The scattering of ashes is now the most popular thing to do with cremation ashes. Keeping ashes home in a cremation urn is still common, however the burial of the urn in a cemetery is being bypassed by the faster and more glamorous method of scattering the ashes to the four winds and becoming one with nature. In fact, research indicates that almost half of all Americans choose cremation over a ground burial or mausoleum. Of those being cremated I estimate that more then 60% are choosing to scatter. Why have scattering ashes become such an acceptable and apparently desirable aspect of the funeral process? I would say that one reason is that survivors can choose locations of natural beauty that are both meaningful to the deceased as well as those who live on. People are drawn towards nature when faced with a death, they want to do what’s natural and like the idea of returning to the earth ASAP! Sociologists suggest that it may have something to do with the fact that people are highly mobile now and generations of families rarely remain in the same area as they did 50+ years ago. Moreover, because the economy and job market are consistently unstable, it is less likely that a family member would remain living close enough to visit another family member’s grave for an extended period.
It Makes People Feel Good
People who have participated in scattering the ashes of a loved one say it is a deeply emotional experience that makes them feel closer to the deceased because they are doing something so personal and meaningful on behalf of the person’s remains. In addition, knowing they are fulfilling their loved one’s last wish helps them deal with the loss of that person by creating a sense of oneness with his or her spirit. For some, scattering ashes strengthens the emotional bond they had with the deceased by renewing a special spiritual bond that cannot be experienced while alive. When we allow the wind or water to embrace a loved one’s ashes, we feel deep within ourselves that they are experiencing a rapturous sensation of freedom, vibrant energy and serenity. Scattering ashes because the deceased wanted you to scatter their ashes over the sea, a beach at sunset, into the clouds or over mountains from an airplane can relieve the anger, sadness, guilt and pain of losing that person to the natural processes of birth, maturation and death.
More Affordable Than an Expensive Traditional Burial
Unless the deceased had the means to maintain a life insurance policy for 20 or more years, purchasing a traditional funeral is often left up to his or her family members. Caskets are expensive and require you to buy a cemetery plot. Essentially, people just do not have the money for a traditional burial anymore so they are choosing different and less conventional perspectives regarding funeral preparations and the location of a loved one’s final resting place. Today’s society is more concerned with the spiritual and ceremonial aspect of the funeral process and less concerned about the physical disposition of the traditional handling and viewing of the body.
The Going “Green” Movement
Since the 1990s, “going green” has slowly but steadily improved all aspects of our lives; from recycling items at home, using natural ingredients in cleaning products and taking part in preserving the environment by establishing more animal reserves and protected wildlife areas. This concern over excessive land use and the destruction of forests for commercial purposes has also contributed to the popularity of cremation and scattering a loved one’s ashes. Injecting a body with harmful chemicals and putting it in a man manufactured casket then sealing it in a concrete vault, all to take up space, just isn’t cool anymore.
People are Living Longer and Making Their Own Burial Decisions
In 1900, the average lifespan for U.S. citizens was 46 for men and 48 for women. Today, it is 73 for men and 76 for women. This means that people are living long enough to make their own decisions about their final wishes instead of their relatives making funeral plans. According to surveys asking men and women why they opt for having their ashes scattered, the four main reasons for electing to be cremated are: 1) it is more affordable; 2) greener; 3) simpler to arrange and 4) personal preference. They love the idea of using a bunch of the money they saved on cremation and putting it into a grand celebration of their life in a more party like atmosphere.
Water and Earth Scattering
Specially made urns are used to scatter ashes over a body of water or landscape that come in a variety of colors, shapes and styles. They are functional in a way to prevent accidental dispersion of ashes until the scattering ceremony takes place or are tube-like and come with a cap to keep ashes safe until the scattering ceremony. Some scattering urns even convert into a birdhouse following the scattering. Ashes get spread and birds get a new home in which they may continue the cycle of life. Scattering at sea can get a bit messy because of the wind and the waves. Using an urn that’s made to scatter ashes at sea can add ease and dignity to the scattering ceremony itself. Biodegradable urns that float a few minutes allowing people to toss flower petals as the urn drifts, then eventually sinks and dissolves in the water. Ashes are held safely in biodegradable urns until they are buried in the ground or placed in water, where the urn slowly disintegrates and returns to the elements from which it came.
Where and Why Do People Scatter Their Loved One’s Ashes?
The most popular places to scatter cremated remains are naturally meaningful places that the deceased loved and revered. Beaches, lakes, parks, a favorite vacation spot or even the Minneapolis Mall of America are places where “ashes” have been scattered. Over water and in the garden are the two most popular locations. Scattering ashes from a helicopter or small plane while flying above a place that was special to the deceased is also becoming more common.
Spiritual concepts surrounding the act of scattering a person’s ashes originally come from Hindu and Buddhist beliefs regarding physical, or bodily life. The belief is that the life one lives on Earth is ephemeral and the soul experiences many transmigrations as an eternal but ever-evolving spirit. Over thousands of years, Hindu and Buddhist beliefs concerning cremation were eventually adopted by mystical philosophers, spiritual individuals searching for an alternative to traditional religions and naturalists who wanted to symbolically return themselves to the place from which they came–the Earth.
Scattering Ashes Helps People Through the Grieving Process
After the death of a loved one, people experience five stages of grief–numbness, yearning, guilt, anger and acceptance–in varying intensities. Some may feel more anger than others while some miss the deceased so much they cannot move past the stage of “yearning” towards the final stage of acceptance. Reality may not hit a person until the memorial service is actually underway and they see the body of the deceased resting in
an open casket.
Following the strange sensation of disassociation after realizing that a loved one has passed away, most people have feelings of numbness replaced by a yearning for the loved one, an almost agitated state that causes moments of extreme anxiety, panic and hopelessness. Watching the burial of a loved one–the whole process of lowering the casket into the grave and later, visiting the grave after it has been filled in with mounds of dirt–can be more upsetting than the actual passing away of the deceased. Although the belief that a person’s soul leaves the body at death dominates most Western religions, it is still hard to think about someone you loved very much as a body buried underground.
Cremation Jewelry and Keepsake Urns
–Another Way to Always Feel Close to a Loved One
In addition to scattering ashes, you can keep some of the loved one’s ashes always with you by placing a small amount of the ashes in cremation keepsake urns or jewelry pieces. Cremation jewelry comes in three different styles: the kind filled by the customer, jewelry made with cremation ashes integrated into glass beads and jewelry made from the actual ashes. After a scattering ceremony, cremation jewelry keepsakes are beautiful mementos that can help those having a difficult time with the grieving process hold onto their loved one in a symbolic way for as long as they want without needing to make an emotionally difficult visit to a grave site. This is why it’s always a good idea to retain a portion of ashes to be shared with surviving family and friends.
Jeff Staab is a funeral director in southern Vermont. A certified Life Cycle Celebrant. He owns and operates www.cremationsolutions.com and is a cremation memorial and ash scattering specialist. When he’ not dreaming up the next cool cremation product he enjoys adventure in the mountains and on the sea, cooking for friends, social responsibility and green living. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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