5 things to consider before you spread someone's ashes
We've all seen what happens when ash spreading goes horribly wrong.
But I never thought about the effort you have to make for it to go right.
The one request my mom had was that she wanted her ashes spread on her dad's property in Canada. This was bout 3,500 miles away from my hometown, where she died. And when she died, it was fall. Late fall in Southern Ontario is the complete opposite of late fall in Southern California. Getting out to the remote location where we were to have the ceremony would have been too difficult, time consuming, and dangerous. This meant waiting, and also (eventually) transporting them into Canada without any hangups.
In the weeks leading up to our trip, I did a lot of reading and planning, thanks to the nudging of my boyfriend. We read articles about "things you'd never think of" when it comes to spreading ashes, and they were incredibly helpful for a few reasons.
This experience of spreading ashes will be a first on many levels. When you're faced with a first, it helps to be prepared, so here are five things I am glad I knew, and think everyone else should know, before going out to spread someone's ashes.
If you have to transport them, read up.
When you're traveling with someone's ashes, you might already overwhelmed with stress and grief. You're carrying the cremated remains of a loved one to a ceremony that's probably starting to feel like a second funeral, all over again. So being prepared in advance can take a huge amount of stress off of you day-of — the worst thing that could happen is being turned away from check-in because you brought the wrong paperwork or stowed the ashes improperly.
Read up about what you have to know and do when you're transporting ashes via plane, or internationally. Airlines are going to have different regulations, so be prepared based on who you're traveling with. Some will ask you to check the remains, some will make you keep them in your carry on. When in doubt: call the funeral home or airline! I did this... multiple times.... and everyone I spoke with had 1. dealt with it a million times and was happy to talk 2. completely understood that I was stressed af.
Not everyone will feel the same way as you do.
When we went to spread my mom's ashes, we were visiting her hometown during a major family reunion. There were people we'd never met, people that hadn't seen me and my sister since we were "this big", and relatives that we'd seen recently but who couldn't make it out for the funeral months earlier. This meant that a lot of my cousins, aunts, and uncles were with us for the first time since my mom died.
Consider that people will want to participate differently based on where they're at in their grief. Before our service, I gave baggies of ashes to each of my mom's brothers and sisters for them to take home or spread on their own around the property. Some people might want to say something or write something — my cousins read poetry and spoke SO well, while I had a hard time myself! And my uncle wanted to put some of my mom's ashes where some previously laid ashes were buried on the property.
Ashes don't feel or look how you think they might.
Like I said, unless you've had a specific reason to, you probably haven't opened up the urn your loved one is in. Unfortunately, this means that you might not be aware of some off-putting features that ashes have. Be aware that there might be bits of bone fragment that haven't been completely burned into ash. They are also quite sticky, and heavy, and look nothing like what's at the bottom of your fireplace.
Ask someone you trust to be available if you think you might not be able to handle it day-of. As you'll know as someone deep in grief, all kinds of things "come out of the blue" at these milestones and experiences. My boyfriend was my go-to, and he helped tremendously when I needed to zone out and just rapid-fire fill baggies, or when I couldn't deal with wiping ashes off a picnic table bench with a towelette.
You don't have to spread all of them.
When we took our trip, it was obvious that we needed to leave some of my mom's ashes exactly where she told us too. But it was also important for some of us to know that we could have her with us, in this capacity, when we went home. My dad took some to bury in the garden in his backyard and I have my share in a really unique vase on our bookshelf at our apartment.
Whether you want to save them for later or spread them in multiple locations, you don't have to spread them all at once. Make sure that you come prepared with something to take them home in, depending on what they were stored in inside of the urn. You might want to keep them forever, or you might just save them for an anniversary or memorial date in the future. Regardless, there's a lot of material to work with (TBH) so don't hesitate to save some.
You can pack a kit!
If you're ready to spread your loved one's ashes, here's a short list of things you (or your friends or family) can collect before the day.
- A small pocket knife to open the urn: my mom's ashes were in a wooden box and we weren't sure if we'd be able to just slide the top off or if we had to break a seal.
- A spoon or handled scoop: if you decide to divide the ashes, make sure that you can spoon portions without having to use your hands.
- Small baggies to divide the ashes into: for people who want to spread their own portion of the ashes or take them home.
- Wet wipes or a water bottle and paper towels: ashes can really stick to your hands and hair (plus, if it's windy you might run into a Big Lebowski situation), so have a tidy, easy way to clean up.
- A camera: even if you think you might not want to look back on this day, you might! If you never look at the pics, no problem, but at least you'll have them if you change your mind.
- Tissues: for tears or allergies depending on where you're spreading the ashes (people often do this in remote locations during beautiful but blooming times of the year).
- Flowers: this was my favourite piece of advice from a blog I read! They suggested to bring flowers to put in the water so that you're not just watching the ashes sink and float away.