21 Amazing things to do with your funeral ashes

21 Amazing things to do with your ashes

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Over 78% of all UK funerals are now cremations.  Still, not everyone leaves instructions for what they would like to happen to their ashes afterwards.  This leaves many loved ones with a dilemma:  "What shall I do with the ashes?" and "What would they have wanted?"

For many families, when they finally decide on what to do with your remains,  it's not knowing if they have made the right decision that often troubles them.

Iman Bowie, supermodel wife of musician David Bowie for 24 years, didn't have to worry.  The singer is reported to have written that his ashes should be scattered in Bali and in line with Buddhist rituals.

If you would like to choose an alternative way to go or give the custodian of your ashes a helping hand with some suggestions on how best to commemorate you, we have a few suggestions. 

Who is this guide for? 

  • Anyone curious about what can be done with their  ashes following a  cremation  funeral 
  • Anyone looking for an alternative to burying or scattering ashes at a cemetery or crematorium
  • Anyone who wants to know if it's legal to scatter or bury ashes anywhere

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What no one tells you about cremated remains

A few days  or weeks after the funeral service your ashes will be made available for collection or hand-delivered to the person responsible for organising  your funeral, unless arrangements have been made for you to be  scattered at the crematorium  or  your ashes interred.

Your ashes – typically weighing around 1.8kg to 2.7kg  - will be returned in a plastic jar ('polytainer'), a sealed plastic bag inside a cardboard box (or just a sealed plastic bag and no box), or the urn you or someone else has pre-purchased.  Included with your ashes will be the metal serial numbered  tag which withstands the cremation process and provides a permanent means of identification. The texture of your ashes will be quite coarse.  It isn’t as fine as most people imagine.  

If your ashes aren't returned in the weeks following your cremation, a funeral director belonging to a funeral trade association is expected to hold onto them for five years. If your ashes remain uncollected after that time – and after every effort has been made to contact the rightful owner – your ashes may be interred or scattered at a place of the funeral director's choosing.

An alternative ending for ashes

If you would like an alternative ending, there are more choices than you might imagine, ranging from the unusual to the downright quirky.    

Take the  British entertainer, Sir Bruce Forsyth CBE, for example.

Sir Bruce’s wish  was that his ashes be laid to rest at the London Palladium. Anyone who has followed Brucie's  career will know that this theatre held a special place in his heart.  He now lies in a cavity in the brick wall  that runs alongside the communal dressing area underneath the London Palladium stage.  His final resting place is next to another cavity in the wall where his agent’s ashes lie. Brucie’s blue plaque reads:

 "He rests in peace within the sound of music, laughter and dancing ... exactly where he would want to be."  

London Palladium - Sir Bruce Forsythe's final resting place

Pic:  London Palladium - Sir Bruce Forsythe's resting place

If you want your ashes scattered on water, you will be in esteemed company. 

George Harrison from The Beatles was scattered in the Ganges River in India. Dad's Army actor John Laurie was scattered in the English Channel, intrepid explorer Sir Edmund Hillary in New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf, US comedian Robin Williams in San Francisco Bay, and British film director and producer Sir Alfred Hitchcock, and actors Cary Grant and Steve McQueen, are resting in peace in the Pacific Ocean.

Ready to be inspired?  Here’s a  list of 21 amazing ways for you to go.

1.   Ashes pressed into a vinyl record 

A vinyl resting place? 

If you are a music fan,  you can reach your family from beyond the groove with a small amount of your ashes pressed into a playable vinyl record.

Add favourite pieces of music and a voice  recording or  have a piece tailor-made by  And  Vinyly for loved ones to remember you by. To top off this unique memorialyou or your loved ones also get to customise the record label and album cover.   

2.   Skydiving with ashes  

Above us only sky  

Bereavement can make people want to live their own lives more fearlessly. And what could be more courageous than a loved one scattering your ashes while floating back to earth at several thousand feet?

