After someone you love dies, it can be difficult to start the planning process for what happens next. If your loved one has decided to have their remains cremated, then there comes another choice. What do you do with the ashes after a cremation?
Knowing what to do with your loved one’s ashes can be both difficult and emotional, especially if you’re the executor of the will or simply managing the arrangements. Many people choose to keep their loved ones ashes in an urn or other receptacle. Others may bury the ashes. Scattering the ashes of a loved one is yet another popular way to commemorate a person's life and death. Ash scattering is the process where the ashes of an individual are released outdoors, most often in nature or another meaningful place.
Planning an ash scattering ceremony can take a lot of emotional bandwidth, even if you have ideas or know exactly what you want. For that reason, we've created a list of tips for planning an ash scattering that outlines some of the immediate things to consider as well as some that might not be so obvious when you're starting the process. With these tips, we hope to help you navigate the process and make the best decisions for you and your loved one.
If you aren't familiar with the practice of ash scattering, you may wonder why someone would do such an act (or request it as part of their funeral arrangements). There are several reasons – both spiritual and personal - why this funeral ceremony has become popular.
Many people pre-plan their funerals, choosing everything from their preferred mortuary to their final resting place. For the deceased, knowing what will happen to their body after death can bring some comfort. It gives someone a sense of control in a situation where they likely feel like they have none.
If they have chosen ash scattering for their funeral practice, then it is important to honor those wishes. If you feel that you cannot do this, you may wish to relinquish the duty to someone who can. (However, it’s important to note that there is no time limit on when you must scatter ashes, unlike other types of funerals.)
On a practical level, ash scattering can be a more affordable option for families. When compared to the prices of burial and professional funeral services, ash scattering ceremonies require much less money.
For many cultures, death represents as a journey. Ash scattering represents this journey. In Hinduism, cremation is the dominant funerary practice. Since reincarnation factors into religious beliefs, cremation is the act of freeing the soul from the body. After the ceremony, the ashes are collected by the family and scattered (usually over water) so that the body can return to the earth.
For some Christians, it is a similar act of faith. As the commonly used funeral prayer from the Book of Common Prayers dictates: "we, therefore, commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life."
It represents a journey into the afterlife in a very tangible way. It offers a physical representation of passing beyond this life and into what lies ahead.
On a personal level, ash scattering can be a comfort for those left behind. As stated above, ash scattering offers a physical representation of something more symbolic. In this case, it is letting go - but not of your memories or love of the deceased. The ash scattering ceremony can give those attending a chance to step back and let go of the pain and heartache they may be experiencing.
While our grief lives with us for much longer, it is healthy to let go of the most painful parts of our past. It gives us the chance to look forward – as our loved one would have wanted – and lets us give that final goodbye.
Scattering ashes is returning these ashes to the ground and the earth. The act symbolizes our return to the cycle of life on the planet. As the ash returns to the earth, it becomes part of the ecosystem and part of nature. That creates a sense of renewal in that, akin to the planting of seeds on fresh soil.
It is, in many ways, a new beginning. Scattering ashes can also symbolize infinity, especially if scattered into moving water. The water takes the ash and circulates it forever, flowing and ebbing with the oceans and rivers.
Before you jump into planning a ceremony, you need to know what you legally can and cannot do in your country and your state or city. An funeral ceremony are difficult enough to plan (and handle emotionally), the last thing you need is someone disrupting the ash scattering to give you a fine or force you to leave the area before you've finished.
In the United States, many states have no official laws regarding the practice. Some have laws that require permits or prohibit certain places from being accessible for ash scattering. Others are even stricter and may prohibit many types of scattering altogether.
Read up on the ordinances and laws that would affect the kind of scattering you want to do. You’ll have a much better idea of how to proceed with your plans.
Choosing a guest list for such an emotional event can feel overwhelming, especially if you have the sole responsibility for it. However, choosing the number of people to invite early in your planning process will help you make other decisions as the planning progresses.
