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How to Scatter Ashes

Tré Miller Rodriguez, in the online article, "The 9 Things No One Tells You about Scattering Ashes", opens the conversation with the question, "What sort of ritual could be had if your husband died in the bed you shared and his ashes reside in your apartment?" She goes on to write, "The ritual found me a few months later. My suitcase was open, and I was attempting to pack for the annual Fourth of July trip we had always taken to Lake Winnipesaukee. A favorite cousin was accompanying me, but I felt overwhelmed about visiting Alberto’s 'happy place' without him. It could have been the close proximity of my suitcase to his urn or the six-pack my cousin and I had consumed, but I suddenly realized I could take Alberto with me."

For families who have chosen cremation for a loved one, the next decision involves what to do with the remains. Some choose to keep the cremated remains in their home, have them placed in a columbarium niche at a local cemetery, or scatter the ashes in a meaningful place.


The First Steps

In order to plan a ceremony for scattering ashes, it is important to understand what is involved. For many families the loss of a loved one leaves a void that cannot possibly be filled. However, through memorials like scattering ashes ceremonies and memorial services, healing can begin. When planning these families must first look into their options for cremation prices, cremation urns and most importantly research the local guidelines for conducting such ceremonies.

Ash Scattering TreeWhen it comes time to sit down and plan, think first about your deceased loved one and the life that they lived. Then, consider the options for their memorial. It is important to find the right location and add all necessary personal touches. Every person is different, so plan for an ashes spreading ceremony that is unique, personalized and thoughtful. Some questions to help you begin:


  • Who do you want to participate in scattering the ashes?
  • When and where should the event be held?
  • What activities would you like to include in the ceremony?


Types of Ash Scattering Ceremonies

A casting ceremony, where the ashes are tossed into the wind, or sprinkled on the surface of a lake, river, or into the sea (either from the shore, or while on the deck of a boat), is perhaps the most common image we have when thinking about ash scattering events. Ms. Rodriguez suggests, "If you’re releasing ash into a body of water, buy or pick fresh flowers to release in tandem. This enables you to visually follow the ash flow and makes the ceremony slightly less melancholy. De-stem the flowers in advance and place them in a sealable bag with a wet paper towel." Here's another tip from our cremation professionals: before attempting to cast the cremated remains, check the direction of the wind, and cast downwind to avoid having the ashes come back to cover the hair and clothing of guests. Basically, no matter the size of the gathering, an ash scattering event can be anything you want it to be. However, it may help you in the planning of the event to know the five types of scattering ceremonies.

  1. floating ceremony requires the purchase of a water-soluble urn, which will float for a few minutes before sinking below the surface to bio-degrade naturally.
  2. trenching ceremony involves digging a shallow trench into the soil, which is filled from the urn, and then raked over at the conclusion of the ceremony.
  3. Many families – especially those who have planted a tree in remembrance of their loved one – choose a ringing ceremony. A trench can be cut into the soil or the ashes can be sprinkled directly on the ground around the tree or shrub.
  4. raking ceremony involves pouring the ashes on the ground and then raking them into the soil at the conclusion of the ceremony. This can be a very effortless way to scatter the ashes and is appropriate for scattering ceremonies held on privately-owned land.
  5. sky ceremony involves the use of a private airplane and does not usually involve family members.


Considerations for Scattering Ashes

Cremation provides families with more time to arrange where and how to scatter the ashes. While there is no policing agency overseeing scattering, there are some basics you should know:

  • If you plan on scattering ashes on private property, it's smart to receive written permission from the owner.
  • Public parks require that you obtain a scattering permit.
  • There are no regulations regarding ash scattering on uncontrolled public lands; you need to use your own judgment.
  • You should not scatter ashes within 100 yards of public roads or trails.Ash Scattering Ceremony
  • The cremation container must be disposed of separately and in an environmentally-safe manner.
  • Scattering ashes in inland waters is governed by the Clean Water Act so it's important to obtain a permit from the agency that oversees waterways.
  • Ash scattering at sea must be done at a minimum of three nautical miles from the coastline.
  • Any flowers or wreaths used in the ash scattering ceremony held at sea must decompose. No plastic flowers or other non-decomposable items should be left behind.
  • For ash scattering done at sea, the Environmental Protection Agency requires that you notify the regional office in writing within 30 days after the event.


A Final Note about Ash Scattering

Knowing the right location in which to scatter ashes is a very important part of planning a scattering ceremony. After all, you really can't scatter the ashes just anywhere. Unless you're going to scatter the ashes on your own land, you'll need to ask permission of the county or city in which you live, or if you're hoping to hold your ash scattering ceremony on private land, the landowner needs to be consulted.

If you've got questions about any part of what you've read here; or would like additional information about what to do when scattering ashes, we invite you to call us at (516) 223-3516. We will be honored to assist you in any way we can.

Online Sources: Rodriguez, Tré Miller, "The 9 Things No One Tells You about Scattering Ashes", Modern Loss, May 22, 2014, accessed October, 2014