No previous parachuting experience is required, and they’ll be descending tandem with a qualified freefall parachutist. White clouds, a piercing blue sky and a unique vantage point make this an unforgettable way to say goodbye.  Apart from the jump, there is no cost to scatter ashes from the sky.  You will need to complete an application form (Article 89), which you can download from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).  Click the button opposite to take you to the online form. 

3.   Ashes incorporated into a painting

Art of the possible 

Your ashes can be blended with acrylic paint and turned into a privately commissioned painting. You could choose a landscape, an abstract piece, something figurative, or even a portrait of yourself. It only requires one small scoop of ash to help create the perfect work of art.

4.   Ashes into pottery and ceramic glaze 

Gone to pot 

Did you know that human ash can be turned into a ceramic glaze? The glaze can then be applied to a bowl or vase, a sculpture, an oil burner, or even a coffee cup (for the practically minded). Ash can also be added to clay. 

You could decide with loved ones to commission a unique piece of art, especially if you have artistic tendencies, which will become a family heirloom. An idea would be to incorporate a small amount of your ashes into clay to create an urn, decorate it with a glaze containing more of your ashes. Then that urn could be used to hold the remainder of your ashes or someone else you want to be kept close to (human or pet).

5.   Ashes memorial for the keen cook  

Marking time 

All or a proportion of your ashes can be made into a standalone hand-blown ornamental hourglass - perfect for the lounge or study,  a game timer, or – if you love cooking – into an egg timer. Now others can have soft-boiled eggs just like you used to make every time.

Run time range from 30 seconds.

6.   Ashes into glass art

Clearly departed 

It only takes a teaspoon of ash combined with glass crystals and molten glass to produce a unique patterned stone. 

Your ashes can also be combined with molten glass to make one-of-a-kind jewellery (rings, pendants, bracelets), be blown into glass bowls, or turned into sections of a stained-glass window. This may be an ideal solution if you’re leaving behind a large family and everyone would like a keepsake. 

7.   Ashes into diamonds  

Love is forever  

There is ample carbon in a single body’s worth of human ash to create a synthetic diamond – several, in fact.

It only takes around 100g of material (out of over 1.8kg – 2.7 kg for an adult). Now you can sparkle again and continue to be someone’s best friend – permanently. 

8.   Ashes in fireworks 

Go out with a bang

Light up the night sky with specialist, ash-laden fireworks. Your choices include self-fired firework tributes in your favourite colours, or professionally fired firework displays to your choice of music. 

bygc.me/fireworks

9.   Ashes in a rocket 

Reach for the stars

You can reach for the stars by having a portion of your ashes launched into space on board a rocket. The ascent and release are captured on video, so loved ones can watch you travel on your final journey. 

10.   Scattering ashes at beauty spots and other special places 

A sense of place 

Instead of your ashes being interred or spread in a Garden of Remembrance, why not choose a location that has a special significance for you and will bring back happy memories for others?

Perhaps somewhere those closest to you can revisit whenever they feel the need? That could be a much-loved beauty spot, a favourite family holiday destination, or your local football team’s pitch. For privately-owned land, the landowner must give their permission.

Scattering ashes at football pitches

11.   Ashes scattered at National Trust sites 

In trust

If you love history and grandeur, you could approach the National Trust or the National Trust for Scotland for permission to have your ashes scattered at one of their stately homes, or on their land.  The National trust does not have a formal position on such requests, but many families have been permitted in the past.

Written permission is needed from the property manager, and the responsibility for ensuring there is no environmental impact and that the scattering is a private occasion will be down to the keeper of your ashes. Many National Trust properties also have cafe facilities for afterwards.

12.   Ashes scattered on mountains or hills

Looking down on you  

Many people find a spiritual connotation to mountains and hills, so this could be a perfect spot for loved ones to say their goodbyes. As with all public spaces, they would need to find a time and place where they will not be disturbed unexpectedly, bearing in mind that other visitors also have a perfect right to visit the site. 

Cremated remains scattered on mountains and hills

There are generally no rules to prevent scattering ashes here (see previous advice about seeking a private landowner’s permission), but they will need to consider weather conditions very carefully – especially the wind. Some conservationists recommend scattering ashes on lower mountain slopes to help preserve the delicate ecosystem higher up.  

