876, but because of religious concerns the practice was infrequently used. The biggest breakthrough for the acceptance of cremation as a means of returning the body to nature came in 1963 when Pope Paul VI proclaimed cremation was no longer illegal in the eyes of the Church and three years later announced that Roman Catholic priests were permitted to conduct services at cremations.
The practice is also accepted by most Protestant denominations, but what one considers a Christian funeral can vary widely from one denomination to another or even within the same denomination. Judaism, however does not allow cremations. The Jewish faithful attending a funeral service say they are unable to make an association between the departed and the urn. The presence of the deceased is not felt. They consider turning the body into ash as unnatural because when buried the body returns to dust and becomes one with the soil which allows new growth and new life. Ash, they believe, is empty and lifeless.
High Percentage of Cremains Go Unclaimed
As the percentage of cremations in the United States rises, so does the number of abandoned urns. Nationwide, more than thirty thousand cremation ash packages sit unclaimed on mortuary shelves.
Even in states that allow the burial or scattering of abandoned ashes, some funeral homes store them for years, hoping one day to place them in the hands of a relative.
A majority of states have laws setting minimum waiting periods for funeral homes to store unclaimed cremated remains, ranging from 60 days to four years. About a dozen states have no laws or regulations. A handful just have regulations.