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How to Plan a Graveside Service for the Burial of Ashes

Tom May
Mourner holding urn

Cremation continues to be a popular option for the final resting of the body of a loved one. While storing the ashes in an urn used to be common, many families today are planning a graveside service for the burial of ashes. This option allows both family and friends to remember their loved one with respect and dignity while bringing closure to one of life's most significant events.

Graveside Service for Burial of Ashes Before or After Cremation

Some people are hesitant to choose the option of cremation because of the desire to hold a funeral service for friends and family. Holding a committal service before the cremation process occurs allows the option of a funeral service and even the opportunity for an open casket. When held after the cremation, more time is available for planning the ceremony, gathering mementos and assuring the presence of special loved ones.

Options for Leading the Service

While there are many options for the interment of ashes, holding a service for memorial is left to the desires and wishes of the family. When held, a ceremony typically takes places following the cremation, with family and friends gathering at the final resting place. The service can be religious in nature, led either by a member of the clergy or a family member. When the memorial is offered apart from a religious setting, the ceremony may be led by a humanist, someone supporting cremation, or a family member or friend.

Time Limitations for the Service

As a rule, graveside services tend to be fairly brief. If the service is held in a church, funeral home, crematorium, or other public location, a strict time limit may be imposed. If it's a private ceremony held at a home or more remote location, the service can be as long as the family desires. The loss of a loved one is an emotional and stressful time, so it would be thoughtful to keep the ceremony to less than an hour.

person on funeral with urn

Planning the Graveside Service for Burial of Ashes

The graveside service for the burial of ashes will often include most of the facets of a funeral service. For a religious memorial, the singing of hymns, Scripture readings, a eulogy, prayers, and a statement of committal are common aspects to include. The service is meant to commit the person to their final resting place. The following items give structure to the service. Use as many as time and preference will allow.

Gathering or Invitation to Gather

The celebrant or leader can begin the ceremony with an invitation to gather with the purpose of remembering the loved one. Religious services will use this moment to implore the presence of God into the meeting. Some traditions will have the gathering read in unison by all present. The words may include:

  • We have gathered here to remember and celebrate the like of [name of departed].
  • We come together today in grief, acknowledging our loss, and in hope, of finding comfort and life beyond.
  • Our prayers, O God, acknowledge your goodness and praise you for your faithfulness in the past. We seek your comfort today and your presence in our time of grief.

Prayer

The celebrant or leader offers a prayer to God. The Lord's Prayer (Mat 6:9-13) is a prayer often used and may be said in unison. Depending on the setting, it may be appropriate after the prayer to ask those present to be seated. Non-religious services may use this moment to offer a poem or appropriate reading.

Hymn or Music

A graveside service may include the singing or playing of one hymn or appropriate music. Some families may wish to include a personal favorite of the deceased. Many religious traditions would limit the music to an approved list of classical music or hymns. A hymn may also be included following the statement of committal. Some typical choices of hymns would include:

  • "Amazing Grace"
  • "Abide with Me"
  • "O God, Our Help in Ages Past"

Scripture Reading or Poem

The reading of Scripture is always a part of a religious ceremony. The verses from the Bible may be favorite verses of the family or the departed loved one. Poems or readings may be substituted for a non-religious memorial. Appropriate Scripture verses can include

  • Psalm 23
  • Psalm 121
  • John 14:1-4

Eulogy

It is not typical to include a eulogy in a graveside service for the burial of ashes. A family may wish to do so if they have not had a memorial service where one is shared, especially if this is the first time the family has formally gathered together. The celebrant may be asked to offer the words to eulogize the deceased. A family member or friend's words would also be appropriate. The eulogy in this setting should be brief.

Committal Statement

The celebrant traditionally offers words as the person is being committed to their final resting place. As the ashes or urn is either placed into a columbarium niche or buried in the ground, words of this nature would be fitting:

  • Into your hands, O Lord, we commend your servant [name of deceased].
  • As our bodies come from the dust of the ground, we return to dust the body of our loved one [name]. Although the phrase is not biblical, many will use the words "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" at this point.
  • The Lord gives; the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Benediction

The celebrant should offer an appropriate prayer to close the service, dismissing those gathered afterward. "May the Lord bless and keep you" (Num 6:24-26) or the Lord's Prayer (Mat 6:9-13) are appropriate Scriptures used as a prayer of benediction.

Special Circumstances

In many cases, a memorial service must take into account the life and circumstances of the deceased, the preferences and circumstances of the family and the circumstances of those attending the service. A service which would include the scattering of ashes at sea, or a memorial which would include a military or other organizational presence may dictate necessary changes to the service. The celebrant and family need to be both flexible and compassionate in change.

Comfort From Tradition and Closure

Planning a graveside service for the burial of ashes can bring closure for a grieving family. The gathering of family alongside the traditions of faith and friends provide comfort and hope at a most stressful time.

How to Plan a Graveside Service for the Burial of Ashes