Letting Go - A complete guide to scattering ashes of your loved one

Releasing Your Loved One's Ashes

Do you have a family member who has expressed their wishes to be cremated instead of buried after death? This choice is becoming much more common these days. While the act of cremation is not new, it wasn’t as common for quite some time in recent history.

What Does "Scattering Ashes" Mean?

Scattering ashes is done after your deceased family member has been cremated. Often times, your beloved might have expressed their wishes when they were still alive. Or the family of the loved one has a specific wish to scatter their cremains at a particular location, or in a particular way.

Why Someone Might Want Their Ashes Scattered

There are many reasons why someone might choose to have their ashes scattered. With the limited space on earth and population increasing, having the space for a full burial is becoming scarce, and thus much more expensive. Some people might want to be buried at a specific cemetery, but due to space constraints, must choose cremation. While others are claustrophobic at the idea of being buried.

Regardless of the reason why someone might choose cremation, once you have carried out their wishes the question becomes what to do with their ashes. The idea of scattering ashes might come up as you discuss how to best honor the memory of your loved one.

Factors To Consider About Scattering Ashes

There are many factors that will determine if scattering of your loved one’s ashes is the right choice for you. One of the biggest factors surrounding whether or not scattering ashes is an appropriate choice for you is religious beliefs. Some religions believe we all return to the earth and that the soul of the person does not stay with the body.

Some couples might choose to have their ashes scattered together over a place of significant meaning. While other families might have a family plot of land where they want to either have everyone buried or scattered. Here are a few more details on some deciding factors:

Religious Beliefs

There is some controversy as to whether or not there are some overlying religious beliefs regarding if you should choose cremation versus burial. Historically, there has been a misconception that Christianity is against cremation.

However, the Catholic church along with various other denominations have come out saying there is no reference against cremation in the bible. While other religions, such as the Muslim religion, strictly forbid cremation.

Family Traditions Or Culture

Traditionally, the idea of being buried on family property with your other loved ones has been a common choice for burial. However, with more people moving around in today’s society this is becoming much less common.

If the rest of your family is buried in a particularly full cemetery, it would be worth looking into if they have a scattering garden for your loved one’s ashes. These are becoming much more common as scattering ashes is becoming more common.

Your Loved One's Wishes

Finally, what are your loved one’s wishes? If cremation was their choice, then religion and tradition won’t matter as much when it comes to carrying out their last wishes.

If you or a loved one have a particular wish in how you would like your cremains handled, it is best to get it in writing while you are still alive so that your loved ones know they are doing exactly as you would have liked.

How To Decide On Scattering Ashes

Once you have carried out the wishes of your loved one as far as cremating the body, the decision becomes burial or scattering their ashes. There are a number of ways you can make the decision on whether or not to scatter their ashes. A few of them are as follows:

Asking your loved one.

When trying to decide whether or not to bury or scatter your loved one’s ashes, if you are able to plan ahead then simply asking is your best way to make the decision. This allows the whole family to make the best decision while you are still able.

Deciding as a family.

Other times, you might make your decision as a couple and include your family in your wishes. This can make the decision on scattering ashes much simpler as the decision will be made as a family and determined ahead of time. Again, as mentioned earlier, having these conversations as a family now allows for not having to make these difficult decisions while you are also grieving the loss of a loved one.

How to explain it to your children.

Depending on the age of your family, you might need to explain this process to your children. As you do this, be sure to put it in language that is appropriate for their age group. Some children might want to know more details than others, and you will need to determine this based on your individual child.

Also, depending on the age of your children, if you are choosing to scatter the ashes of your loved one you might choose not to scatter all of the cremains. This will allow your child to make the decision as they get older if they would like to keep some of the cremains as a memorial to their loved one.

They might decide to scatter the remaining ashes somewhere memorable to them and their own individual memories of your loved one. Or they may choose to hold onto them and have the ashes with them always.

If you do decide to save a small amount of ashes for a child, there are many options for how to save these cremains for them in a way that allows them to honor their memory as well as keep them close. Keeping them in a beautiful piece of jewelry like this one will allow them to keep their loved one close for a long time.

