Ash Scattering Advice: Do’s & Don’ts

Ash Scattering

Scattering the ashes of a loved one and understanding the “how-to’s” of the practice can be overwhelming – especially if this is your first time scattering ashes and others are attending the ceremony with you. Losing a loved one is an emotional and, at times, exhausting experience. If the deceased asked you to scatter his or her ashes somewhere of personal significance, the last thing you need is more stress as you contemplate carrying out such a meaningful task. This article aims to provide insight into how to prepare leading up to the ash scattering, as well as ease any concerns you have regarding the actual event.

But first, let us touch on the frequency of scattering cremated remains. To better understand the needs of families during the funeral process, Mapalife recently administered a US nationwide survey asking people about their experience with cremation. One key takeaway was the frequency of which people were being scattered. Of 649 respondents surveyed (all of whom had been involved with a friend or relatives cremation), 27% reported that their loved one had their ashes scattered in one location, while an additional 10% had their remains scattered in multiple locations.

With 48.6% of US deaths leading to cremation in 2015, our sample size suggests that of the 2,626,418 people who passed away in 2015, over 470,000 had their remains scattered. Clearly, ash scattering has become a relatively commonplace type of memorial celebration (one that doesn’t seem to get the discussion its popularity warrants). To help ensure that all goes as well as it could, let’s cover some of the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of ash scattering.

DO…

  • Do get permission from the property owner if scattering on someone else’s private property.
  • Do perform a little research on state and local scattering regulations if scattering on public property.
    • Nolo.com is one of our favorite online resources. To quickly understand your state’s stance on scattering remains, go here, select your state, and scroll down to the section titled “Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?”
  • Do check with the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) if scattering at sea. It requires that you scatter more than 3 nautical miles from land and submit a burial at sea form. The MPRSA does not apply to lakes, rivers or other inland waters. Seeing as some states prohibit the scattering of ashes in local bodies of water, we recommend you contact your state DNR agency to ensure that all regulations are followed.
  • Do check the weather, and think through what you would do if there is subpar weather on the day you planned a memorial with friends and family. Rain, snow, or even fog can affect the release of ashes.
  • Do consider wearing gloves when handling the ashes. While cremated remains (which technically are pulverized bone fragments, not ashes) pose absolutely no threat to your health, handling them can leave residue on your hands that you may have a hard time wiping off without water.   
  • Do decide on scattering details ahead of time. While “scattering” is the term used when placing someone’s ashes in nature, there are different ways to perform the act. In addition to water release or scattering on the ground, remains can be raked or trenched into the ground.

DON’T…

  • Don’t scatter in a busy public area without prior permission. While this opera-enthusiast may have been nobly trying to follow through on his mentor’s last wish, don’t do this (and since we’re on the topic…we don’t recommend doing this or this either).  
  • Don’t have ashes blown your way. If scattering remains by throwing into the air (also known as casting), be sure to release the remains downwind.
  • Don’t leave home without the remains (especially if travelling far). The last thing you want is to arrive at the location, get set up…and then discover the deceased’s ashes were left behind. Also: check with your funeral home for proper storage and transportation of remains prior to the scattering. 
  • Don’t forget the location. According to our survey data, 63% of people want to know the location where relatives were scattered. Marking the location with unique GPS coordinates on Mapalife is an easy (and free) way to share this significant place with friends and family.

For more helpful advice on how to plan an ash scattering ceremony, check out our other blog post here.

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