You can better pick a location, time, and even the ceremony specifics once you have a potential headcount. Even if you are planning to do the ceremony alone, it’s better to establish that early so you can talk to anyone that may have questions.
Complicated relationships with family or friends of the deceased can also make the process more difficult. If you are in charge of the ash scattering ceremony, you likely aren't under any obligation to invite individuals or ask them not to attend. No family gets along perfectly and there may be some individuals who would make the process more difficult or outright uncomfortable for others.
In this case, it is important to think about the deceased and what they would want. Would you feel comfortable excluding someone your loved one would want there? You might not think this would be an issue but you may have different thoughts once you’ve had time to process your grief and immediate emotions.
Before you go too far into your planning process, you should start thinking about where you’d like to scatter your loved one’s ashes. While the possibilities for locations are endless, much of this decision will depend on specific factors, including the deceased's wishes. It may come down to finding a place you can have a ceremony with many people, finding the most meaningful location for the deceased, or simply choosing what is best for you.
If you have to travel, you’ll have to consider the expenses involved with that. If other people are attending, you will want to give them plenty of advanced notice to make their travel arrangements.
You may be within driving distance or need to consider lodging and travel time between you and the location. Knowing the local laws and ordinances regarding ash scattering can help you make decisions about the location, too.
You may have some ideas for how you’d like to plan an ash scattering ceremony – but have you explored all the options for the process? Ash Scattering can be as simple or elaborate as you would like so it’s good to know what your options are before you discount any.
With this option, you are scattering the ashes somewhere on land. It’s the most popular form of ash scattering and likely the one you considered first. Even with land scattering, there are a few different options than you might think about.
Private Property. The most convenient place to hold the scattering is usually on private property, especially if it is a property you own. You can scatter them into the wind or rake them into a garden. However, if you want to scatter ashes on someone else’s property, you want to be sure you have permission to do so.
While it might be tempting, you will want to think twice about scattering ashes in popular properties like museums, theme parks, or sports stadiums. These are also private property. If you do not have permission for the ceremony, you may be escorted off-property by law enforcement, asked to leave, or fined.
Public Parks. Most national parks allow ash scattering. However, you will need to get a permit from park authorities before you can do so. These are typically easy to acquire provided you follow the rules outlined. Ash scattering must take place away from established trails and other developed areas and some areas may be off-limits.
Cemeteries. Scattering ash in a cemetery is a good option for someone who wants to be sure they’ll be able to visit their loved one anytime they wish. Some people may request to be scattered on another grave – or a family plot. You’ll need to check with the cemetery to know what is allowed. Many cemeteries now have designated areas for ash scattering. These “scattering gardens” are gaining popularity.
Burial at sea is legal but only so long as everything used in the practice is biodegradable. Cremains fall under that category (so long as a biodegradable urn is used).
There are some rules regarding the practice. For one, you can only scatter remains at least 3 nautical miles from shore. This guarantees that you'll need to have a boat to do so. You'll also have to report the scattering to the EPA within a certain period afterward.
Scattering ashes in the air is a less common method for ash scattering but it is an established one. While you can obviously go to the top of a tall space like a cliff or mountain and scatter ashes into the wind, you can also take them higher.
Many companies will allow you to scatter ashes by hot air balloon. Others will take the ashes up into a plane and scatter them for you.
While it seems like something straight out of science fiction, you can have your loved one’s ashes shot off into space! Companies like Celestis will launch human cremations into space, bringing your loved one that much closer to the stars.
The ashes drift through space for a few months – circling Earth – before they are vaporized as they fall into the atmosphere.
You may have a wonderful idea for your ash scattering ceremony but unless the weather cooperates, you'll struggle to make it a reality. Seasonal temperatures and time of day will likely influence your plans. If you plan an outdoor ceremony at a national park, you probably don't want to travel there during the rainy season or during a particularly windy time of year. This might mean being flexible on your dates and times or being prepared for rain or heat on the chosen day.