Some ideas for storing the ashes would be store the ashes in wearable cremation jewelry. Additionally, a small amount of ashes can be used to make ash jewelry and the pendant can be gifted to the child to commemorate a special occasion such as a graduation or wedding day.

Places To Scatter Ashes

Once you have gone through the process explained above, you have followed through with your loved one’s wishes for cremation as well as decided on scattering their ashes over burial. Now you will need to determine the details on where to scatter their cremains.

This will be individual to each person and family. We have tried to list a number of different locations and scenarios as well as researching any detail or rules you might need to be aware of below.

Home

If you have a family plot of land, this can be a wonderful choice for where to scatter your loved one’s ashes. Perhaps you will decide as a couple you both want to be scattered over your homestead where you lived for so many years. Be sure your family is aware of your wishes and decide now where you would like to be scattered, so it is preserved for this purpose.


At a Grave Site

Do you have another loved one buried in a cemetery which no longer has any burial plots available? If so, your loved one might wish to have their ashes scattered there rather than buried. Be sure to discuss your loved one’s wishes with the cemetery so you aren’t breaking any rules they might have.


On a Public Beach

This can be a very popular choice for the location for your loved one’s remains. Visiting the beach is a happy memory for a lot of families. There are a few things you will want to remember:

  • Choose a time and a location when the beach is not very busy.
  • Check the tide schedule so you know the tide is coming in soon to take the ashes out to sea.
  • Research the idea of creating a trench instead of spreading the ashes to the wind. Trenching usually includes digging a small trench in the sand and simply pouring the ashes into this trench. You can then cover it back up with sand and allow the waves to come in and disperse the ashes instead of casting them in the air.

At a Golf Course

Scattering ashes at a golf course can be tricky. Most golf courses are on private land and so you will want to ask for permission first before doing this. Also, you will probably want to choose a lesser traveled area so as not to have your loved one’s cremains trampled on by future golfers.


At Sea

According to the EPA, it is not illegal to scatter your loved one’s ashes out oat sea.  In fact, there are quite a few companies, and boat captains, who specialize in this service. Using one of these experienced guides will surely help you during this difficult process. Be sure to research the rules regarding how far offshore you need to be before casting the ashes. Most coastal areas have this already designated, so simply look up online what your desired areas rules are. As a general rule, at minimum you will want to be at least 300-500 yards offshore.


Sports Arena

Sports Arenas are private property, making scattering of ashes illegal. Even the arenas that are built with tax dollar bonds are still considered private property of the owner of the team. You cannot scatter ashes without asking permission.


National Forests

National Forests are public area, thus scattering ashes is legal. However, it is best practice to just call ahead and ask permission. They will probably want to know where you are planning to scatter the ashes and might ask you to choose a private and secluded location.


National Parks

Just like National Forests, National Parks are public lands, allowing for you to scatter your loved one’s ashes. However, again, it is best to call ahead and just verify what your plans are and where you would like to do it. When you talk to the Park Ranger, ask the best locations to ensure you are choosing a place that is secluded enough you will not risk your loved one’s ashes being walked over by tourists.


From the Air

Some private pilots specialize in scattering ashes form the air. A lot of them even have special devices so as to make the actual act of scattering the ashes a little easier. For example, it can be disconcerting to lean out of the plane to scatter the ashes.  So, some planes have a device that can be held out the window, this also helps decrease the risk of any ashes being blown back on you. With a little research you can find yourself a pilot or company who will help you with all the details so you can focus on remembering your loved one during the process.


From a Cruise Ship

Do you have an especially memorable cruise line or cruise destination with your deceased love one? If so, you could consider taking their ashes to sea and spreading them out while on the ship. Remember, some people might have a hard time with the idea of what you are about to do. So, keep it discreet and possibly choose a location of the ship that is not as highly trafficked as others.


From a Hot Air Balloon

If you want to make the scattering truly memorable, do it from a hot air balloon. This can make the experience quite extraordinary. There are companies that specialize in this, so do some research and you can find one that will help you with all the details.


With the Use of Fireworks

Did your loved one especially love a good firework show? Now you can send your loved off with a memorial tribute firework display which also scatters their ashes. According to this article, incorporating a firework display into the act of spreading your loved one’s ashes can offer a very special and unique experience in remembrance of your loved one.


