Think before Scattering Ashes

by Maggie Thompson


Image by Ilovebutter* 


Of course we would scatter his ashes on our Illinois farm, under the maple he had nurtured from a sapling. There was no mention of other options 50 years ago when my father died. When my mother sold the farm a few years later, we became close friends with the family who purchased it, and life carried on. The new owners lovingly planted flowers each spring around his field stone marker with its attached plaque. My mother’s ashes joined his under the maple 32 years ago, with a field stone marker for her.

Scattering ashes 50 years ago: once a farm, today a development

Meanwhile, life took me, an only child, away from the farm around the time it was sold -  first to California, then Minnesota, and now, Vermont. I visited the farm and my parents’ field stones many times over the years. In hindsight, I should have acknowledged that rural life might one day change, but I was unprepared.

When news came that the farm was up for sale and likely headed for development, I was emotionally flattened. Would developers even know, or care, that my parents’ ashes were scattered there? Would they move the field stones, or bulldoze the site? I knew I had no legal ground to intervene. Consequently, I wrestled with my intense emotional connection and my lack of control over the foreboding changes.

Navigating grief through the decisions of scattering ashes

When a death is sudden, decisions are often made with the heart. Even when a death follows a lengthy illness, the immediate grief colors the decisions to be made. What resources are there to help families navigate the options for scattering the ashes of a loved one? These can be difficult, heartfelt conversations to have with family. But the effort is worth it to find an option that will meet emotional needs of the survivors, as well as to honor the wishes of the deceased.

Some questions to think about as you consider the irreversible nature of scattering ashes:

  • Is there a place that has special meaning, perhaps a forest, a mountain, a lake or ocean, a family homestead, an open field, a place of spiritual significance, or proximity to a previously deceased loved one?
  • How important is it that this spot will remain unchanged?
  • Do survivors want the assurance of a place they can visit?
  • Is it important to have the loved one’s name and dates listed on a nearby plaque? Many memorial gardens in cemeteries and churches offer this.
  • Would a specially chosen scattering urn be aesthetically helpful such as the Autumn Woods cremation scattering tube?
  • Would a biodegradable urn, such as the Tribute Bamboo cremation urn, be appropriate if I want to bury the remaining ashes and place a permanent marker?
  • Will the scattering be part of a religious memorial service or spiritual ceremony?
  • Are any permits or fees necessary for scattering the ashes there?

In my situation, I eventually came to a place of resolve and peace. The field stones have served their purpose, lived their lifetime. For 50 years, my parents’ ashes have been part of the turn of seasons in the soil on the farm where they spent their happiest times together. I can let go, with love and dear memories.

Only recently have I become acquainted with OneWorld Memorials.  I am amazed at the array of cremation urns and scattering urn options assembled on the website. The planning guides and other helpful resources provide clear guidance and information that were nowhere to be found decades ago when decisions were made about the scattering of my parents’ ashes. With thoughtful intention, families can now choose the scattering site and a scattering urn that best fit their style, traditions and emotional needs.

*Image can be found here: 

Maggie Shopen Thompson, MFA, is a freelance writer and writing workshop facilitator in Montpelier, Vermont. She has had experience as a caregiver for her mother many years ago, and for her husband and daughter during their recent cancer treatments and recoveries. She is a contributing author/artist in Healing Art & Writing – using creativity to meet illness, curated and edited by Patricia Fontaine, published in August 2016.


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