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8 Tips for Planning an Ash Scattering Ceremony

Take control of your end-of-life arrangements by pre-planning a spreading of ashes ceremony with your family. Our step-by-step guide makes it easier.

Everything You Need to Know About Scattering Ashes

Planning your own memorial services with your family can provide unexpected comfort during a difficult time. It allows you to express your wishes for after you've passed and grants your family the peace of mind of knowing exactly how to honor your memory.

While your family may already be aware of your preference for cremation instead of a traditional burial, or your desire to have your ashes scattered rather than interred, it's important to note that there are various methods of cremation available. Additionally, certain steps need to be taken to ensure that your ashes, also referred to as cremated remains or cremains, can be scattered in the location of your choosing. By proactively planning ahead, you can lighten the burden on your family when the time comes.

To assist you in navigating this process, we have created a step-by-step guide for pre-planning a spreading of ashes ceremony with your family. This will make the process a little easier and help ensure that your wishes are fulfilled in a meaningful way. 

1. Choose a Type of Cremation and Provider 

Before planning your ash spreading ceremony, be sure to look for a cremation provider that meets both your personal preferences and your financial considerations. While weighing your options, keep in mind that arranging a traditional cremation through a funeral home means paying for more than just the cremation service itself. A full-service cremation may include things like embalming and a viewing, as well as memorial planning — which, if you’re already planning a spreading of ashes ceremony, may be an unnecessary extra cost for you and your family. 

On the other hand, direct cremation offers a simpler, more affordable option. Direct cremation services involve only the fundamental steps of the cremation process. These include transportation, preparation, and cremation as well as returning the ashes to your family once the process is complete. This leaves you free to arrange a spreading of ashes ceremony on your own terms and schedule, often at a fraction of the cost of most traditional cremation service packages. 

Some funeral homes now also offer aqua cremation as is an alternative to flame cremation. Sometimes called alkaline hydrolysis, it is a water-based process. 

2. Choose a Location for Your Scattering Ceremony 

Think about places that carry a lot of meaning for you and your loved one — somewhere you have a lot of good memories, perhaps, or a place you’ve always wanted to go. Often, the most meaningful places are those closest to home — which is why many choose to have their spreading of ashes ceremonies in their very own backyards. 

However, you may also choose to have your ashes spread elsewhere, on public or privately-owned land. Many cemeteries and churchyards offer scattering gardens specifically for this purpose, but state and national parks are also suitable choices. 

Whatever location you’d like to choose, be sure to check your state and county laws to see what regulations you’ll need to keep in mind while making your arrangements. You’ll also need to make sure that ash scattering is allowed in the specific location you’ve chosen; most public parks will permit it, but not all. Take care to get permission for scattering ahead of time and obtain any permits which do not require a certified death certificate. 

3. Pick a Scattering Method 

You know you would like your ashes to be scattered, but do you know how you want it to be done? You might be surprised at the options available to you. 

Scattering on Land 

Probably the first option to come to mind for many, a land-based ceremony for spreading ashes is often among the simplest to arrange. You may choose to have your ashes cast over a particularly beloved spot of land, sprinkled around a bush or tree, or raked or trenched directly into the ground to truly become a part of the earth. Some even choose to become a tree after cremation with biodegradable urns.

Scattering at Sea 

If your chosen memorial location is by the ocean, you may simply ask that your ashes be scattered out over the water at a certain time or place. Or, you may opt for a floating ceremony in which your ashes will be placed in a water-soluble urn before being cast into the water. Biodegradable flowers and wreaths may also be cast into the water alongside your ashes, if you and your family so choose. For this option, your family will likely need to charter a boat, as the EPA prohibits the spreading of ashes less than 3 nautical miles from land.

Scattering by Air 

In addition to providing a unique view for your loved ones, scattering by air may be a good alternative if you find that you’re unable to scatter by land in the location you have in mind for your ceremony. Aerial memorial services are possible with the help of a hired airplane and pilot. Most plane charters charge per mile traveled and per passenger, so if this is your preferred scattering method, you may want to plan for only one or two people to fly with your ashes while the rest of your family participates from the ground.

Unique Scattering Methods 

Though not easily available or inexpensive, some choose to send their loved ones’ ashes into space or in a fireworks display. 

4. Choose an Officiator for the Ceremony 

This may be a religious or spiritual leader, or a close friend or family member: someone who knows you well and whom you can trust to be dependable during a difficult time. This person will be in charge of making sure your ceremony proceeds smoothly when the time comes. They should be well aware not only of your current plans but of why you’ve chosen these arrangements, so that they will be prepared to make suitable adjustments if any changes need to be made after you’ve passed on. 

5. Decide Who Will Spread Your Ashes 

This can be the same person who will be leading the ceremony, but it doesn’t have to be. Either way, it should be someone you can trust to be responsible and respectful. You may also choose to ask multiple people to take part in the actual spreading of your ashes. Be sure to talk with each individual whom you want involved, to ensure not only that they are aware of their responsibilities, but that they are comfortable with them. 

You can request the use of decorative scoops for the ceremony, or you can ask that your ashes be separated into individual containers beforehand and distributed accordingly. 

6. Design Your Ceremony 

Often, the best strategy when designing a memorial service is to write down (or ask a loved one to write down) a list of things you’d like included, in the order you’d like to include them. Prayers, poems, or eulogies are common in many memorials. Is there a certain song you’d like to be played or performed? Are there particular keepsakes you’d like guests to take home after the ceremony? How simple or complex your ceremony is will depend on your preferences and your financial situation. Don’t forget to include a list of guests you want to be invited. There are many websites that can help you find poetry, music, prayers and rituals.

7. Share Your Ceremony Plans 

How involved your family is in the planning process is ultimately up to your discretion. Involving others in the planning process can be very helpful, as you can ask them for opinions or help with things like researching cremation providers, local ash scattering laws, or making a guest list. However, if you prefer to make your plans on your own, make sure to let at least one person know what those plans are, and where to find any related documents they may need for reference or for finalizing your arrangements once you’ve passed away. 

8. Arranging a Spreading of Ashes Ceremony Ahead of Time 

Making a plan ahead of time, together, can help guide you and your family to a place of greater peace of mind and understanding. Loss is never easy, but making memorial arrangements in advance can help make it less difficult for everyone involved. 

For another unique way to memorialize your loved one with ashes, take a look at our article From Ashes to Living Memorials, Cremation Ash Tattoos Gain Popularity.