First of all, we believe in heaven, hell and purgatory. Most people, we reckon are not bad enough to burn forever in hell, but neither are they good enough immediately to go into the presence of their Creator and Redeemer. This is because most of us have not reached the state of perfection by the end of our lives. Therefore, in my opinion, most people of faith go to purgatory.
The souls in purgatory will eventually get to heaven so although purgatory is a place of pain and punishment, it is the kind of pain that is purifying and cleansing and makes us better–kind of like the pain of fasting or taking exercise or learning self control.
For a person without faith and who has lived a wicked life there is the reality of hell. Some believe there are multitudes in hell. Others believe there are very few who remain obstinate against God’s mercy. My own opinion on this is fluid and in reality my own opinion doesn’t matter. The Catholic Church and the Sacred Scriptures teach the reality and eternity of hell.
So what should we say when a person dies? We don’t say what is not true, like “I’m sure Jimmy is with the angels now.” Neither do we have to be blunt and say, “Well Jimmy is probably burning in purgatory for a bit don’t you think?” No. We simply thank God for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through which we are redeemed and we comfort the bereaved with this truth and we can say something which is both comforting and true like, “Jimmy is in God’s care now.” or “Our hope is in the Lord’s mercy. He will continue to lead Jimmy into his light and life.”
As for the mortal remains: the Catholic Church teaches that cremation is permissible, but the remains should be treated with honor and respect. The person had a physical body and Jesus himself took on human flesh, so the body is not nothing. Cremated remains (like the body) should be buried or reposed in a place that is inviolate, marked clearly and recorded in safe record keeping facility. They may be buried in a marked and consecrated grave or in a marked and consecrated sarcophagus or columbarium. They must be in a vessel that is inviolable and they must be buried in such a way that they can be moved if necessary.
In all these things the Catholic approach to death is compassionate but realistic. Loving but kind. Honest but hopeful.
In the end, this is actually the most comforting to the bereaved because we have taken the life of their loved one seriously and we have given them due respect–honoring not only their body through proper burial, but also their life’s decisions in faith concerning their eternal destiny.