Disney World/Disney Land

There are a number of factors you will need to consider if you feel you would like to scatter your loved one at the Happiest Place on earth. Namely, you will need to remember this is private property and so you should not scatter ashes without first asking permission. Also, remember this is a place with families and young children, so once you have obtained permission to scatter ashes, choose a place that is discreet and away from large crowds so as not to disturb other patrons at the park.


In Outer Space

Believe it or not, this is becoming an option for your final resting place. As space travel becomes more affordable, scattering your ashes in outer space will also likely become more affordable and possibly more common. The sky is no longer the limit if this is where your loved one wants their ashes scattered.


In Central Park

New York City can be an amazing place to visit. If you and your loved visited many times – or maybe talked about it and never got around to it – this can be an especially memorable time to finally make that trip together. According to the official NYC Parks website, scattering ashes is legal in their parks including Central Park. However, they had some rules and requests of your scattering ceremony.

  • If you will have more than 20 people at the ceremony, they ask you to apply for a special event permit.
  • You are asked not to scatter the ashes anywhere near or on playgrounds, athletic fields, or heavily trafficked spots.
  • Be respectful while you carry out your memorial ceremony for your loved one and you are perfectly legal to choose this location for scattering your loved one’s ashes.

At Yankee Stadium

Again as mentioned above this is private property and so you will need to ask permission. Also, remember that you have no control over what will happen with this space in the future. How will you feel if you do scatter their ashes in Yankee Stadium only to have the stadium demolished years later and condominiums put up instead. This is something to think about when deciding the final resting place for your family member’s remains.


In California

According to the NOLO website, California has the strictest laws in the nation when it comes to scattering ashes. If you choose to scatter ashes there, you will want to be sure to research the laws and follow them. As with most bodies of water, in California you must be a certain distance from shore if you are choosing to scatter your loved one’s ashes at sea. According to NOLO, this is 500 yards from shore.


From the Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate bridge is a very common place for many memorable events. From proposals and even weddings, to scattering ashes, this iconic bridge is a popular choice for scattering your loved one’s cremains. A few things to keep in mind:

  • This location is a very popular tourist destination and it might be a good choice to do this at a time that is less crowded.
  • Also, the Bay Area can be very windy. As Tre Miller Rodriguez writes in her article “9 Things No One Tells You About Scattering Ashes” you will want to make sure you “stand upwind” when you actually do the scattering.

In Canada

While it has never been illegal to scatter ashes in Canada, a few provinces are establishing some guidelines to assist families in ensuring they are following the law. Namely, Alberta and Ontario have announced that family members may scatter their loved ones on unoccupied Crown-owned land, including bodies of water. However, you are asked to not scatter ashes near or in water treatment centers and bodies of water where people frequently recreate.


In Europe

The laws around Europe vary greatly regarding scattering ashes. Your best bet if you want to travel abroad to scatter your loved one’s ashes is to do your due diligence and research the exact country you are interested in visiting. For example:

  • Germany is one of the strictest countries against scattering ashes, while next door in Switzerland scattering ashes is a very common and accepted practice.
  • Likewise, cremation and scattering of ashes in Italy is completely dependent on your local city rules. The Vatican City especially is against scattering of ashes.

Another tip from the article mentioned above by Rodriguez, when traveling by plane you will want to carry the cremains in your carry-on luggage rather than checking it. Checked luggage gets lost regularly. Bags are thrown around regularly. If you want to ensure your loved one is treated with care and not lost, you should definitely carry it with you. Bring the death certificate and be sure to declare what you have with you.

How To Make Scattering Ashes A Good Experience

The best way to ensure you have a good experience is not to rush it. Do your research, determine where you will do it, and exactly how you will go about completing the memorial scattering of ashes. Follow your heart and remember to keep with what your loved one asked you to do. This will ensure that you will have a good experience and will be able to move towards closure.

When preparing to scatter the ashes of your loved one, there are some questions you should ask yourself:

What is needed?

In some cases, if you are traveling to a location, bringing the death certificate is advisable so you can prove who you are transporting and why. Also, as mentioned above, you might want to consider carrying the ashes with you in your carry-on luggage if you are traveling by plane. You don’t want to arrive at your desired location and not have the reason you are there in the first place.

