Ashes to the Wind: A Guide to Scattering Ashes

Scattering the ashes of the dead is a long and storied tradition, dating back probably as long as cremation itself. The scattering ceremony can be beautiful and moving, and as formal or informal as you or the deceased would like it to be, including poems, speeches, and prayer. But before you make any decisions as to where, when, and how you wish to go about scattering the cremains of your loved one, it is probably a good idea to clear up a few misconceptions about the process.

The very phrase “scattering ashes,” is in fact something of a misconception, as the cremains are not actually ashes, but crushed bone fragments. And contrary to the typical media portrayal of the practice, the ashes don’t typically float away in a beautiful cloud. In fact the most accurate, if darkly comic, portrayal of scattering cremains in modern media may be a scene near the end of the film, “The Big Lebowski.” Walter and the Dude – two of the main characters – attempt to scatter the ashes of a third, Donnie, over the ocean using a Folgers coffee can as a scattering urn, ( Instead, the wind takes hold of Donnie’s remains and deposits most of them on Walter’s and the Dude’s faces.

Other accounts tell of the “ashes” falling into the water in a clump, or refusing to dissipate as anticipated. In short, it isn’t as neat or as easy as the phrase scattering ashes implies. So, if you intend to dispose of the cremains by “scattering” them, you’ll probably be dispersing them by one of the following methods. Before you begin this undertaking, be sure to check with local authorities to make sure that there are no laws against the scattering of cremains in your desired location.

Casting: This is probably closest to what most think of as scattering the ashes. The cremains are cast from a scattering urn to be spread by the wind. Be sure to check the wind direction first and cast downwind. Most of the remains will travel only a short distance before falling to the ground. The lighter, dust-like particles will disperse in a grayish cloud.

Trenching: A hole or trench is dug in the ground and the cremains are placed in the hole and buried, either directly or in a biodegradable scattering urn. If the ceremony takes place at a beach, the name of the deceased can be drawn in the sand, along with a heart or flower, to be photographed and washed away with the tide.

Raking: The ashes are poured evenly from the urn onto loose soil, and, after the ceremony, each family member or loved one takes a turn raking the remains into the ground. Be sure to hold the scattering urn close to the ground because of wind. If the ceremony takes place at a scattering garden, this is likely the method they will use.

Water scattering: The ashes are scattered upon a favorite body of water. This is the method of scattering ashes most likely to result in the cremains blowing back onto the bereaved or washing up against the boat, so a special type of biodegradable scattering urn is advised. There are urns available that are specially designed and manufactured to degrade quickly in the water, allowing the moving and peaceful farewell ceremony you would like.

Air Scattering: Ashes are released from a specially designed airplane, often within sight of the mourners so that the plume of cremains can be seen from the ground. It may be possible to arrange for family members to fly along.

Scattering the ashes of your loved one can be a moving and beautiful way to say good bye. But as with any other aspect of a funeral, scattering cremains will proceed much more smoothly if you plan ahead to provide them with the tribute they deserve.

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