In addition to the more traditional avenues of cremation burial or preservation in a columbarium, the scattering of ashes is a meaningful and time-honored means of memorializing a loved one after cremation. There are several methods for the release of ashes that can be personalized in any number of ways. Much of the decision depends on the wishes of the deceased and how those left behind want to honor that person’s memory. Consider your choices carefully; once the ashes are scattered they are gone forever, unless you keep a portion of the remains for remembrance or as part of a keepsake.
How to Scatter Ashes
Cremation ashes may be scattered personally or through a service depending on the method of dispersal. If you choose to perform your own ash scattering, it is best to have one person at a time control the release from the container while the others observe. A group may take turns doing a partial scattering one at a time, or they might release the ashes simultaneously from smaller containers each containing a portion of the ashes.
However the scattering takes place, it is important to cast the ashes downwind to keep the remains from blowing onto your party. Cremation ashes are not in any way a health risk, but some may find the contact disturbing or disrespectful. The ashes will consist of dense, sand-like matter and a few bone fragments that will likely fall to the ground quickly, but some will remain airborne in the form of a whitish-gray cloud upon dispersal.
There are a variety of creative options for how and where the ashes are scattered. Often, cremated remains are dispersed at a place that had personal or philosophical significance to the deceased. It can be a favorite destination such as a beach, forest or meadow; or someplace that reflects the person’s everyday life such as a park, golf course or even their own home. Keep in mind when choosing a location that there are laws governing the scattering of cremation remains. These laws vary from state to state and will affect how and where the ashes can be scattered, and whether you will need a permit to do so.
Common Dispersal Methods
- Scattering by Air – A very symbolic gesture of freedom and release, scattering ashes into the air is a versatile method used to disperse remains on private and public lands. After the scattering, the ashes can be ceremonially raked into the ground or left alone for the earth to claim.
- Scattering by Trench – After a shallow trench or groove is dug into the soil, the ashes are ceremonially poured in and then covered with soil. The trench can simply be a hole, or shaped into a symbol or to spell out a word. Some people scatter ashes using the trench technique on a beach and time it so the tide comes, breaks down the uncovered trench, and washes the ashes out to sea.
- Scattering by Burial – Similar to the trench method but more akin to a traditional cremation burial, except the ashes are buried in a location other than a cemetery. The ashes can simply be poured into the hole or placed in a biodegradable urn for burial.
- Scattering by Water – The remains are scattered onto a body of water from the shore, a dock or a boat. Loved ones may place flowers, petals or floating candles into the water alongside the remains as a tribute. These will float on top of the water while the ashes sink below the surface.
Some Unique Options
- Grief Journey – Cremation ashes don’t have to be scattered all in one place. If you divide the remains into several small containers you can scatter the ashes wherever you see fit. Plan a vacation to visit places of significance, or make a spiritual pilgrimage. Another option is to keep the ashes in an urn and remove a tablespoon or two for scattering whenever you travel or move to a new place.
- Ascension Release – Instead of being dispersed from the ground, another option is to have the ashes scattered from the sky. This is usually done by professionals, who cast the ashes from a private plane over sea or land. Other options include - but are not limited to - hang gliders, hot air balloons and weather balloons. Some will allow you to do the scattering yourself or will coordinate with your ceremony to fly over and scatter the ashes so that the dispersal can be seen from the ground.
- Memorial Crafting – A portion of the remains can be preserved inside a keepsake…or crafted into one. For example, a small amount of ashes can be handcrafted into glass-blown tokens, jewelry or glass art and inscribed with a memorial message. Cremation ashes can also be mixed into charcoal, paint and tattoo ink, or used in a more involved process to create objects such as fireworks or even diamonds. Many memorial crafts such as these are created by artists all over the country, so take the time to explore what possibilities are available to you.