To begin, often the word “ashes” is used to describe cremated remains. The media portrays it as light ash. The reality is the remains are bone fragments that have been mechanically reduced. They normally don’t gently flow into the air. It is more like heavy sand That being said there is some dust or ash that can blow in the wind, so when scattering cremated remains make sure to check the wind so they don’t blow back in people’s faces or onto a boat.
You will also want to consider the legal requirements to scatter remains. In no state is it legal to scatter remains on private property without permission from the property owner. Many parks also have rules and permit requirements so you will want to check into the requirements.
If you do plan on scattering the remains, many people are choosing to keep some of the remains in a keepsake container or mini urn. Some people feel they still want a part of the person and sharing the cremated remains is a way to still have a part of the person with you. Keep in mind, you will want to make sure the partial remains are in a sealed plastic bag inside the keepsake or mini urn. A funeral director can handle this for you. Many products are also available such as diamonds that are made out of the remains, jewelry that is designed to hold the remains or hand blown glass paper weights.
Techniques for Scattering
Casting is a way of scattering where the remains are tossed into the wind. As I mentioned previously, you will want to check the direction of the wind and cast the remains downwind. Most of the remains will fall to the ground and some of the lighter particles will blow in the wind forming a whitish-grey cloud.
One person in the group may cast the remains or scatter some and hand the container to the next person so everyone has a chance to ceremonially cast the remains. Another option is people are given paper cups or casting cups and they cast simultaneously in a sort of toasting gesture.
Trenching is digging a hole or trench in the ground or sand and the remains are placed into the trench. The remains can be placed directly into the trench or placed in a biodegradable bag or urn. At the end of the ceremony survivors often rake over the trench. A deceased name can be drawn in the dirt or sand- perhaps inside of a heart. The remains could also be placed inside this name and heart. You may consider taking a photo of this for a memory book. If done at the beach, it can be timed that the tide comes in and ceremoniously washes it out to sea. Family and friends may want to join hands and form a circle. If not too windy, candles may also form a circle around the site. The candles are then given to each person as a keepsake.
Raking involves pouring the cremated remains from an urn evenly on loose soil and then raking them into the ground at the conclusion of the ceremony. It is important to keep the urn close to the ground when pouring out the remains due to wind. Survivors may wish to take turns raking the remains back into the earth. If you choose to do this at a scattering garden at a cemetery this is how they will perform the scattering.
This is done either at a “Green Cemetery” or at a traditional cemetery. Often cemeteries will allow you to place a biodegradable bag or biodegradable urn on top of a gravesite or a family member as long as it is buried. Obviously, you will want to check with the cemetery and see what their requirements are.
Water scattering involves placing the remains into a body of water. A biodegradable bag or urn is recommended. This is most often when cremated remains can blow back into a person’s face or get washed up onto the side of the boat. Both experiences can be traumatic and not the everlasting peaceful memory you envisioned. If you search on the internet or in the phone book you can find people that have boats and are experienced. There are urns on the market designed to gently float away and then quickly biodegrade into the water. Many people throw rose petals or flowers into the water after the urn. If the remains are in a biodegradable bag they may sink so you also may wish to throw a wreath of flowers into the water and watch the wreath drift away.
Air scattering is best performed by professional pilots and air services. The airplanes are specially designed to handle the cremated remains. Some professionals will arrange for family and friends to be on the ground watching as the plane flies over and a plume of remains can be seen from the ground. If survivors are not present, the service will provide the specific time and date of the aerial scattering. Often it can be arranged that close family and friends fly along.
While scattering cremated remains can be emotionally very difficult, hopefully by knowing your options and being informed it will make a difficult time a little easier.