When choosing the final preparations for a loved one, understanding your options is very important. Traditionally in the West, with burial, bodies are prepared and buried in a reserved plot with a marker (headstone). However, with cremation increasing in popularity, more and more people are wondering what options they have when it comes to the remaining ash.
After a cremation, the amount of ash can range from 8-20 cups of ash, depending on the weight of the person before the cremation. The three most common ways to memorialize with cremation include scattering, burying or displaying the ashes in an urn. Choosing how to best memorialize a person after cremation is completely up to the family.
When someone has a certain place that means something special, it is common for loved ones to want to scatter ashes in that area. Some people like the idea of the remains becoming part of nature once more. Others find the process of scattering ashes cathartic. There are rules to what can and can’t be done with ashes.
Can you scatter on a family grave?
Most cemeteries will allow you to place the ashes in a family plot. This is an option many people select if a close family member is buried in a cemetery without additional plots available. You typically cannot scatter the ashes in the cemetery, but many places will allow them to be buried or included in the plot. Its always best to check with the cemetery ahead of time though, to see what there specific rules are.
Can you scatter anywhere in a cemetery?
No. While you may think that a cemetery is free game for remains, there are typically strict rules. If the cemetery is privately owned, you have to get permission before leaving any remains there. Some cemeteries do have ‘scattering gardens’, which are designated areas in the cemetery where you can scatter ashes. You will still need to get permission from the cemetery before scattering ashes in a scattering garden.
Can you scatter ashes anywhere?
Most public areas are available for spreading the ashes of a loved one. You can choose a park, river, ocean or other public place to spread the ashes. However, you need to check with the ranger, official or person in charge of the area before trying to spread the ashes. Many places do have some regulations about where ashes can be spread. Sometimes those rules are due to safety (like not spreading ashes in certain clean water sources or too close to the shore of the ocean) and sometimes they are due to the environment.
People sometimes mistake sports fields for public land, but it is not. Most NFL and MLB stadiums will not allow the spread of ashes. Amusement parks are another location that are sometimes mistaken as public space and is off limits. If you tried to spread your loved one’s ashes on Wrigley Field or at Disney World, you could get in a lot of trouble. People have faced fines, community service and the location will typically remove the remains.
For some, cremation is a more environmentally friendly way to treat the body after death. It can also be more cost effective for those on a budget. Some choose to bury the ashes to keep part of their process more traditional or to have a final resting place for those ashes.
How should ashes be buried?
Ashes could be buried by themselves or in an urn. If you want to bury the remains in a cemetery, you will likely need an urn vault to ensure the ground does not collapse as the urn ages. In other locations, such as your own property or at sea, you may consider biodegradable urns to break down over time and inter the ashes into the ground.
Does an urn need to be buried as deep as a casket?
No. Commonly, urns are buried about 3 feet down. Those who choose to bury an urn are highly encouraged to choose a location that isn’t going to be disturbed. Depending on the cemetery, you may be required to have an urn vault as well when burying an urn.
Can I bury an urn anywhere?
While most public spaces will allow the spread of ashes, most will not allow the burial of an urn. When it comes to private land, permission must first be granted before the burial.
Many want to be able to visit the exact place of their loved one, so choosing a plot to display an urn can be important. The remains can be displayed in an urn that can be moved to nearly any location.
Where can I display my cremation urn in a cemetery?
Most cemeteries will have a special place for urns, like a columbarium or mausoleum. These structures are created to hold the urns permanently. Because the small spaces are already set, checking on the size is important before selecting an urn. Not only will the space needed for display cause a potential issue, but the body will be reduced to one cubic inch per pound—which will impact what urn will be able to fit the ashes.
How long should you display a cremation urn at home?
While some choose to only hold their loved one’s ashes until they can be scattered at the right location, others plan to keep them within sight until they are gone themselves. Some hold on to ashes so that they can be buried or spread with another loved one. While you can display an urn in your home as long as you want to, you should always have instructions and details on the urn so that whoever is left to manage affairs when you die will know exactly what to do with the urn you’ve been displaying.
How to Memorialize with Cremation
While some people choose to plan a very traditional service to memorialize their loved one after cremation, others are much more flexible, informal or go with something entirely different. Let people know what is expected ahead of time and be sure to notify any friends or family members who may be impacted by the passing and want closure themselves. A funeral director or funeral planner can help organize the service, ceremony and dinner if you want help. The most common elements of a funeral ceremony include:
• A eulogy
• Prayers or Psalms
• Memories and Storied About the Deceased
• Floral Arrangements
Decide ahead of time what will happen to the ashes and who will be in charge of spreading them or keeping them. If you are spreading the ashes, check the ashes and urn the day before your ceremony to ensure everything looks right and is easy to open. Make sure the ashes are sealed in a container, plastic bag or sealed urn whenever you transport them to ensure no spills occur. If you do have a service, it can be helpful to give a brief explanation after to explain what is happening to the remains and what people are invited to do.
As you navigate the waters for making these choices after cremation, just try to keep your loved one in mind. Choose the songs, location, words and methods that would be most meaningful and honoring to the person you are memorializing.