It can be difficult and overwhelming when faced with the decision of how a loved one should be laid to rest. Not only can it be emotionally hard, but there are also many logistical elements to arrange. While the standard coffin burial remains the most common method, more and more people are choosing to be cremated, followed by a ceremony to scattering ashes.
If you decide to honour the memory of your dearly departed by scattering their ashes, there are many options available to you. Planning the ceremony does not have to be too complicated, but it is recommended that you do a bit of research to help you make the decision and assure you that you are going about it the best way.
Why Choose an Ash Scattering Ceremony?
Before choosing to have a ceremony to scatter ashes, it is first important to understand why someone would want to opt for cremation.
While burying someone has many wonderful elements, cremation tends to offer more flexibility.
- It does not limit you to one physical spot, such as the confines of a plot in a cemetery.
- It also allows you to hold the ceremony whenever you want. A normal burial must take place within a certain amount of time after the passing, but a ceremony to scatter ashes can take place at any time in the future.
- Cremation also makes it much easier to transport the remains wherever you may wish to take them. They can easily be transported by car, boat, or taken on a plane. (However, please make sure to reference the rules and regulations section of this article when planning the transportation of cremated remains.)
- The ashes can be spread in several beautiful and creative ways. Symbolism and meaningful objects can be included in the ceremony, often bringing a sense of peace and harmonious closure to the family.
- Lastly, cremation and scattering ashes can be the most affordable way to lay your loved one to rest.
From incorporating nature to travelling to a meaningful place, the possibilities are often endless and make choosing a scattering ceremony a wonderful choice.
Methods of Scattering Ashes
There are many different methods of scattering ashes, some more common than others. These basic methods will help you to plan your ceremony, as you can choose which method you think will be right for you. You can be free to add on any extra features or specific details that you wish.
Note: when choosing your method, remember that you can either opt to physically scatter the ashes with your hand or by pouring/tossing them from a container or urn.
This is a classic method of scattering ashes. It simply involves scattering the ashes across the ground in any spot. This could be a favourite location of the deceased or it could even be a destination that they had always wanted to travel to. Anywhere with a personal connection is a popular option to choose from. Many cemeteries now have designated areas for scattering ashes as well.
Still, there are different ways you can “use” the ground to scatter ashes.
- Raking: The raking method is done on one specific place on the ground, often near trees and flowers. The remains are poured carefully into the ground, so as not to be blown by the wind. They are then gently raked into the soil or sand. This allows the ashes to become one with the earth. Family members may take turns mixing the ashes.
- Trenching: Trenching is a method where a shallow trench or hole is dug in the dirt or sand. The trench only needs to be a few inches deep, and can easily be done with a garden shovel or by hand. The ashes are then poured into the trench. The sand or dirt is raked on top of it. This is often done at a beach right in front of the tidal line so that the water will eventually and gradually sweep the remains away.
- Green Burial: This is when you simply bury the ashes and let them naturally “scatter” overtime. This can be done by placing the ashes into a hole or with an eco-friendly urn. An eco urn will hold the remains while you transport them, but will then biodegrade once in the earth. Another form of green burial involves planting a tree (or another type of plant) on top of the ashes. The ashes are mixed in with soil, and seed or seedling is planted on top. The ashes will help fertilize the tree as it grows. This is a beautiful option, contributing to the cycle of life. It also provides a lovely “marker” for where the person was laid to rest.
Similar to ground scattering, ashes are scattered over water. The scattering can occur at the edge of a body of water, such as a lake, river, or ocean. It can also be boat side while floating in the middle of the body of water.
- Water Burial: Like the eco-friendly urn used for a ground scattering, there are also water-soluble urns available for use in water. Instead of pouring out the ashes into the water, the urn can be dropped into the water. It will eventually dissolve, therefore allowing the currents to spread the ashes.
This method involves scattering the ashes into the air, usually from a great height. This could be from a mountain or cliff, helicopter, plane, air balloon, or even a drone. This might be appropriate for someone who loved to fly or travel or participate in extreme sports.
Due to the more complicated nature of this method, a third-party service often needs to be involved. For example, there are companies available for hire to take the remains up into a plane or helicopter and spread them out in the air. Or you could rent the services of an air balloon pilot to take you up, where you would scatter the ashes yourself into the wind.
- Fireworks: Cremated remains can even be turned into fireworks. Some companies will help you create fireworks using the ashes. This way, you can watch a spectacular display in the sky, celebrating the life of your loved one. You can choose from self-fired fireworks or professionally-fired fireworks.
Additions to Ash Scattering Ceremonies
If you want to add something special to the scattering ceremony, there are a few things from which you may choose.
For a truly special and memorable ceremony, you could choose to release butterflies into the air. Not only is it a brilliant sight, but it’s also symbolic of freedom, harmony, and the transition from life to the afterlife. Butterflies also contribute to the pollination of flowers, furthering the growth of plant life and nature.
You might have heard of releasing doves, but this is not encouraged as it can be extremely harmful to the life of the animals. Most domesticated doves cannot survive in the wild.
