Instead of being buried, many people prefer that their remains are cremated after they die. This typically leaves the grieving family with their ashes. Sometimes, the deceased leaves specific instructions regarding what to do with their ashes. Other times, it’s up to their family, friends or other next-of-kin to make that decision. And it’s a pretty big decision. Would the person want some sort of ashes scattering ceremony? Would they prefer simply to sit in an urn on your mantle? And even if you planned a special memorial and scattering ceremony, is it illegal to spread ashes? Even after you’ve made all the plans there’s still the question of how to make it personal and memorable for all who will attend.
Here’s what you need to know about scattering ashes, including whether it’s legal, ideas for a ceremony, and what to say during the memorial.
Is it illegal to scatter a person’s ashes?
In short, no, it’s not illegal to scatter a person’s ashes — depending on where, exactly, you plan to scatter them. There is no federal law on scattering ashes, so the legality is determined on a state, municipal, or other local basis. This means your first step should be to check the laws and regulations in the location where you plan to scatter your loved one’s ashes.
You should also keep in mind that while some places permit you to scatter a person’s ashes, you first must obtain a permit. This is the case in National Parks. If you plan on making a national park your person’s final resting place, check with the regulations of the individual park. Disney World is not as welcoming to human remains. “This type of behavior is strictly prohibited and unlawful. Guests who attempt to do so will be escorted off property,” a Disney spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal in 2018. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from doing it — particularly in the Haunted Mansion.
And regardless of the location, always get permission to scatter ashes on any type of private property (except your own, in which case, it’s up to you). Though it may sound odd, you also need to get permission from a cemetery to scatter ashes there, as they each have their own policies. Burial at sea is, however, permitted, but the Environmental Protection Agency has their own set of guidelines.
Special ideas for a scattering ashes ceremony
While some people would prefer to eternally rest without fanfare, others may request some sort of memorial or ceremony when scattering their ashes. If you’ve never planned one of these before, you may not be sure where to start. According to Lone Star Cremation in Texas, here are four things you should think about before planning an ashes-scattering ceremony:
- Pick an appropriate location for scattering the ashes
- Select a date and time, possibly an anniversary
- If you choose somewhere that gets busy, say a beach, factor in their busy times
- Think about who should be there
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to figure out exactly what you want to happen at the ceremony, and how to make it special. Here are a few ideas:
Requires a water-soluble urn, which will float for a few minutes before sinking below the surface to bio-degrade naturally.
Involves digging a shallow trench into the soil, filling it with the ashes from the urn, then raking over the spot at the end of the ceremony.
Similar to a trenching ceremony, only the shallow trench is dug in a circle around a tree or shrub, and the ashes are placed there.
Involves putting the ashes on the ground, and then incorporating them into the soil.
What to say while scattering ashes
If you’re not sure what to say during an ash-scattering ceremony, don’t panic: there’s no rigid formula every memorial must follow. Your loved one would likely appreciate any and all effort you are putting into the event. You can keep the ceremony as short or as long as you’d like. Some people include more of a traditional eulogy for the person, while others opt for reading the person’s favorite quote or poem. It’s also perfectly acceptable to open it up to the group, in case other people want to share funny stories or memories of the deceased.
Poems and quotes to read when scattering ashes
Traditional Irish funeral poem
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. May the rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
“Miss Me, But Let Me Go” by Christina Rossetti
When I come to the end of the road, And the sun has set for me, I want no rites in a gloom-filled room – Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little, but not too long;
And not with your head bowed low. Remember the love that we once shared: Miss me, but let me go.
For this is a journey that we all must take
And each must go alone; It’s all a part of the Master’s plan, A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick at heart,
Go to the friends we know, And bury your sorrow in doing good deeds; Miss me, but let me go.
“A Brief Candle” by Charlie Daniels
A brief candle; both ends burning
An endless mile; a bus wheel turning A friend to share the lonesome times A handshake and a sip of wine So say it loud and let it ring We are all a part of everything The future, present, and the past Fly on proud bird You’re free at last.
“You Will See Them Someday” By Stephan Banks
When you lose someone it can be hard to take
The pain that you feel when your heart has to break The memories you keep are all in your mind As you search your soul for more to find The way their skin felt the smell of their hair As you keep thinking over and shedding a tear The years may pass, memories fade to grey But you’re getting no younger you’ll see them someday Unconditional love is never forgotten Look deep in your heart it is there at the bottom Alone in the dark sometimes in fear Voices from loved ones you’re hoping to hear More years pass, they soon fly by But you’re always looked upon from those in the sky Surrounded by clouds and pure white doves They listen and watch sending you love Just remember one thing as you sit and you pray They will be there to greet you, you will see them someday.
Book of Common Prayer
“Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we, therefore, commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.”
A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime and, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.”
High Flight by John Gillespie Magee
“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence. Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
“Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, where never lark, or even eagle, flew; and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod the high trespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
Afterglow by Unknown
I’d like the memory of me
to be a happy one. I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done. I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways, of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days. I’d like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun. It’s happy memories I leave you, my friends, when my life is done.
“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us.” — Helen Keller
“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.” – Rumi
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