Planning an Ash Scattering Memorial

After the cremation process, cremation ashes can be scattered at a spot meaningful to you or your loved one. Akin to a memorial service, an ash scattering ceremony is usually of a highly personal nature. It is often smaller in size than a memorial to honor and memorialize a loved one’s life.

Being aware of the details involved is helpful. Taking a little time to plan can result in a meaningful and smooth ceremony. By answering a few questions, your planning process will evolve and will take the shape of a deeply personal ceremony.

What kind of urns for ashes should be used?  Who should attend?  Should I get a keepsake urn for those who attend?  The process outlined below will help to streamline your choices and organize your thoughts. A helpful analogy to consider is to think of the scattering ashes ceremony as telling the person’s life story – and apply the five W’s of storytelling:  Who, What, Where, When and Why.

Where to begin the story? Start at the end so that you have a clear picture of the final outcome you desire.  By working backward from the result you want, your vision will help to clarify the important details.

1Why is the ash scattering ceremony being held? 

Begin by coming to an understanding of what you want the ceremony to say and express. What is the feel or tone you want for the ash scattering ceremony? Consider special instructions that may have been left by the deceased.  This is a time of honest communication, of honoring your feelings and emotional bonds; a once in a lifetime opportunity to convey the deeply personal and lasting impact your loved one had on your life.

  • How do you want to feel at the conclusion of the ceremony?
  • What memories do you want to generate?
  • Do you want to retain any remains in a small urn or perhaps a keepsake urn?
  • What do you want to communicate to him or her? If speaking out loud is too difficult, there are lovely memorial urns that have the option of adding personalized notes to them.
  • What do you most want to accomplish from the ceremony?

2.  Where and when will the service be held?

  • Was there a place of special significance that would be appropriate?
  • Is it on private or public property?
  • Do I need to arrange permission from the property owner, or obtain permits from government agencies such as the National Park Service?
  • Are there regulations regarding allowable materials for ash urns?
  • Is the location easily accessible?
  • Does the scattering ashes ceremony need to be time specific for tidal activity or sunsets?
  • Will any special equipment be needed, such as renting a boat or hiring a plane and pilot?

** Please refer to our section “Regulations for Scattering Ashes” for more information.

3. Who should be invited and how should they be invited?

A scattering ashes ceremony will often be of a smaller, more personal nature than a memorial service. Consider the following:

  • Will this be a private service, for only me?
  • Will others be invited, such as family members or close friends? If so, will they be scattering ashes as well? Would they like a keepsake urn with a small portion of the cremated ashes?
  • If others are to be invited, how many?
  • Do I need anyone to officiate from a religious affiliation? Or a military chaplain?
  • What medium would I like to use for the invitations? Cards, personal phone calls, or online communications?
4. What will transpire at the ceremony?

    This is the section where you can personalize the ceremony according to your loved ones wishes and your personal direction.  Having a checklist for the props, tools, and materials will help to avoid any oversights or forgotten items.

    • Are any ceremonial rites to be performed and what is their nature?      
    • If so, what tools and materials will be used?
    • Do I need trowels, or a rake, or water soluble urns for ashes?
    • If any religious or symbolic customs are to be performed, what materials are needed?
    • Will any music be performed or played, or poems or prayers read? If so, are any instruments, electricity, fresh batteries or a CD player needed? What about provisions for reading material such as books or a program?
    • Will there be notes left for the deceased, perhaps in memorial urns?
    • Will the ashes be shared in a keepsake urn?
    • Will a eulogy be given?
    • Will others be invited to share memories?
    • Would you like a DVD slide show be made, or photos selected?
    • Are there any personal items, favorite things of the deceased, to be displayed?
    • Are there any ambient considerations, such as candles? (LED tea lights are a very good option for outdoor services, as are candle holder memorial urns.) Would a bottle of wine or favorite spirits for a toast be appropriate?
    • Should a small, commemorative gift for those in attendance be considered? A piece of jewelry or sports equipment makes a nice gesture, as do small urns, bottles or keepsake urns for sharing ashes.

    And finally, give thought to whether you need help.  Some may find this kind of planning an ideal way to occupy their minds during a transition period. Others may be too overcome with grief to give it the required attention.  Professional planners are available to make some or all of the arrangements for you.  

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