Ash Scattering Advice: Do’s & Don’ts

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.

Planning Your Cremation

Thinking and talking about your death is a difficult and frequently unnatural thing to do, but more and more medical and financial experts are encouraging people to think through their final disposition wishes and make their wishes known to family members.

This article is for the growing number of people who have decided that they want to be cremated. While surely not all-encompassing, the below can serve as a starting point to get both you and your family prepared ahead of time.

Initial Considerations

Personal preference should ultimately be your guiding force, however there are several factors that will influence the decision-making surrounding your cremation process.

  • Religious background – If you’ve already decided to be cremated, then you likely aren’t Eastern Orthodox, Muslim, or Mormon. While many religions in the past few decades have softened their stance on cremation, several (Catholic included) have preferences for how ashes are handled. If you’re unsure, we recommend that you reach out to your local religious leader.
  • Funeral service preference – Cremation provides flexibility since there is no need to hold a funeral service immediately following a death. The exception to this is if you prefer to hold a funeral service with the body present prior to being cremated. Otherwise, your choice is between direct cremation or cremation followed by a memorial service at a later (more convenient) date.
  • State regulations – Cremation laws vary at the US state and local level. Certain states ban funeral homes from running crematoriums, while other states mandate that a funeral home oversee the cremation process (i.e. consumers cannot go directly to a crematorium). Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), the $20 billion funeral industry has it’s fair share of convoluted regulation. To understand what laws may impact you, we recommend you check out Nolo’s state by state glance at funeral laws and disposition laws.
  • Cost considerations – While cremation is generally less expensive than traditional burial, your funeral bill can quickly increase depending on your desires for funeral services and memorial products. It is encouraged to shop around on price, as similar services can cost thousands of dollars more (or less) at different locations. The 2015 NFDA Cremation and Burial Report was kind enough to share data on 2014 median funeral homes costs.

funeral costs

*It’s worth noting that the 2014 NFDA report highlighted (in the states that allow it) that direct cremation was significantly less expensive ($1,300 instead of $2,200) at direct cremation providers compared to NFDA full-service funeral homes. For those hoping to become a savvy consumer in the funeral industry, we encourage you to read the ten tips given by the Funeral Consumers Alliance. And for those who need help financing the costs of a funeral, check out this helpful article on cost considerations for widowed spouses. 

Choosing a Final Resting Place

Many who are cremated will end up in a cemetery – either buried in a grave with a cremation casket or entombed in a columbarium with an urn. However, the popularity of cemeteries seems to be decreasing while the rate of cremation increases. One study by FAMIC, the Funeral and Management Information Council, found that the percentage of US adults who owned cemetery property decreased from 50% in 2010 to 34% in 2015. Cremation gives people the ability to be unique with their final resting place – with growing popularity in scattering remains, creating keepsake items out of cremated remains, or simply keeping the ashes at home.

FYI: Mapalife is here to fill an unmet need in the funeral industry. The majority of family members want to know the final resting place of their relatives. In the very near future, people will be able to add long-lasting visibility to a loved one’s unique final resting place by creating a Scattersite page and sharing the GPS coordinates with family and friends.

Making Your Plan Known

You know you want to be cremated, you understand the (main) regulations that govern the cremation process, and you have an idea of where you want to be laid to rest. The next step is telling your family. Communicating wishes with regards to disposition method, memorial service, and finances can reduce the pressure during an already difficult time for your family.

While it doesn’t hurt to include your funeral wishes in your will, it likely won’t help much either. Wills are meant to communicate who inherits your property (land and otherwise) and may not be reviewed soon enough to help guide the funeral process. A better alternative is to create a formal document (separate from your will) that details your funeral wishes. A simple document that communicates your preference on the below items is a good start, however Funeral Inspirations makes an exhaustive (and free) funeral planner:

  • Disposition method (cremation or burial)
  • Preferred cremation location
  • Funeral service (with your body present) or memorial service (without your body)
  • Final resting place (buried or entombed in a cemetery, scattered in a personally significant location, kept at home, or something more adventurous)

Creating a funeral planning document is a great start to making your wishes known, but to minimize potential confusion it is best to review the document with your family. You’re likely a great person and thus your passing will be an emotional and stressful time for your family. Deciding on how you want to leave this earth, and then communicating those wishes, will make it a little bit easier for your family during an already hard time.  

How Mapalife is Here for You

graphiclogo_mapalife_blogpost1

Mapalife: A New Idea

Mapalife is a start-up company that provides innovative memorial options for a changing funeral industry. As cremation fast becomes the most common form of disposition in the United States, families are presented with new options (and new challenges) on how to memorialize and remember a loved one. In the summer of 2016, founders Becca and Sam decided to form Mapalife…here’s a glimpse into why:

  • Put simply, Mapalife was created because of an unmet need in the funeral industry.
    • While some are cremated and buried in a cemetery, many are placed to rest – their ashes scattered – in a place of personal significance. For the majority of family members who want to know the final resting place of their relatives, this identifies an unmet need. This need continues to grow as cremation rates rise (from 48% in 2015 to 71% in 2030 according to the NFDA).  
    • Mapalife is here to satisfy that need. By creating a Scattersite page, a relative can easily add long-lasting visibility to a loved one’s unique final resting place by sharing the GPS coordinates with family and friends.
  • The potential to provide value during such a difficult time is what motivates us. Starting out, our main focus is to add significance and traceability to someone’s Scattersite. We believe these special places should be shared and remembered. To accomplish this, we’re working hard to make the process of creating and sharing a Scattersite page easy and affordable.
    • In addition to sharing a loved one’s final resting place, Mapalife will be your go-to source for cremation information. We will provide quality information for those who choose cremation and their families.

“For the majority of family members who want to know the final resting place of their relatives, this [cremation] identifies an unmet need…this need continues to grow as cremation rates rise”

  • Lastly, Mapalife strives to be a catalyst for change. The site will change how society thinks about cremation and how the funeral industry services families. 
    • No spoilers here. We commit ourselves to always provide low-cost memorial options, both traditional and innovative.
    • If you’re interested in providing input or learning more, please email info@mapalife.com.
    • To stay up-to-date on our progress (and sign-up for our beta test), join forces with us here: mapalife.com.