When planning a funeral for a loved one, there’s a certain finality to burial or entombment that cremation can lack. The process of burial is a physical action that can help families come to terms with the fact that a loved one is no longer here and that they must say goodbye. But sometimes, when families receive a loved one’s ashes, or cremated remains, after cremation services there’s still a largely unanswered question—what do you do with them?
As a funeral director, I’ve spent much time with families, answering that question. There are several options when it comes to what to do with a loved one’s cremated remains. Among them include burying them in a gravesite, interring them in a niche or columbarium, or keeping them at home in an urn. However, many families prefer to scatter the cremated remains of their loved one. With an ash scattering ceremony, scattering can bring peace of mind and healing to the bereaved.
There are many ways to personalize the ceremony and make it as unique and special as your loved one. The relationships and memories we have with our loved ones are so nuanced and deep, that what may not be right for one family will be the perfect fit for another. There are many wonderful ways to honor a life through a scattering ceremony.
When people first think about scattering ashes, oftentimes they don’t realize it can include more than just the releasing of the remains. An ash scattering ceremony may include an officiant, music, readings, a eulogy, symbols of remembrance such as lighting candles or planting a tree, or time for quiet reflections and/or prayers in addition to scattering their loved one’s cremated remains in a favorite location.
Families may choose to scatter on private property or obtain a permit to scatter on public lands. My own family chose to scatter my grandmother at her favorite place in Vail. We stood in a circle and took turns talking about what we loved most about her before each of us participating in scattering her cremated remains. It helped make our loss feel final and was a touching tribute.
Scattering ceremonies can be incredibly unique in where they take place. They typically are held in a location the deceased held near and dear to their heart. One of the benefits of scattering is not having to feel rushed to make a decision about where your loved one’s final resting place will be. Please keep in mind that many places have laws regarding scattering, and that if the location you choose isn’t your own private property, you will need to obtain the proper permits and permissions to scatter.
Regardless of how or where you scatter a loved one’s ashes, the process can be a step toward healing in grief. As I mentioned earlier, the act of dispersing a loved one’s remains can help create closure. It can also create new memories with your family and friends, ones that can bring warmth and positivity to a difficult circumstance. Connecting to your loved one’s memory, and reconnecting with each other in a meaningful place, can create a sense of peace and resolution. The scattering of cremated remains can symbolize letting go and returning your loved one to nature, which I have found can ultimately aid in the healing journey.
There are a few things that families should know before scattering a loved one’s remains. At Horan & McConaty, we offer scattering vessels and urns to assist with scattering. However, the cremated remains aren’t placed directly in the urn. We first place the cremated remains in a protective plastic bag with a zip-tie to keep the remains secure. You may want to have a pair of scissors on hand to break the zip tie. I also recommend bringing small, disposable cups to make the scattering process easier or disposable gloves, if a family prefers handling the ashes directly. And, of course, try not to scatter the ashes into the wind. Inhaling dust that comes along with the cremated remains could be harmful.
Choosing to hold a scattering ceremony can be a beautiful and beneficial experience for you and those close to you. Our funeral directors can help you plan a gathering that holds deep significance and reflects the personality of your loved one, providing expert insights and ideas.