How to Scatter Cremated Remains or "Ashes"

There are many meaningful ways to scatter cremated remains

Family scattering ashes
There are many meaningful ways to scatter the cremated remains of a loved one. Photo © Godong/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Among many reasons contributing to the rising consumer preference for cremation in the United States is the fact that cremated remains offer surviving loved ones numerous final-disposition options, i.e., what they can do with the remains. Perhaps best known among these choices is scattering the cremated remains somewhere special to the deceased and/or his or her family, but there's more than one way to accomplish this.

This article explains how to scatter the cremated remains or "ashes" of your loved one in the manner you find most meaningful.

How to Scatter Cremated Remains or "Ashes"

Most people probably imagine that scattering cremated remains involves simply taking an urn and pouring the ashes into the air. Depicted in numerous movies and television shows, often comically due to the wind (see "Keep in Mind When Scattering..." below), this is actually only one method of scattering cremated remains, and there's generally more involved beforehand.

First, you should select a site or location meaningful to the deceased and/or other loved ones. Then, you should determine how many people will physically perform the scattering itself, i.e., one person or several close family members or friends.

Next, you should decide whether to keep the cremated remains in a single vessel or divide them beforehand based on what you have in mind.

Many companies today sell smaller individual urns or memorial "keepsake" versions designed to hold a portion of a cremated individual's remains, which might prove convenient when several people will scatter the remains. However, many families use the single temporary container provided by their funeral home or cremation provider, or a permanent urn they purchased, regardless of how many loved ones will perform the scattering.

By the way, even if you choose to scatter your loved one's cremated remains, it is not uncommon, and perfectly acceptable, to keep a small portion of the ashes as a permanent, physical reminder of the deceased. Many survivors place these remains in memorial jewelry or an individual urn specifically designed for this purpose.

After you have made your decisions, you can then scatter the cremated remains via any of the following methods:

Air Scattering:

• One person can pour all of the cremated remains directly out of the temporary container or permanent urn at once.

• He or she can release a portion of the ashes before passing the urn to someone else, who will do the same.

• One or more individuals can use their hands to toss a portion of the remains into the air, often preceded by sharing a prayer or a favorite memory about the deceased.

• If the cremated remains were divided beforehand into smaller portions/containers, group members can scatter them all at once or one at a time as others watch.

Earth Scattering:

Many people do not realize that families can choose to bury the inurned remains of cremated loved ones in cemetery and memorial park gravesites, just like casketed remains. Burying the remains within an urn is possible elsewhere, obviously, but many families want to return the ashes directly to the earth by:

• Releasing them slowly onto the ground in a shape, e.g., a heart, a star, a peace sign or a word, such as the name of the deceased. Survivors often use a small rake afterward to mix the ashes with the soil.

• Emptying the container into a deep hole beneath a memorable spot, such as a tree, prominent rock or some other natural or manmade marker, and then covering the hole with soil.

• "Trenching," which involves digging a shallow furrow in the ground -- in a straight line or a desired shape -- before pouring the cremated remains inside and covering with soil.

Water Scattering:

• Similar to some of the scattering techniques above, you can pour all of the cremated remains directly out of the temporary container or permanent urn at once, whether from the shore or via a canoe, boat, kayak, etc.

• Each survivor can release a portion of the ashes before passing the urn to someone else, who will do the same.

• One or more individuals can use their hands to toss a portion of the remains onto the water's surface.

• If divided beforehand into smaller portions/containers, group members can scatter the ashes all at once or one at a time as others watch.

Keep in Mind When Scattering...

While it might seem obvious, it's easy to forget this tip given the emotional nature of scattering cremated remains: You should always check the strength and direction of the wind before you scatter. While it might seem funny on T.V. or in a movie to see an actor receive a mouthful of "ash" after failing to take the wind into account, this is a mishap you should avoid.

In addition, bring along some water and paper/cloth towels in case you need to clean up afterward. If you and/or other loved ones scatter the cremated remains by hand, then understand that the finer, dust-like particles will stick to your skin, particularly when perspiration, hand lotion, water or some other "wetting agent" is present.

Finally, most people conceive of cremated remains as a fine, powdery substance similar to the ash that remains after burning logs in a fireplace or campfire pit. The reality is, however, that cremated remains generally comprise a mixture of finer, dust-like particles; larger sand-like bits; and even heavier fragments of human bone. Thus, you should not expect all of your loved one's cremated remains to drift away in the air; some portion will probably fall directly to the ground when scattering.

Related Articles You Might Enjoy:
Are Cremated Remains Really Ashes?
How is a Body Cremated?
10 Alternatives to Scattering Cremated Remains

Continue Reading