When you visit the actual site where you will scatter the ashes, you might want to bring a picture or keepsake of your loved one. But remember to take it home with you afterwards, especially if you are in a public park or national forest. You might instead choose to bring a wreath of flowers you can scatter with the ashes and leave it there knowing it will all decompose in time.


Who to invite?

This depends a lot on your personal preference. Do you have a large family, or was it just you and your loved one? Who you choose to invite will largely be determined by your personal situation and social circle? You can certainly do this on your own, however, it can be a very difficult process. And having someone with you could help you through when you do scatter their ashes.


Who should do it?

Do you think you will be able to actually scatter your loved one to the wind once you get to the desired location? If you think you will have a hard time with this process, then it will be a good idea to bring a dear friend or family member along with you to support you. And you will probably want to ask them ahead of time if they could actually do it for you should you find yourself overcome with emotions and unable to do it yourself.


What to say?

As with any funeral service, what to say when scattering ashes depends on your loved one. Did they love a good joke or where they more formal and somber? You will want to take their individual personality into account when determining what to say when you scatter their ashes.

A few suggestions about what to say if you need somewhere to get started:

  • Prayers that are appropriate when scattering ashes – for some, saying a quick prayer while they are scattering their loved one’s ashes will help finalize the process. The Common Book of prayers is a great reference for what to say at your ash scattering memorial.
  • Poems for scattering ashes – if you are not religious, you might choose to say a poem or sing your loved one’s favorite song. This can bring back very emotional memories of your loved one and will truly feel like you are celebrating their life rather than focusing on their death.

7 Steps For Scattering Ashes

1. Have a family meeting

Gather all the immediate family members or friends that played an important role in the life of the deceased and start brainstorming ideas. Get input from everyone and come up with a concise plan that respects the wishes of the deceased, pays homage to who they were and what mattered to them and allows the family a personal way to show their love and pay their respects.

2. Choose a date.

For some, maybe you want to make the ash scattering part of the memorial service. Maybe you choose to have it be your memorial service. Maybe you’d like to wait until a special holiday, birthday or anniversary date. Often times that perfect day presents itself and is not only a beautiful commemoration of the deceased but also provides a day that, in the future, gives families a beautiful memory to look back on and share.

3. Choose a container for scattering.

Look into a specially designed scattering urn or choose some sort of container that will accommodate how you are going to release the ashes. Are you going to sprinkle them? Are you going to cast them into the air?

Consider the elements when casting ashes into the air as a windy location can cause the ashes to fly back onto the person releasing them. Is everyone going to release some ashes? Know ahead of time how you want to go forward with releasing the ashes.

4. Decide how to transport the ashes.

The ashes can be brought to the location in an urn but often times the ashes are either place in a bag in the urn or loose in the urn. It might be a good idea to either choose a scattering urn or place a small amount of ashes in a portable container ahead of time, leaving the rest of the ashes at rest in the urn at home.

Are you comfortable with loved ones reaching into the urn to pull out the ashes? If not, bring small cups where ashes can be scooped out, bring disposable gloves or even divide the ashes ahead of time in small containers or plastic bags to allow for easy distribution amongst those assisting in scattering. Can you scatter ashes from the urn?

Have a plan with how you will transition from transporting the ashes to scattering the ashes and what makes the most sense.

5. Assign responsibilities.

Having additional help with some of the responsibilities can really help to keep you from getting overwhelmed as the day arrives. Depending on how simple or elaborate the ceremony will be, you might ask multiple friends and family to help. Some ideas they can help you with might include: planning a luncheon afterwards, choosing any music or readings you will do, calling about permission or permits you might need, inviting those you would like to attend.

Another responsibility you might want to delegate is possibly getting flowers to bring and scatter along with the ashes. This can provide beautiful picture opportunities and is a wonderful addition that you know will not litter the beautiful location you have chosen for this momentous occasion.

6. Arrive prepared on the day of the scattering.

Make your list and check it twice. Do you have everything you will need? In addition to the ashes, do you have what is needed to scatter the ashes? i.e. small bags or cups, scattering urn, etc.