Once you’ve picked a location and type of ash scattering you’d like for your ceremony, you can start deciding what you’d like to do as part of the process. If you want to do specific things, you will want to plan out the ceremony, including the sequence of events and coordinating with others.
If you want to give a speech or talk about the deceased, take notes of the things you want to say. Preparing ahead of time will help you put your thoughts into words when the time comes.
You may want to hold a toast for the deceased, which means you’ll need to acquire glasses and a beverage as well as transport them to the site. You may ask for a moment of silence. If you want music, you'll need to coordinate it in advance.
If you'd like someone else to speak at the ceremony, plan to ask them early enough so they'll have time to make arrangements. You'll also want to account for the time any of these options will take during the ceremony.
If you plan to hold the ceremony in a secluded location, you need to consider how to get there. Just as importantly, you'll need to think of how many people will be walking, climbing, or exerting a lot of physical activity to join you. You may need to consider wheelchair access or any physical limitations of those invited.
When you think about the ash scattering, you may want to think about whether you'd like to document the ceremony or not. If you do want documentation, you may want to decide exactly how much. Do you want someone to film it? How do you feel about photographs?
You may want the ceremony to be completely private. However, you may want to revisit parts of it in the future. Having photos or videos will help with that, especially if you want to share the moment with loved ones who couldn’t be there.
You don’t need a professional for this, either. You likely have a friend or family member who could help you if you asked. If so, you’ll want to discuss this with them well in advance and outline what kind of photos or footage you would like to have.
If you don't want someone to document it, that's also okay! With so much shared on social media, you may not want to share that private moment with the internet. However, it’s important to convey those wishes to anyone attending the scattering. You may have those who might want to take pictures for themselves, so think about how you’d like to handle those situations.
How do you plan to transport your ashes to the scattering site? Transportation plans are an important part of the process that few people consider immediately. You will need a container to hold the cremains between the cremation and the scattering ceremony.
Most of the time human cremains are returned to the family (or executor of the will) in a plastic bag within a cardboard box. Some facilities offer simple urns for an additional price. However, you can purchase an urn if you'd like. You can learn more about urns with our Guide to Types of Cremation Urns.
You may want to have the cremains placed in a scatter tube – a lightweight, usually inexpensive container – until time for the ceremony. A scatter tube is a small cardboard or paper tube container that is used to temporarily store cremains until they are scattered. The shape of the tube makes it easier to scatter remains in a controlled fashion.
If you are flying with human cremains, you need to make yourself aware of the TSA rules and regulations that are in place for that. For more information about that, you can read our guide for traveling with cremation ashes!
When you’re planning the ceremony, you’ll want to think about the safety and comfort of others. This means considering where you are holding the ceremony as much as who you choose to invite. Other people may be grieving as much as you are and it’s important to remember them while you plan.
You’ll also want to consider the people around you if you are scattering ashes in a public location. You don’t want to disturb strangers or other people in the same area. Not to mention, this could draw more attention to your ceremony or lead to another disruption.
If you choose to have a private ceremony, take time to explain the choice to anyone who may be hurt by not being involved. That tip also applies to the over all planning process. Keeping open communication with other grieving loved ones can mean a world of difference in how smoothly the process goes.
There is no time limit on when you should or must hold an ash scattering ceremony. Unlike a funeral, you don't face the same time or location constraints. There's no reason to rush yourself through the process, especially when you may still be grieving too. If you need to wait a few weeks, several months, or even years to make this happen, it’s absolutely understandable.
Do not feel you need to hold the ceremony immediately. You may feel outside expectations from friends or family of the loved one. This is where keeping open lines of communication can be so important.
Take your time and make the ceremony something that brings solace and not more pain. You are creating a memory. Make it as positive as you can.
As you begin planning an ash scattering ceremony, you may wonder if scattering all the ashes is the right choice for you. It's a question only you can answer with any certainty, though it is not an unusual decision. If you decide to keep some portion of your loved one's ash after the cremation, there are many ways to incorporate those ashes into a lasting memorial.