13.   Ashes breathing life into trees

In leafing memory

Planting a tree with your ashes could be the perfect send-off if you are keen on the great outdoors or passionate about the environment. Over time, as grief lessens for your loved ones, life literally begins to fill the space. It’s a poetic memorial but be aware that high levels of calcium, sodium and acidity from human ash can be harmful to plant growth.  

One solution is mixing the ash with soil or having the ashes incorporated into a biodegradable memorial tree urn – complete with soil, fertiliser and sapling root - specifically designed for the job in hand. 

Breathing new life into plants with cremated remains

from Bios Urns

14.   Incorporating your ashes with wildflower seeds

Go wild 

If a family member or a close friend is comfortable with opening the urn, they could mix in wildflower seeds before the scattering? Many people have a favourite flower or one that has symbolic significance, such as a poppy.

Incorporating your ashes with wildflower seeds

15.  Ashes buried or scattered in a garden   

Just the other side of the door  

If you are a keen gardener or spend many happy hours with a significant other in your own garden, you might decide to have your ashes buried or scattered there. Loved ones could create a shrine, spread your ashes over a flowerbed or find their own way to create their very own Garden of Remembrance.

Cremated remains scattered in your own garden

16.  Ashes in a Viking longboat

“Is this the way to Val-h-alla?”

As ‘chieftain’, your ashes will be placed in the hull of a unique Viking longboat urn. The urn will be set alight, launched, and you will drift out across the water on your way to Valhalla. 

This is the perfect ending for those who love history or with wild Norse ancestry!

Viking longboat urn for cremated remains

17.   Ashes scattered on water  

Beyond the sea

Unlike a burial in UK coastal waters, a special licence or permission isn’t needed to scatter ashes at sea or on a river, or lake. However, if the body of water is privately owned, the owner’s permission will need to be given. 

Cremated remains scattered on water

If this is the way you would like to go, we would advise leaving instructions for the person who will be given the responsibility of scattering your ashes with this cautionary note:

If your ashes are still in the container from the crematorium, they need to check first that your ashes are loose. It has been known for a ceremonial scattering at sea to end with the unwanted surprise of a non-soluble plastic bag containing ashes being tipped onto the water, which bobs about until punctured. It’s also vitally important they check the wind direction before scattering.  

You can learn more about the laws around scattering ashes on water here on the Gov.uk website.

18.   Ashes under water

Under the sea 

Should you prefer your ashes are submerged rather than scattered at sea, the vessel needs to be chosen with care. Suitable eco-friendly ‘water burial’ urns are made from paper, sand and salt. They will dissolve and disperse the ashes gradually and with dignity.

Cremated remains under the water

soluble urns from Amazon

19.   Ashes embedded in a memorial reef 

Funeral reef 

For the nautically inclined, your ashes can be placed inside a ‘solace stone’ that is deposited on the seabed off 3 miles to the east of Weymouth and Portland in the South West of England to form part of an artificial reef.  

Each stone includes a plaque with your details and makes a wonderful contribution to the undersea environment by helping to create a habitat for sea life. 

20.   Ashes memorialised in a tattoo

A part of me will always be with you

A choice for a loved one is to keep you as close to their own skin by having a tattoo that incorporates some of your ash in the ink. The design could be an image of you.

This might not be to everyone’s tastes, but there is no rulebook when it comes to commemorating someone who has died.

21.   Keeping the ashes at home  

Close at hand, close at heart   

Many people like to have the ashes of a loved one at home, either permanently or just until they feel ready to let them go. You might want your ashes kept back until you can rest in peace with someone else when they go.  

There’s a huge range of ashes casket and urn designs and materials to choose from, including wood, ceramic, wool, wicker, cardboard, marble, metal, stone, and covered in glitter or a picture.  The casket can be wrapped in an off-the-shelf pictorial design to reflect your life and interests, or you can have the casket wrapped in your own design. 