You have done a ton of homework if you have followed all of the suggestions above. Don’t forget the flowers or music at the last minute. Also, be sure to check the weather. You might want to bring a light jacket just in case the weather turns as you get there. If you will be hiking into your location, then you will need to bring personal necessities such as a water bottle or lunch.

7. Time to scatter the ashes.

Now, is the time you have been preparing for, possibly for months or years. You can do this. You have planned for it and prepared for every contingency. If you think you might not be able to touch the ashes, then you should bring some cups or smaller bags.

You might be overcome with emotions when it comes to the actual ceremony and act of scattering the ashes. Give yourself, along with the others attending, ample time to process their emotions and have healing and closure.

How Much Cremated Ash To Scatter

Remember, you do not need to scatter the entire cremains of your loved one. You can choose to scatter only a small amount and keep the rest in an urn.

Or you can choose the opposite and scatter most of the ashes, while saving a small amount to keep in a keepsake ornament or piece of jewelry. This beautiful Sterling Silver Blossom of Love Urn Photo Locket is a great way to keep the memory of your loved one along with a small amount of their remains.

Remember you might not always be able to visit the place where you scattered your loved one’s remains. So, keeping a small amount will allow you keep them close to you forever. If you do choose to keep an urn or other ornamental container for your loved one, be sure to include in your will what you would like your remaining family members to do with the ashes after you are gone.

Legalities Of Scattering Ashes

There are a number of legal questions you might have regarding spreading your loved one’s ashes. Below are a few we have answered for you. If you have any more questions, the NOLO website listed below is a great resource for legal questions.

Is scattering ashes legal?

Depending on the location, scattering ashes is legal. As mentioned above, you will want to consider the specific location you would like to scatter your loved one’s remains. However, as long as you are not on private property, you should be okay. If you have more questions regarding your specific state you can start with this article from NOLO. Find your state and see the laws for your specific location. According to their website, NOLO is “one of the web's largest libraries of consumer-friendly legal information.”

Is scattering ashes bad for the environment?

Actually, choosing to be cremated and then scattered is the “greenest” option in regard to the environment. As is read at many funerals from the Book of Common Prayer, “we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” We will all eventually be returned to dust in the earth whether we are buried or cremated. Choosing to be cremated and scattered simply brings the process to the here and now.

Do you need permission to scatter ashes?

If you are planning to spread the ashes over private property or over federal lands, then you will need to ask permission. In most cases, on public property as long as you use common sense and remain respectful of those around you, then you should not have any problems with needing to get permission beforehand. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask if you at all question whether or not you should. In most cases, being discreet and respectful is enough to be allowed to carry out your loved one’s wishes and pay your respects.


Also, when in doubt, do your research. Ask friends or family members who have done this before. Don’t be afraid to take your time and do your research. Don’t feel like you are being rushed into this before you are ready.

When Scattering Ashes Isn't An Option

In some cases, scattering the ashes the ashes of your loved one may not be an option. The immediate family may not want to share the ashes of their loved one and that means that you will need to find other ways in which you can remember your loved one. A surviving spouse may want to keep the ashes of their loved one with them in an urn and share a small pinch of ashes inside specially designed ash jewelry to help a child grieve.

It is important to remember that the choice to scatter the ashes of a loved one is very personal and the wishes of the family should be respected.

Conclusion

This article has covered a lot of information regarding scattering your loved one’s ashes. Be sure to save it for future reference as there are many pieces you will need to put together as you plan this amazing memorial to your family member.

As you work through this beautiful and sometimes difficult process, remember why you are doing this in the first place. Your loved one might have specifically asked you to cremate them. Or they might have died suddenly without a plan, either way planning this special ceremony to celebrate their life is an amazing way to honor their memory.

There are many factors to consider all throughout this planning process. From where to choose the ideal location(s), to the specific steps, as well as considering the legalities of the entire process, follow the suggestions in this article and you can turn a difficult time into a healing and honoring memorial for your loved one.


Scattering ashes is a beautiful and wonderful memorial for your departed loved one. Regardless of where you choose to do it, who you invite, or how much of their cremains you choose to scatter, this celebration of their life is an amazing way to celebrate their life and allow them to live on in their chosen location.

Updated September 28, 2019 by Jeri K. Augustus