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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."

We share her comments to prove a point: sometimes the when and where of ash scattering eludes us for a time. Yet, there can come that serendipitous moment (as there was for Ms. Rodriguez) when you realize an opportunity for a reverential, meaningful ash scattering event has presented itself. And we encourage you to act on the inspiration. But if no such inspiration presents itself, what should you do then?

The First Steps

Are you currently the caretaker of a loved one's cremated remains, and feel the need to make arrangements to scatter their ashes? The information here will help you to learn how to scatter ashes, as well as support you in planning for an ash scattering event. Certainly, as in Ms. Rodriguez's case; serendipity, the fortunate confluence of fact, circumstance and imagination, could become a part of your ash scattering experience. But if you're not willing to wait for such a happenstance; here's what we'd like you to know about what to do when scattering ashes.  The first step involves making important decisions regarding event logistics; either on your own, or as a family. Take time to consider the answers to the following questions:

  • Who do you want to participate in scattering the ashes? Sometimes a private occasion, and sometimes a more inclusive one; an ash scattering ceremony should include all those people who would find the event both meaningful and healing.
  • When and where should the event be held? When it comes to selecting the right place in which to scatter your loved one's ashes, Ms. Rodriguez offers this advice: "If your first choice is under whelming, keep looking until you reach a place that gives you goose bumps."
  • What activities would you like to include in the ceremony? Certainly it's not only a matter of spreading a loved one's ashes; an ash scattering ceremony provides you with a context in which to celebrate their life. Fill the time you have with meaningful activities, such as the reading of favorite literary or scriptural passages; story sharing, or the singing of one or more of your loved one's favorite songs.

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 six types of scattering ceremonies.

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. Additionally, there are five other types of scattering events:

  • A 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.
  • A 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. Depending upon the quality of the soil, this could prove to be a challenge.
  • 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 sprinkled directly on the ground around the tree or shrub.
  • A raking ceremony involves pouring the ashes onto 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 backyard scattering ceremonies held on privately-owned land.
  • A sky ceremony involves the use of a private airplane or other means of dispersal, and does not usually involve family members. Check our Community Links page for a list of professional ash scattering services, both in our area and across the country; any one of which would serve you well in scattering a loved one's cremated remains.

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. We'd like you to know one more thing: 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 (519) 941-1392. 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