Cremation is an increasingly common choice for handling the remains of a loved one, with the cremation rate in the United States rising to nearly 50% in 2015. If your loved one has chosen to be cremated, you have a number of options to consider for how to treat the cremains or ashes. Many individuals choose to place the cremains into a cremation urn, then bury that urn in a grave, place it in a columbarium, or keep it at home. Others, however, choose to scatter the ashes in a location that meant something to the deceased and his or her loved ones. The act of scattering ashes seems simple, but there are a number of factors that could turn your meaningful ceremony into an unfortunate mess.
These eight tips for how to scatter ashes will help make your day memorable in only the best ways.
1. Consider the Location
Once you’ve decided to scatter a loved one’s ashes, think carefully about where you would like to do so. A growing number of private cemeteries have scattering gardens available, providing a peaceful and easily accessible location to spread the cremains. Some of the benefits of choosing this type of location is that it will be well cared for, treated with respect, and friends and family members can visit whenever they like. There is typically a fee for spreading ashes there, however.
It is legal to spread ashes in most national parks in the U.S., as well as at sea (at least 3 nautical miles from land). If you choose a national park, you should ask for permission from the chief park ranger first and follow any rules or requirements that he or she sets. State and local parks and other public areas typically do not fall under federal control, so you’ll need to talk to the appropriate state or local government agency to learn what the rules and regulations are for the scattering of ashes.
If you want to scatter ashes on private property, you are required to get the permission of the landowner first. You must abide by the landowner’s decision; if he or she says no, then spreading the ashes anyway is considered trespassing. Ash scattering on your own property is legal.
2. Seasonal Issues
Consider the weather and the season when deciding when you are going to be scattering ashes, particularly in regards to the location you’ve chosen. If you’re planning on hiking out into a national park, for example, you might not want to do so in the middle of winter. You may generally want to avoid times of year when it’s usually very cold, windy, or rainy, which could make the experience difficult.
Wind, in particular, can be a challenge when spreading ashes. A gust in the wrong direction could blow the cremains onto people or into places that you don’t want them to go. Try to pick a time when there is just a light breeze, and release the ashes downwind, so that they blow away from you.
3. Transporting the Cremains
When traveling to the location where you plan to scatter the ashes, you’ll need a container to transport them in. You should receive the cremains in a box or other simple container from the crematorium, unless you’ve chosen a different urn. Many people find that the box from the crematorium or funeral home is too plain and want a more decorative urn. There are many cremation urns to choose from, and they come in range of styles and prices.
You may want to consider a scattering urn made specifically for spreading ashes. These containers are in the shape of relatively long, narrow tubes. The urn seals tightly, but can be opened easily when the time is right.
If you’re planning on flying with the urn, you’ll need to make sure that it can be safely transported through the airport and on the plane. Take a look at our article, “9 Tips for Flying with Ashes and Cremation Urns” for more details.
4. Plan a Ceremony
Make a plan for what you expect to do and say when the day arrives. You don’t necessarily need to plan an elaborate ceremony, especially if you’ll only have a few people present. If you’re traveling out into a park or wilderness area, make sure that everyone who plans to attend is prepared for the trek. Write down a few ideas for the order of events – if you’d like to say a prayer, sing, or ask everyone to share memories of the deceased, for example.
You may also want to make notes about what you plan to say. While you may want to speak from the heart and feel like you’ll know what to say in the moment, planning out your comments gives you a safety net. You may find yourself so caught up in the emotions of the moment that you simply don’t know what to say, and having a few notes to guide you can get you back on track.
5. What to Leave Behind
No matter where you choose to scatter the ashes, be careful of what you leave behind. If you’re scattering ashes on your own property, you may want to place a memorial garden stone, bench, or other monument to honor the deceased. Some private scattering gardens may also allow some type of memorial to be left.
In public areas, however, including parks and at sea, you should only leave objects that will easily decompose. This means nothing plastic or metal should be left, since it won’t break down quickly. Flowers and other plant-based memorials are a good option, but make sure that there are no plastic or metal materials holding them together. There are many biodegradable urns available as well, including plant-based, sand-based, and salt-based containers. If you’re considering a water burial, a deep water biodegradable cremation urn is made to float on top of the water for a few minutes, then slowly sink, breaking down and releasing the ashes on the ocean floor.
6. Be Considerate to Others
Many of the official laws and regulations regarding scattering ashes are specifically related to how your actions will affect others. Never leave cremains near public trails, beaches, or other areas where people may accidentally encounter them. Others who come upon cremains near a public place may find the experience extremely upsetting or even offensive, especially if the ashes are found by children. Staying away from locations that are easily accessible by the public also means that the cremains are more likely to remain undisturbed.
7. Hire a Professional
Of course, you don’t actually have to scatter the ashes yourself. One of the simplest methods for how to scatter ashes is to hire someone to do it for you. Depending on the ash scattering method that you choose, the company may take you and your party to the designated location and help you release the ashes or allow you to watch from a distance. These companies should be aware of all the relevant local, state, and national laws, getting permits if needed. Allowing someone else to make the arrangements for you can help relieve the stress and pressure of an already difficult time.
8. Other Options for Scattering Ashes
- Share the ashes with others in keepsake urns
- Keep a pinch of cremains with you always in cremation jewelry
- Ashes can be sent up in fireworks or shot from a cannon
- Send the ashes into space
- Plant them in a biodegradable container implanted with seeds to grow a tree
- Incorporate some of the ashes into diamonds or memorial glass jewelry