What to do with Cremated Ashes to Honour a Loved One

Daniela Fortino
Daniela Fortino
August 21st 2021 - 8 minute read
Facebook Twitter Linkedin
Learn what to do with cremation ashes to honour a loved one. We explore traditions, religious rituals, and alternative practices.

Daniela Fortino

What to do with cremation ashes to honour a loved one

After cremation, a person's remains are reduced to a fine powder called "ashes." How ashes are handled after that is a choice made by the deceased person's family. There are many traditions, religious rituals, and alternative practices that can honour a family member. Here are some options that a family can consider

Keeping cremated remains at home

One of the most common traditions is for the family of the deceased to keep cremated ashes. Some families choose to place a decorative urn (tips on selecting an urn) containing the ashes in their home. The urn is often kept on a mantle or other place of honour.

Some families opt to share the remains among several households. This can be done in one of two ways. The ashes can be split into several keepsake urns so each family member can keep a part of their deceased loved one close. For anyone that is not comfortable doing this themselves, it can be handled by a funeral director. Alternatively, a small amount of ashes can be deposited or integrated into jewelry (see cremation jewellery options here).

With a keepsake urn, the ashes are divided into smaller urns so the remains can be kept in multiple locations.

Keepsake jewelry contains a small portion of the ashes. Instead of integrating a portion of the ashes, an alternative option is to imprint the loved one's fingerprint on the jewelry.

The Eirene urn catalog offers different urn types and styles to choose from, organized by material, theme, or size. A choice of urns can be found here.

Scattering ashes

Another common tradition is to scatter the ashes. This can be done on land or on the water or in a place that has meaning for the deceased or the family. Air scattering is also a possible practice. Some families choose to release the ashes from an aircraft over land or water that is  meaningful for the deceased person. The location of where to scatter ashes is a matter of choice. Some families scatter the ashes on their own property, on a golf course (with permission), or at a place loved by their deceased relative. That place can later be visited by family members when they remember their loved one.

Scattering ashes in Canada

It is essential that when ashes are scattered, that local laws and regulations are followed.

In Canada, ashes can be scattered on private property such as the family home or cottage or on another piece of private property as long as permission is obtained from the landowner.

They can also be scattered on Crown land as long as the space is unoccupied. This includes provincial parks and conservation reserves. Crown land under bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, or the ocean, is included in this rule. In Canada, that includes the Great Lakes.

Specific rules may vary in different provinces and municipalities, so the local or regional municipality should be contacted to check if there are any specific rules or restrictions.

Burying the ashes

One of the more conventional ashes-handling traditions chosen by Canadians is to bury the ashes in a cemetery. The ashes can be placed in a grave plot for that purpose, often in a biodegradable urn. Some people chose for their ashes to be buried in the same plot as a spouse or with other family members. An urn that contains ashes can also be placed in a cremation niche, which is a shallow recess, usually within a wall, that is used to contain or display an urn. Some cemeteries offer gardens where ashes can be scattered.

Religious and Cultural Cremation Traditions

Many cultures and religions have different cremation traditions and rituals on handling and scattering ashes. Here are a few of them.

Hindu cremation traditions

The cremation process begins with a wake before the body goes to the cremation location. During the wake, loved ones dress in white, and the deceased's body is covered in a white and red sheet. Cremation rites are conducted by the Karta, the head of the deceased's family, often a close male relative, who also collects the remains the next day. The remains are traditionally scattered on a river, typically the Ganges River in India.

Balinese cremation traditions

On the island of Bali, cremation is an important, elaborate, and expensive process. It begins with a parade and ceremony called Ngaben. During Ngaben, the body gets carried to the cremation site in a tower created by the family called a Wadah, while friends and family take part in a parade to celebrate and honour the deceased. Once the body reaches the cremation site, it is transferred to a coffin often shaped to resemble an ox or another animal and burned. Twelve days later, the ashes get scattered on the river. This symbolizes the release of the soul to the eternal world.

Sikh cremation traditions

In the Sikh religion, cremation typically occurs within three days from the time of death. A ceremony is held beforehand for the deceased. During the ceremony, members read passages, give prayers, and a sweet pudding is shared. After the process, ashes are collected and scattered over water to release the spirit to the afterlife.

Buddhist cremation traditions

Buddhists are not overly particular when it comes to funerary practices; however, cremation is one of the most common options. Many attribute its popularity to the fact that Buddha himself was cremated. Additionally, Buddhists do not think funeral practices affect the afterlife, so the process does not affect their beliefs.

Practices vary based on the different sects of Buddhism, but some general activities take place during a typical funeral. At the time of death, monks and teachers will gather with the family to say prayers as the body is prepared for cremation; this typically takes a week. After cremation, family members place the remains into an urn, and it is often buried in a family plot. Prayers continue through the mourning period that can last from a month to 100 days.

South Korean cremation traditions

In South Korea, burial beads--sometimes called death beads--are a post-cremation choice that is becoming popular. In this practice, beads are created from the cremated remains of the deceased. The pink, blue-green, or black beads will often be on display in the family's home as a way to memorialize the dead.

Unlike some of the other examples, this practice did not arise from a religious or cultural belief. It has become increasingly more popular because burial space is limited in the country. To combat this problem, the government passed a law in 2000 requiring the removal of buried remains from their graves after 60 years. The law has contributed to the rise in the popularity of cremation and burial beads.

New and alternative ash scattering practices

There are many alternative ways to handle ashes that include new and creative ways to honour a loved one's memory.

Some choose to memorialize a loved one sustainably using a biodegradable urn. These are urns made of paper, clay, plant material, bark, wood, and other eco-friendly materials that decompose over time in the earth. These types of urns are ideal for land or sea burials. Biodegradable urns with seeds or seedlings in them are also an option. As seeds germinate and become a seedling and grow, the container breaks down, and the ashes mix with the earth and help create a tree.

You may also choose to launch remains into the sky. A company called Heavenly Stars Fireworks can incorporate cremation ashes into fireworks. When they are ignited and launched, they create a tribute by lighting up the night sky.

A small amount of ashes can even be launched into space (see related post), with the remainder scattered at the rocket launch site. There is even a service that will send them to the moon. There are many options to choose from. Cremation provides the freedom and flexibility to explore these possibilities.