How to Plan a Scattering Ashes Ceremony
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Ash scattering ceremonies are a popular choice for families who have had a loved one cremated. Every ash scattering ceremony can be different in many respects, so here are some ideas to get you started if you’re in charge of planning one.
What is an ash scattering ceremony?
An ash scattering ceremony is when friends and loved ones of someone who passed away gather to witness the scattering of the cremains of that individual. Ash scattering ceremonies can take place in a number of locations, anywhere from in someone’s backyard to out on the open seas.
Special ideas for scattering ashes
Here are some special ideas to consider when scattering ashes. Most of these can be done at any point during the ceremony.
Doves. Releasing doves while you scatter the ashes can make for a beautiful and heartwarming experience. Doves symbolize love and peace and aren’t uncommon at special occasions.
Music. Playing your loved one’s favorite song or album during the ashes scattering ceremony can help bring some of their personality to the ceremony. You can also opt for those attending to sing your loved one’s favorite song or a hymn during the ceremony for a more communal atmosphere.
A final goodbye note or eulogy. Delivering a eulogy or reading a final goodbye note during a scattering ceremony is a nice way to pay tribute to the person who passed away while sharing the story of their life with those who are with you.
Fireworks. If you’re going for a more celebratory atmosphere and tone, shooting off fireworks (safely) can be a great way to celebrate the life of the person who passed away while spreading their ashes.
Lanterns. You can find lanterns that release into the sky and into the water, making this a versatile option to include in your scattering ceremony. Loved ones can write messages or say a few words before releasing their lanterns into the air or water. This can also make for a beautiful display during the night time.
Release urns. You can purchase a release urn that you place the cremains inside of. When it’s time for the release ceremony, the release urn will release the cremains into the air into a cloud. This can help with those that are worried about a messy or unfortunate scattering ceremony and can create a unique experience for those attending. You can read more about release urns here.
Popular places to scatter ashes
Scattering ashes ceremonies can take place in many different locations, it just depends on your family’s preferences (and your loved one’s preferences). You’ll want to consider accessibility, weather conditions, and ease of use when planning a ceremony, as well as local and federal regulations regarding scattered cremains. Here are some special ways to hold a scattering of the ashes ceremony.
In a garden
Scattering ashes in a garden is a great idea that lets you always keep your loved one’s memory close, especially if it’s a private or personal garden. You can also consider doing what’s known as a trenching ceremony, where the family digs a small trench and the ashes are scattered inside the trench. To add to this, you can spread seeds along with the ashes inside the trench to encourage flowers and other plant life to grow alongside the scattered remains. When the flowers and plants bloom, you’ll be reminded of your loved one.
In a favorite nature spot
Was your loved one a fan of the outdoors? Was there a particular spot that they loved and visited? Consider hosting your scattering ashes ceremony at this spot. You may need to check in with the park director or double check your local laws to ensure it’s legal to spread the ashes before hosting this, but nature provides a great spot for you to host a ceremony for your loved one.
At a favorite body of water
If you’re unable to go out on a body of water, you can gather your loved ones near the edge of the body of water for the scattering of ashes ceremony. You can incorporate some of the previous ideas surrounding ashes ceremonies (such as lanterns or music) to make this moment more special. Releasing the ashes into the water at a favorite lake, river, ocean, or pond can make for a memorable experience.
On a favorite body of water
If you can, scattering the ashes at sea or on a lake is a popular way to release someone’s ashes and can be enjoyable for those attending. If your loved one was a fan of being out on the water, this may be the right choice. You can even consider placing the ashes in a biodegradable urn or container that releases the ashes after sinking to the bottom for a few minutes.
In the air
There are services that will take your loved one’s ashes up into the sky and spread them for you through the air. While you won’t be able to join them on this trip, you can still make a beautiful ceremony out of it by inviting those close to you to witness the plane taking off beforehand and holding your ceremony during the time the plane is in the air. Invite people to share stories, memories, prayers, or passages in memory of your loved one and be in community with one another while your loved one’s ashes are spread in the sky.
What to say when scattering ashes
What you say (and what others say) when scattering ashes is a personal choice and decision. You can of course request that folks remain silent during the ceremony or share what feels right to them, this is up to you. Here are some ideas for things one might say during a scattering ceremony
Read a poem. Poems are wonderful ways to get across your feelings and a deeper message through someone else’s words. If you have a poem that you feel is right, try to keep in mind the length of the poem and the relevance to the event, as well as how the family may feel about it. It may even be a good idea to reach out to them prior to reading it to ensure they’d be okay with it being read.
Share a favorite moment or memory. Pick a brief moment or memory that you had with the deceased and share it with those surrounding you. It can sometimes help to pick a moment or memory that’s uplifting or really shows the personality of the person who passed away.
Share an important lesson. If a memory doesn’t feel right, consider sharing an important lesson you learned from the person who passed away. The lesson could have been a direct or indirect one, but it may help others who are there. It can also help share a bit about the type of person who passed away and what they valued in life.
Bible readings for scattering ashes
You can also consider reading from the Bible when scattering ashes. Here are some passages that may suit you.
- 1 Peter 5:10 - "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."
- Psalm 34:17-20 - "The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
- 1 Peter 5:7 - "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."
- Matthew 11:28-30 - "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you... My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
- 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 - "Blessed be the God and Father... who comforts us in all our affliction...
- Matthew 5:4 - Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
- Psalm 121:1-8 - "I lift up my eyes to the hills - From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth."
- Psalms 116:5-6 - "The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simple hearted; when I was in great need, he saved me."
- Genesis 28:15 - "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go... I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
- Hebrews 4:16 - "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
- Isaiah 58:9 - "Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I."
- Psalms 23:4 - "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
- 2 Thessalonians 3:16 - "Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way."
- Psalms 139:12 - "Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you."
- Isaiah 49:13 - "For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones."
- Psalms 48:14 - "For this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end."
- Psalms 126:5-6 - "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him."
- Psalm 23:1-6 - "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
- Psalms 109:21-22 - "But you, O Sovereign Lord, deal well with me for your name's sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me."
- John 14:27 - "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
Scattering ashes laws & regulations
When it comes to scattering ashes, you’ll need to consider the laws and regulations of both your state and the federal government. Each state has its own set of laws and regulations regarding the scattering of ashes, so you’ll want to check your own state (or the state where you’ll be scattering the ashes) first. Most states allow ashes to be scattered on land, on private property, as long as you have the permission of the owner of the property. If scattering ashes on public land, you’ll need to request permission from the owner (usually local government). When it comes to scattering ashes over water, the federal government requires ashes be spread at least three nautical miles from land. You can find out more about federal requirements regarding burials at sea at the EPA’s website. If scattering by air, you’re unlikely to encounter a law or regulation that prohibits this from happening so long as the cremated remains are removed from the container before being spread.
If you’re planning an ash scattering ceremony, you’ll need to keep those attending in touch and up to date with all the important details. Starting a memorial website will help you in this endeavor and is entirely free.