Planning a Ceremony for Spreading Ashes: 11 Meaningful Ideas

Updated May 9, 2022
Mother and daughter spreading ashes on rocks

From choosing what to say when spreading ashes to planning the perfect ashes scattering ceremony, there are many ways you can remember your deceased loved one. The type of ceremony you choose depends on what you believe your loved one would have wanted and what will bring the most comfort to those who are in mourning. Planning a ceremony for spreading ashes takes special thought, but it's a meaningful and healing process.

How to Plan a Ceremony for Spreading Ashes

In many ways, an ash scattering ceremony is easier to plan than a large funeral. There are fewer expectations of what will happen, but this lack of clarity can also feel a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, the basic process is quite simple and requires only a few decisions.

1. Decide on the Scale of the Ceremony

How many people do you want at the ash scattering ceremony? Generally, these events are intimate celebrations of life and only have a few special friends and family members present. However, there are no rules about the guest list. Communicate the date, time, location, and details of the ceremony to anyone you would like to have there.

2. Choose a Location and Understand the Regulations

Your loved one may have specified where they would like their ashes spread, in which case you already know where you'll be holding the ceremony. If they didn't communicate their wishes, choose a location that is meaningful. There are a few guidelines to keep in mind when considering where to scatter ashes:

  • Ocean - For ashes scattered in the ocean, you must inform the Environmental Protection Agency within 30 days of the scattering. The scattering must happen at least three miles from the shore.
  • Lakes and rivers - Check with your state for regulations involving scattering ashes in lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. Some states, such as Michigan, don't have specific regulations in place about scattering ashes in fresh water.
  • Parks - Most public parks require people to get a scattering permit prior to the ceremony. Most national parks, such as Yellowstone National Park, allow ash scattering with a permit.
  • Private property - Scattering ashes is legal on private property, but you must have the owner's permission. Before you have an ash scattering ceremony on private property, contact the owner of the property where you want to scatter the ashes to ask for permission.

3. Consider What Words You'll Say at a Scattering Ceremony

An important part of any scattering ashes ceremony, words and readings can make the event even more poignant. What you say when scattering ashes will depend on the person you are honoring and the wishes of those present. There's no wrong answer, as long as your words are comforting. Try one of these:

  • Poems - There are lots of ideas of poems to say when scattering ashes, including celebration of life poems. You could also share a favorite poem of the person you are celebrating.
  • Quotes - When you're scattering ashes, quotes can also offer comfort to those present. Consider the words of people the deceased admired, including favorite authors and politicians.
  • Religious texts - Religion can offer comfort to many people after a death. Consider incorporating readings from a religious text or Bible verses as part of an ash scattering ceremony.
  • Memories - Favorite memories of the person who has passed away can be some of the most powerful words you can speak at the ceremony. Consider having anyone who wishes to share memories do so at this time.

Special Ideas for Scattering Ashes With Meaning

The key to having a meaningful ashes scattering ceremony is incorporating ideas that will make the event personal. The perfect ceremony will fit the person you are mourning as well as those who are present to celebrate their life.

Let the Ashes Settle Slowly Into Water

Woman scattering ashes over the water

Ash scattering is sometimes called casting when you disperse ashes into the air, and this can be an especially powerful choice over water. Some of the ashes will slowly sink below the surface of the water, while some may float for a time. This gentle settling can be comforting for those who are grieving. The settling may be most apparent in still water, such as a calm lake or a pond. Add floating flowers for additional beauty.

If you choose to scatter ashes over water, keep in mind that if you are in a boat, the wind may blow the ashes back against the boat or everyone on the boat. Test the wind and make sure that it's blowing away from the boat.

Float the Ashes in a Special Urn

Woman grieving with funeral urn

Another meaningful ceremony for spreading ashes on water involves floating the ashes in a special biodegradable urn. You can drop this urn into the water, and it will float for a few minutes and then sink. The urn dispenses the ashes slowly while under the water. This gives everyone a chance to watch the ashes float for a while and then slowly disappear, allowing people to say goodbye.

You don't need still water for this type of scattering ceremony, which makes it a great option for rivers and streams. The urn can float away on the water. If you do this type of ceremony on a stream or river, consider checking the path of the ashes with something else that floats. You don't want the urn getting stuck on a snag or stick during the ceremony.

Scatter Ashes in a Ring

There's a comfort in the unbroken shape of a circle or ring, and scattering ashes in this shape can be very meaningful. You can have this type of ceremony almost anywhere, and there are no rules (other than local regulations) about the size of the ring. You can customize this tribute by adding wildflower seeds to the ashes.

