Scattering Ashes: How to Handle Your Loved One’s Remains

Scattering ashes isn’t something that people often talk about. That’s why, when my late fiancé’s ashes arrived on my front porch via the U.S. Postal Service, I was completely unprepared for what was inside that box stamped “cremated remains”.

When scattering ashes in water, leaving flowers with the ashes is helpful.
Roses near the place where I spread Jeff’s ashes

Scattering ashes: Tips and tricks to handling your loved one’s remains

  • If you are scattering ashes in an ocean while standing on sand:
    • Make sure the tide is going out.
    • Consider spreading flowers along with the ashes so that you can watch those go out to sea along with the ashes.
  • If you are scattering ashes in a body of water
  • If you care casting ashes into the wind:
    • Mind the wind and make sure to stand in a place where the ashes will not blowback on you or anybody in attendance.
    • Hold the ashes at waist height to avoid catching the wind too much.
    • Consider an eco scattering urn.
  • Consider keeping some of the ashes. I filled two small sunflower urns and carried one with me on my travels for a while. The other I still have propped next to a picture of Jeff. See below for more options for keepsakes.
  • The Ecorial App allows you to record the exact GPS coordinates where you scattered your loved one’s ashes and to create an online memorial:
  • Take pictures. It may seem strange now, but I am so grateful that I took a picture of the sunrise the morning that I spread Jeff’s ashes in the Pacific Ocean.
  • If you’re scattering ashes on a death anniversary, check this post for ideas on what to do to honor your loved one on this date.

In an effort to normalize grief and to promote healthy discussions around death and dying, I’m writing this post to help any of you who are wondering just how to handle your loved one’s remains.

The most important thing I can pass along is that if something does go “wrong,” while you are scattering ashes, embrace it. It’s OK. Other people have experienced similar mishaps, I can promise you that.

This is a part of your grief journey and that journey is not wrong. It’s just tangled. And also transformative.

Scattering ashes: The surprising truth about bones

My late partner at haystack rock before being diagnosed with cancer. I would scatter his ashes here one year later.
Jeff at Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Oregon just before he was diagnosed with cancer.

I wasn’t expecting bones when I opened that postal box filled with my late partner’s ashes. Because I wasn’t expecting the bones, and because I received the ashes during the period of my grief journey when I was experiencing sudden bouts of anger, I got mad.

I wrote this about it in my published article on scattering ashes:

“Chunks of bone surfaced, submerged, and then reappeared in the gray-black ash. I don’t know whether it was the bones or my own sense of wonder that kindled the surge of anger.

I dropped the bag back into the postal box, producing a grainy plume, and wrapped my lightly dusted arms around myself, holding those escaped ashes close to my heart and allowing the rage to flow and crest red-hot through my body.”

Something to note: Because I was traveling abroad, I received Jeff’s ashes five months after his death. This is months later than normal. I likely would have responded very differently had I received his ashes earlier in my grief journey.

Scattering ashes: What else should you expect?

  • If you don’t order an urn from the crematorium, you may receive the ashes in a plastic bag.
  • There will be a lot of ashes.
  • The ash will stick to your skin and clothes.
When scattering ashes, it's important to take pictures.
This was the sunrise the morning that I spread Jeff’s ashes

Scattering ashes: When and where should you spread your loved one’s remains?

I strongly recommend that you wait until the moment feels right to scatter your loved one’s ashes. Don’t feel rushed by others and don’t put pressure on yourself to do it quickly if you’re not ready.

I spread Jeff’s ashes in the ocean near Haystack Rock exactly one year after he stood in that very location and declared it his happy place. It felt right to do it then, but it was many months after he died.

Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach
Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon

I also traveled for quite some time with a small urn carrying his ashes. After I accidentally put that urn and his ashes through the washing machine, I felt that it was the right time to stop traveling with his ashes. I scattered the remaining ashes from that small urn (yes, there were still some left even after the washing machine incident!) on the graves of my great-grandparents in Arlington National Cemetery on the one-year anniversary of Jeff’s death.

I didn’t plan to do it there. I just saw a sign and followed my gut. In other words, I waited until the time was right for me.

When scattering ashes, leaving a token behind is helpful.
A token I left behind on my great-grandmother’s grave along with Jeff’s ashes and sunflower urn

As far as good locations for scattering ashes, consider places of significance to your loved one and to you. If nothing comes to mind right away, that’s OK. The right place will speak to you soon enough. Give it time.

There is no rule that you must spread all of the ashes at the same place or at the same time. In fact there is no rule that you have to scatter them at all!

Other things to do with cremated ashes

Of course, scattering ashes is not the only option here. There are many other ways to handle your loved one’s remains. Here are a few ways to preserve some of the ashes:

More resources on scattering ashes

While I was writing this post and its corresponding story about accidentally washing my late partner’s ashes, I stumbled on this post by Tré Miller Rodríguez on Modern Loss: The 9 Things No One Tells You About Scattering Ashes. She experienced many of the things that I did and she also traveled with her late partner’s ashes. It’s a good read.

I published a companion piece to this post on Medium about accidentally washing my late partner’s ashes here:

Feature Image linking to a post about scattering ashes.

Resources on grieving

Do you have an experience you would like to share with scattering ashes? Did I miss other tips or good ideas for keepsakes? Comment below! And remember: You are not alone.

Disclosure Language

7 Comments on “Scattering Ashes: How to Handle Your Loved One’s Remains”

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences. These are just the type of things which are not talked about but are invaluable to people who, not surprisingly, have no experience of grief and the practicalities which come with it. Thank you again.

  2. Such wonderful advice that I never would have thought of. I’m sure this article will help a lot of people who have questions about scattering their loved one’s ashes. It seems like it must have taken a lot of inner strength both to scatter them and to write about your experience.

    • Thank you, Becky. I really appreciate that. I don’t know if it takes inner strength, but it definitely takes a couple of extra glasses of wine sometimes to face these topics! 😉

  3. Wow… I’m sorry you went through this. It is really powerful to write about death and losing a loved one. My Dad passed away right before Christmas in 2019. It was sudden and unexpected. I had a hard time saying goodbye and have some of his ashes at our house now. Wishing you the best on your healing journey.

    • Thank you. It is powerful, indeed. I started to feel so much better about grief and grieving (and all of the times that I messed up!) when I started writing about it. I’m so sorry for your loss. Those ashes are right where they are supposed to be until you are good and ready to move them. And maybe you never will.

  4. This article was both so useful and heartbreaking to read. I hope it helps many people in the future, as I am sure it will. It’s not every day you hear people talk about difficult subjects like this, so I applaud you!

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