Deciding Where and When to Spread Ashes

Gabrielle Applebury
Family with urn

Deciding where and when to scatter a loved one's ashes is a deeply personal decision that can feel emotionally draining. Take your time making the arrangements and continue to stay connected to your support system throughout this process.

The Process of Scattering Ashes

Scattering ashes can be a beautiful way to honor a loved one. You may want to do so alone, or invite close friends and family members to join you.

Choosing When to Scatter Ashes

Ashes can be scattered whenever you feel ready to do so. Whether it's the day of receiving the cremains or years later, this decision is completely up to you. You may also opt to scatter some ashes and keep the rest of the remains in an urn. This way you can experience the process of scattering ashes while still keeping the urn in your home.

Laws Regarding Where to Scatter Ashes

There are some rules and regulations regarding where to scatter ashes. You should always get any permission you obtain in writing and keep a copy with you on the day you scatter the ashes. Keep in mind:

  • Be sure to obtain written permission from a private property owner if you'd like to scatter ashes on their property.
  • To scatter in a national park or protected area, you will need to ask the property manager or park ranger beforehand and obtain a permit.
  • You can scatter ashes on your own private property without seeking a permit or permission to do so since you own the land.
  • You may spread ashes in the ocean or can set a biodegradable urn adrift, but it must be further than three nautical miles from the shore. This must be reported to the EPA and you must obtain a permit before doing so.
  • Some cemeteries will allow you to scatter ashes, but you must check in with the property owner before doing so.
Mother and daughter spreading ashes

Holding a Ceremony

Holding a ceremony before you scatter the ashes can be a nice way to honor your loved one before releasing their cremains. You can consider doing a small, intimate ceremony, or inviting a large number of people to join you. This all depends on your style and preference for this moment. You don't have to do anything super formal for this ceremony unless you'd like to, but unlike a funeral service, you can really take control of all aspects of the arrangements and create a ceremony that's right for honoring your loved one.

Traveling With Ashes

If you have opted to travel with an urn, or need to do so to relocate the cremains, there are several ways you can protect the urn from becoming damaged. Be sure to:

  • Check with your airlines before bringing an urn onto the flight as some will not allow it.
  • Make sure your creamation urn is sealed and packed in protective bag to prevent breakage.
  • Consider carrying on the urn instead of placing it in a checked bag as checked bags tend to be handled more roughly.
  • Keep in mind that the urn may be inspected by a TSA agent. This can be triggering to watch so just remember that this could be a possibility and doing so is part of their job.
  • If you are traveling via car, place the urn in a protected bag and be sure the urn stays facing upright to prevent any spillage.

Emotionally Preparing to Scatter Ashes

The act of scattering ashes may feel healing to some, but it also may feel incredibly painful for others. To mentally prepare to scatter your loved one's ashes, try to imagine yourself doing so. Picture the location, who you are with, and notice how you feel and if anything comes up within your body. Take some deep breaths as you try to place yourself on this day. Whether you feel a range of emotions, numb, or something in between, keep in mind that it is completely normal to feel however you feel. This process may be a combination of extreme pain felt from the loss and also beauty in remembering and honoring them.

Making the Right Decision for You

It can take some time before you feel ready to scatter your loved one's ashes. There is no right or wrong way to feel throughout this process and it's okay to reach out for help if you feel overwhelmed. Although scattering ashes may feel somewhat healing for some individuals, it doesn't feel that way for everyone. Take care of yourself throughout this process and continue to monitor your emotional well being during this time.

Deciding Where and When to Spread Ashes