There are many ways to perform a ringing of ashes ceremony. You can choose a garden and scatter the ashes in a circle around the garden. Another idea is to choose a grave marker and scatter the ashes around it. The important thing here is to choose something that your loved one would have liked to surround.

Rake Ashes Into the Ground

Family scattering ashes in a garden

If your loved one was a gardener or a farmer, raking ashes into the earth is a wonderful ceremony. You can scatter the ashes on the ground and then rake them into the soil. This ensures that the ashes become one with the area you chose. Consider planting something at the time you rake the ashes. Flowers, grasses, and other plants can offer a sense of healing when they begin to grow from this special piece of ground.

Spread Ashes on a Beach

Whether your loved one enjoyed basking in the sun by the ocean or collecting rocks along the Great Lakes, beaches can offer a meaningful place to scatter ashes. There are lots of great ideas for scattering ashes on a beach, including raking them into the sand, placing them in the waves, and sprinkling them on a beach bonfire.

No matter what you choose, it's best to find a private area for this type of ceremony. You can also choose a less popular time of year or day when the beach won't be crowded with people.

Release Ashes From a Plane

yellow aeroplane on sky

You can also have ashes scattered from the air if your loved one was a pilot or enjoyed flying. This can also be a way to scatter ashes in a location you can't easily reach on foot, such as a mountain or dense forest.

There's a trick to properly scattering ashes from an airplane, however. A professional in a private plane usually releases the ashes, since you want to make sure they fall in the right spot in the right way.

Spread Ashes With Fireworks

People Watching Firework Display

If you want a unique idea for scattering ashes, consider having the ashes placed inside fireworks. When you light the fireworks off, the ashes are automatically scattered in an explosion of light and color. This can be the perfect creative send-off for someone who loved adventure or especially enjoyed pyrotechnics.

The advantage of this kind of ash scattering ceremony is that you can have lots of people there and still have it feel like an intimate and meaningful experience. It's important to check the fireworks regulations in your area before you proceed, however.

Float Ashes in Paper Lanterns

Multi-generation family flying sky lanterns

Another way to involve many people in the ash scattering ceremony is to use paper lanterns. You can put some ashes in each lantern, and everyone can light them off together. The heat from the flame of the lantern makes it rise, and it can be very special to watch the ashes float off into the night sky.

One important consideration with this type of send-off is the fire danger. Check the restrictions and fire conditions in the area where you'll be holding the ceremony for spreading the ashes.

Scatter Ashes Along a Favorite Path

Family with urn spreading ashes on cliff overlooking ocean

For someone who loved to hike or mountain bike in nature, it can be a beautiful idea to scatter their ashes along a favorite trail or path. Rather than having the ashes in one single place, this gives the feeling of travel and distance. It's perfect for an active person who really enjoyed adventure.

One challenge with this type of ashes scattering ceremony is the activity level. Everyone who participates will need to be able to walk or ride the trail, so it can make it difficult to include children or those with mobility challenges.

Hold a Trenching or Green Burial Ceremony

Natural burial grave in the forest

When you bury ashes, it's called a trenching or green burial. You can do this in multiple places that were important to the deceased, allowing you to scatter ashes without having to spread them in a traditional way. To have a trenching ceremony, dig a small hole in the ground, place ashes in it, and then cover it with soil. You can decorate the area with candles or other mementos to remember your loved one.

A green burial is similar. You can make a hole in the ground and bury the ashes. You can also buy a biodegradable scattering urn for this ceremony. If you want to use a cemetery for this, make sure you ask for permission. You will also have to check with your local and state laws regarding green burials.

Disperse the Ashes Among Friends and Family

You can scatter ashes among the people most important to the deceased. There are lots of ways to do this, from jewelry made to hold the ashes to small memorial stones created from the ashes.

Hold a ceremony to distribute the ashes to everyone who wants them. You can honor your lost loved one by holding readings or sharing memories, and then everyone can leave with some of the ashes. This can be an incredibly powerful type of ash scattering.

Creating the Perfect Memorial

Scattering the ashes of a deceased loved one is an emotional process. During the ceremony, it may help to have music playing or to discuss fond memories of the person you're honoring. As long as you follow the appropriate regulations and choose a method and place that suits the personality of your loved one and the emotional needs of those present, the event is sure to be memorable.

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Planning a Ceremony for Spreading Ashes: 11 Meaningful Ideas