Urns have remained the most popular way to store human cremains for millennia. Urns have been used for longer than we have recorded history and well into the archaeological record. Some artifacts were dated back as far as the human stone age (around 3000 BC)! Traditionally, funeral urns are crafted from wood, stone, bronze, steel, and many other materials.
Keepsake urns are a smaller version of a classic urn. They are designed to hold a smaller amount of ash – often a few cubic inches – and take much less space for a memorial. You can also find them in more unique designs. This Acorn Keepsake Cremation Urn, for example, is a small wooden urn that brings a touch of nature and charm to the standard urn concept. Given its small size – roughly 4 inches by 2 inches – the urn fits perfectly just about anywhere!
If you’d prefer something more traditional, this similarly sized Remember Me Pewter Urn is the classic urn shape while still being portable and easy to incorporate into any sized memorial.
Most cremation jewelry has a small receptacle built into the design specifically to hold a small amount of cremains. These jewelry pieces are designed to give little indication of what is within or that there is a secret compartment. They are wonderful for anyone who would like a subtle memorial keepsake that you can take with you anywhere. Cremation jewelry comes in man forms. Here is a list of the most popular:
Pendants are the most popular of all cremation jewelry. These classic pendants act as tiny urns without looking like one. They come in a variety of styles, metals, and even gemstones.
Popular styles of pendants include very simple designs – like this Stainless Steel Remembrance Heart – that are both timeless and elegant. However, you can often find unique options that better reflect the wearer's personality. The Mulberry Moments Leaf Locket adds a pop of color to the design that can brighten your day and your wardrobe.
Much like the other jewelry types, these bracelets have a small bail on the underside of the band that can be filled with a small amount of ash. Due to the discreet placement of the bail, they are easy to fill but don’t appear to look like a cremation keepsake from an outside perspective.
Cremation rings are another popular choice. They have a hidden hollowed-out interior compartment that can be filled with cremated ashes. Typically, these rings are available in both women's and men's styles, the cremation rings can be selected in whole sizes and a variety of different metals. The Silver Duchess Ring highlights just how subtle and timeless these rings can look.
If you aren’t someone who wears jewelry, you may want to consider a cremation keychain instead. These are even less obvious than other options, especially in the case of this Remembrance Cross Keychain.
Cremation jewelry often provides the perfect way to keep your memories safe and close, even when you can’t always find space for larger keepsakes. For a more in-depth guide on choosing cremation jewelry, please visit our Cremation Jewelry FAQ.
One of the most unique types of cremation keepsakes is ash pendants. These custom-created pendants are created by mixing ashes from the deceased with colorful resin to create a unique piece of wearable art. The process creates a gorgeous swirl effect that retains a glossy, gem-like appearance. It is both beautiful and personal, as no two pendants are alike.
Much like ash pendants, a small amount of cremains can be mixed with acrylic paint that is then used to create a work of art. These are admittedly a little more expensive than some of the other options. However, it is a special and unique way to incorporate your loved one’s cremains into a keepsake that will last a lifetime (and beyond).
Ash Portraits are specialized keepsakes that take time and talent to produce. Only a certain number of artists are actively working in the genre. You could commission a portrait of your loved one, a landscape of a meaningful place for them, or even something else they loved or appreciated in life.
When you are planning a scattering ceremony, you may decide that you want to split the ashes between two or more locations. Maybe you'd like to hold one ceremony for friends and family, then at some point later you may want to scatter some portion at another meaningful location. If that’s the case – or even something you might think about doing – then you might want to keep a small portion of the cremains for that purpose.
Do you have questions about ash scattering? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the process and how to plan your own ceremony.
Your choice to scatter your loved one's ashes or keep them is highly personal with no objectively correct decision. This choice is highly personal and depends on your unique circumstances. What is best for you and your family? What is best for your mental health and grief process? Did the deceased have any wishes when it came to their remains or final resting place? These are all questions you should ask when you consider your choices. Ultimately, you should do what is best for everyone involved.
