A Spreading of Ashes Ceremony

How to Plan a Spreading of Ashes Ceremony: Step-by-Step Guide

Holding a scattering ceremony is a loving way to honor and remember your loved one who’s passed. Scattering ceremonies are both quite similar to any hosted event and also hugely different. What other event calls for checking with local governments about permits, setting up online memorials, and has “stir the ashes” on the to-do list? If you’re the one planning, here is a helpful guide on how to plan a spreading of ashes ceremony that can hopefully make everything a little bit easier.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

Planning an ash scattering is an undertaking for many reasons. If you don’t want to plan this event and have the option of having someone else like a close friend or a funeral planner take it on, then go for it. You don’t have to read any more if this is your category. It’s normal not to want to take on planning an event amid a loss. However, you may want to plan this event, or you may need to. In either case, ask around and see how many people can help with planning and on the day of the event. This is a good starting point for planning so that you know roughly what your resources are and the best way to plan. For example, if only a couple of people can bring or make food, you know to look at catering or prepared food. 

Discuss the Ashes

Now is the time to discuss with family members and close friends if they want a portion of your loved one’s ashes for a keepsake urn or other memorial. You also may be choosing between scattering all of the ashes and reserving some of the ashes for display or burial, or both. 

Another topic to discuss is where the ashes will be scattered. Depending on the situation, this decision may be up to more than one person. Consider places that were significant to the one who passed, and that will make it easy to do a scattering. This, unfortunately, generally precludes most public lands. Private property is always an excellent choice, but written permission is needed if it’s not your own. Water scattering is a beautiful choice if you’re close to the ocean. Rules about ash scattering vary from state to state and region to region so some research may be needed, and maybe a permit. Also, consider the mobility of your guests if doing nature or water scatterings.

Next, it’s time to discuss the logistics of spreading ashes. Try to pick an area that’s sheltered from the wind. If there’s a chance of a breeze, arrange for attendees to be out of any blowback zones. For land scatterings, be aware that the ashes will likely be visible on the ground after scattering, which might disturb some of your guests. Have a plan to try and distribute the ashes as widely as possible and have a small tool ready to brush the ash into the earth. 

But, before all that, you need to look at the urn and the ashes. If your urn seals, make sure you can open it easily a few times, so you’re prepared on the day of the ceremony. If your urn doesn’t seal, then ensure the ashes are tightly closed in a plastic bag. Do not travel with an unsealed urn and loose ashes. Purchase a scattering urn, which is designed to tightly seal, easily open, and scatter well. If the ashes are in a plastic bag, ensure that you can open it smoothly, and the ashes can easily be spread. Finally, you want to see if the ashes are loose or pushed down and clumpy. Ash can settle over time, so it may require a few stirs before the ceremony to ensure a smooth scattering. 

What Kind of Service Do You Want?

When it comes to how to plan a spreading of ashes ceremony, there are only right choices to make. There is inherent flexibility to planning an ash scattering, and the things that matter are that it feels meaningful to you and honors your deceased loved one. You can stick to the classic funeral structure or scatter your loved one’s ashes from an airplane or hot air balloon. Honor their memory with loud fireworks or floating lanterns. Dig a trench for burying the ashes or scatter them from a boat at sea. Release birds or butterflies. In short, make the ceremony all about your departed loved one. 

Find a Ceremony Leader

While this person may or may not be scattering ashes or reading a poem, they are in charge of seeing that the event runs smoothly. Ensure they have all the details they need; ideally, they were involved in the planning process and won’t need much coaching. 

Create the Order of Events

You can scale the order of events to your desired formality and length. For example, having only one to two people speak is appropriate for a shorter ceremony. Here’s a rough layout for you to consider.

1. Arrival

    Have a window of time for guests arriving at the ceremony, especially if an outdoor trek is involved, before starting. This gives guests a chance to mingle and sign the guestbook if there is one. 

    2. Welcome

      Have someone welcome the guests and introduce the next step. 

      3. Special Music

        Whether you play their favorite song on a streaming service, are blessed with a musician in the group, or hire musicians, music is a significant way to memorialize someone who’s departed and comfort those they’ve left behind. 

        4. Words from a loved one

          Many people enjoy a speech or eulogy at a memorial. It’s a way of bringing the one who passed into the room more fully while they are brought alive in shared memory. Sharing stories and memories is a way to give new insight into the departed loved one, as their closest family and friends learn more about them. 

          5. Special Reading: While scattering the ashes

            While the ashes are scattered, a special reading is one way to memorialize the moment. This could be from the departed’s favorite book or spiritual practice. Psalms are common, as is poetry. 

            6. Sharing time

              Invite guests to share a few words about the departed. This can be organic, with people speaking as they wish, though a time container is a good idea.

              Location Scouting and Preparation

              Do thorough scouting of the scattering location to identify any potential hazards. Ensure a clear walkway and plentiful parking if scattering in nature. Bring any outdoor essentials like sunscreen, bug spray, and a spare umbrella if you think they might be necessary. Ginger in some form is a good idea if traveling on a boat. 

              Send Out Your Invitations

              One way to keep it simple is to send out invitations via email. If you’re using a boat, that drastically limits the list. Otherwise, invite the number of people you can handle. Be sure to give your guests all pertinent information, especially if taking a boat, such as the length of the ceremony and the terrain and weather to prepare for. Suggest comfortable shoes and any necessary protective weather gear. 

              Be Present at the Ceremony

              Allow yourself to be fully there during the scattering ceremony. Feel into the emotions that arise (or don’t) and let yourself say goodbye to your loved one, and remember the beautiful person you love.

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