Choosing the right thing to do with your ashes

As you can see, there's lots of choice when it comes to commemorating someone with their remains.  It's more than just 'ashes to ashes'.    We hope the suggestions here  spark some thought and discussion with your loved ones and brings you all peace of mind and solace.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can ashes be legally scattered anywhere in the UK?

Yes, they can, and there is no need to make any formal record of doing so.  The only requirement is that if you want to be scattered on private land or a privately-owned stretch of water, the owner will need to give their permission.   

Think carefully about having your ashes scattered on private property that doesn’t belong to family, as loved ones may want to revisit the location. The landowner may give access now but could prevent access in the future. 

If you want your ashes scattered across water, you need to ensure this is done away from where people may be swimming, and that any memorabilia or wreaths cast into the water are not harmful to the environment and wildlife.

See the government's guidelines for scattering on water bygc.me/gov-uk-water

Can ashes be shared?

Yes. 

This is a really great way to help several people cope with their loss.  Each person can do with the ashes whatever brings them the most comfort.  

Your ashes can be divided into smaller keepsake urns or scatter tubes.  They can divide the ashes themselves, or they can ask the funeral director to do this.

What’s the best way to scatter ashes?

The best way to scatter ashes depends on the location and the weather, and personal preference. 

Casting ashes
Casting is where ashes are scattered into the air. The person doing the casting needs to stand up-wind, or they could go home wearing some of you.  (Seriously - this has happened to many people!)  

Raking ashes
Raking is the act of scattering on the soil or sand and then raking cremated remains into the ground.

Trenching ashes
Trenching is where ashes are poured directly into the earth or buried inside a biodegradable container.  If you fancy the beach as your final resting place, a suggestion for the person closest to you is that he or she draws a heart or special message in the sand, pours your ashes into the trench, and then watches the sea kiss the shore and take you away. 

Trenching ashes on a beach

Where is the best place to scatter ashes?

The best place for your ashes to be scattered is wherever resonates with you and the place that will bring the most solace for the people you leave behind.  You could also think about having your ashes scattered in several ways and locations.

Scattering ashes in more than one place 

Former royal nanny and author Jean Alice Rowcliffe’s only child James, a dynamic 17-year old, was diagnosed with cancer and died 11 months later on the eve of Mother’s Day.  He never got to see or experience the world, so wherever Jean went, she would take a little of James with her and scatter his ashes there.  

You can read more about Jean’s journey in The Last Tear – A Memoir by Jean Alice Rowcliffe

Scattering ashes in the Crematorium's Garden of Remembrance

The Garden of Remembrance is made up of special areas set aside for the purpose of burial or scattering of cremated remains.  This area is usually adjacent to the crematorium building.  The Garden of Remembrance is usually open year-round, with easy accessibility.  

Arrangements for the scattering need to be made directly with the crematorium staff or funeral director.  It may not be possible to mark or identify the exact location of individual cremated remains. 

How to mark and find the spot again after scattering ashes

If you have a specific place in mind where you would like your ashes scattered, there is a handy app - what3words.  This app has given every 3m square in the world a unique three-word address.  

You can choose the spot for your final resting place from the map on the app, or physically visit the location and the app will find you and provide the co-ordinates. Now you can share the exact location for the scattering of your ashes with loved ones.  The what3words app will navigate them there.

The three words are chosen at random and will never change, so generations of family and friends can visit whenever they wish.

Use what3words to mark the spot where ashes have been scattered

Useful RESOURCES

What3Words
How to mark and find the exact location  for the scattering of ashes.

Gov.uk
Rules and regulations around the disposal of ashes on land and water.

The Last Tear - A Memoir by former Royal nanny, Jean Alice Rowcliffe
An inspiring personal account of a mother who scatters her young son's ashes around the world.

About the Author

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Kim is the founder & CEO of Before You Go. Kim began working in the funeral industry in the late 90s. She is a renowned funeral cost expert and has commented in many national papers, on the radio and on the BBC and ITV. She is a member of funeral and bereavement parliamentary groups in England and Wales. In 2017 Kim was included in the annual Maserati & Sunday Times list of top 100 UK business people, for having a positive impact on her industry and society as a whole.


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