You cannot spread ashes on private property (without permission). This includes places like sports stadiums, theme parks, museums, and vacation resorts. So, if you were considering spreading those ashes at Disney World? You should definitely think again – unless you want your loved one to be swept or vacuumed away soon after. In many cases, you may find yourself in trouble with law enforcement for trespassing.
You cannot spread ashes along a beach or shoreline. While you can do a burial at sea, there are still rules you must follow. According to the EPA, any human remains buried at sea must be scattered three nautical miles from the shore.
You should research the laws in your area. While there may not be a federal law prohibiting scattering ashes, you will need to look at local laws. Some states require permits for certain places. Others only allow scattering in designated areas. If you plan to travel to another country to scatter ashes, it’s even more important to know what is allowed there. Plan ahead so you don’t break any laws or find yourself unable to complete your scattering.
Ultimately, the decision of who to invite to this event is entirely up to you as the recipient of your loved one’s ashes. You can choose to hold a small, private affair with only yourself. You can also choose to invite family members or friends. You are not required to do either, especially if having many people around would make the process more difficult or emotionally taxing for you.
However, it is important to consider the feelings of others when you begin planning how and where to scatter your loved one’s ashes. In our grief, was can occasionally forget that other people loved the person as much as we did or in a different way. It’s also important to consider the feelings of the deceased. Would your loved one have wanted you to invite that person? That’s something to think about when you start planning the ash scattering. People and feelings change over time. It may be in your best interest to invite a person or persons even if you would rather them not attend.
Typically, scattering ashes is not seen as a disrespectful practice. It is often requested by people as part of their will or included in their wishes after death. Most major religions allow for human cremation after death. The Christian bible, for example, has no passages that prohibit or encourage the process. Some more conservative groups, however, disapprove of the practice for their members. The Catholic church, for example, allows cremation but not scattering practices.
On the other hand, some Hindu practices include cremation rites and ash scattering. Buddhism also advocates the ash scattering, often over a sacred spot. The practice has become far more accepted and widespread over the last few decades. Scattering a loved one's ashes is common in North America, Europe many parts of Asia, and areas of South Africa.
If possible, you should consider honoring your loved one's request. This is especially true if it's in writing. If they even gave you a verbal indication that it was their wish then it was important to them. If you choose otherwise, you may regret it later. You can always decide to keep a small portion of those ashes for memorial purposes.
Yes, you can bury your loved one's ashes in most circumstances. In the United States, it is legal to bury cremains in many places including private land, cemeteries, wilderness areas, and the ocean. Some states may have laws surrounding certain burial practices, but most do not have restrictions regarding ash burials. However, if you are burying those ashes on land owned by someone else you will need permission to do so.
In many cases, if you choose to inter ashes in a cemetery or other similar location, then you will need to consider the associated costs. Many cemeteries have urn gardens for such a purpose. They will not allow scattering outside these areas. You must purchase a small plot in these sections. Some require the ashes to be interred in an urn vault which is an additional cost.
Most international and domestic flights will allow you to travel with human cremains. However, the TSA does have specific policies. You can learn more by reading our guide for traveling with ashes!
You can do many things to create a memorable experience at an ash scattering ceremony. The purpose is to create a memory that brings comfort and solace to you and anyone else present. To do that, you can plan to make a statement. Talk about the deceased - their life, their joys, and what your relationship with them meant to you.
Other people may be interested in sharing their own stories or thoughts. You may add readings, poetry, religious ceremonies, or even music to the event. Food or drink may be present. Additionally, you may even want to explore various scattering options, like spreading their ashes at sea or incorporating them into fireworks. There are many ways to make the ceremony meaningful.
Scattering a loved one’s ashes is a highly personal and highly emotional endeavor. Ash scattering is also an excellent way to lay your loved one to rest. It can bring solace, understanding, and closure for those left behind. Planning the process only adds another layer of responsibility to that moment.
Being prepared before you start can help you – and your family – navigate the process without undue stress or grief. Hopefully, this guide will give you the information you need to make decisions in your own planning.
July 18, 2022 by Frances Kay