Floating Flowers and Candles
If you would like to do a water scattering ceremony and are holding it at dusk or after nightfall, a beautiful addition to the service would be to place flowers and candles in baskets and float them in the water. This is better suited to a calm river or lake.
If you do not plan to recollect the baskets from the water, please make sure the ingredients are environmentally friendly and won’t affect wildlife. You can fashion baskets out of large leaves or grasses, as well as use candles made of biodegradable materials.
Poems and Songs
A lovely way to celebrate the life of your loved one is to read poems during the ceremony or play/sing songs. This can be included in any type of ash scattering ceremony. You can select at which point during the memorial to include the songs, and it is acceptable to do so at the exact time the ashes are being scattered.
A Goodbye Note
It’s often extremely hard to say goodbye when we lose someone close to us. It can help to write a note or letter to the person, expressing our feelings of love or grief. One idea is to take that note and bury it along with the ashes. There are even options for family members to write on biodegradable pieces of paper that contain a small seed inside. When scattered along with the ashes it will eventually grow into flowers.
Around a Campfire
A more informal idea, but still just as nice, would be to light a campfire or bonfire and gather around. As you watch the flames, people can tell stories of the one who has passed, give prayers, recite poems, sing songs, and more. You can also pass around the urn containing the ashes. When you’re ready to release the ashes, sprinkle them onto the bonfire; this can symbolize rebirth and rejoining the universe.
Things to Consider
Before moving ahead with your plan, there are a few other important things to consider.
- Site Marker: Think about whether you would like to set some kind of marker where the ashes were scattered. Many people like to mark the site with carved stone or sign.
- Amount of Ashes Spread: Consider if you want to scatter all of the ashes at once or if you prefer to divide them up for multiple locations. You may divide them between multiple family members as well. Another possibility is scattering the majority of the ashes and then keeping the remainder in an urn.
- Multimedia: Another thing to decide is if you would like photos or video taken of the ceremony. Some people wish to look back and remember the memorial or send the recording to others who were not able to attend. Chronicling the ceremony by photo or video can be a lovely way to keep the memories forever.
- Wind: Finally, although it can be unpleasant to think about, consider the direction of the wind during the ceremony. When you scatter the ashes, take note of the current wind direction and make sure you don’t toss the ashes against the wind. If you don’t, you risk it blowing back or not landing where you meant for it to land.
Doing It Yourself vs. Hiring Someone
You might wonder whether it’s better to scatter the ashes yourself or to hire someone to do it for you. Either one is possible. Many companies can spread the ashes on your behalf.
There might be any number of reasons to hire someone instead of doing it yourself, such as having limited time to travel. You could also hire someone to plan and execute the ceremony. There are professionals, including funeral directors, who have a lot of experience creating and carrying out ash scattering ceremonies. They’ll know how to tailor the ceremony to your needs.
Rules and Regulations
Spreading ashes is legal in many locations, but it’s important to always check the local laws and rules first.
If you are spreading ashes on private property not owned by you, make sure you have the express permission of the owner. Scattering ashes, for the most part, is allowed in national parks, but you must confirm with the individual park authority. They usually want to make sure that there will be no environmental problems.
Water scattering sometimes comes with a few regulations. For example, scatterings at sea usually need to be at least three nautical miles from shore. Some environmental agencies require you to contact them before doing so, or within 30 days after the fact.
If you travel by plane with the cremated remains, always keep the remains in carry-on luggage. Certain airlines do not allow remains to be brought on or put in checked luggage, so make sure you ask. Also, be sure to check airport security regulations.
If travelling to a foreign country, you should refer to your local embassy to see what the federal laws are for bringing in and scattering ashes.
Religious rules and traditions might also come into play, if either you, your family, or the deceased person was religious.
Not all Abrahamic religions view cremation the same way. Traditionally, these are the three religions’ views on cremation:
- Catholicism does allow cremation but does not permit the scattering of ashes, and so the remains must instead be interred.
- Judaism is generally against cremation as a whole, and Jewish law denotes that people must be buried on land.
- Islam frowns upon being cremated or attending a ceremony. Remains must be buried.
If religion is a determining factor, you should consult your religious leader or local clergy on the matter.
How to Decide on the Type of Ceremony
With so many options available, it might be difficult to make a decision about which type of ceremony to choose. Important elements to factor in are:
- How much you can afford to spend
- How simple or elaborate you wish it to be
- Whether you want the ceremony to be small or larger, private or public
- Whether you want to travel or not (and therefore cause others to need to travel)
- How soon after cremation you’d like to hold the ceremony
- If you’d like to have some type of minister or leader of ceremonies
- If you want to include participation or just have witnesses
- If you’d like to utilize any personal effects of the deceased such as jewellery or photos
If you are having trouble, come up with a list of things that your loved one enjoyed, hobbies they had, meaningful places, etc., and go from there. If they spent a lot of time on the water during their life, it might be nice to honour them with a water scattering. If they loved to garden, perhaps you might consider a raking ceremony with flowers.
Whatever option you choose, rest assured that your loved one will be fully honoured and cherished with an ash scattering ceremony, and the ones closest to them provided with peace and wonderful memories to last forever.