Cremation is now favoured by over 78% of the UK. Despite this, not everyone leaves instructions for what they would like to happen to their cremated remains. Leaving many loved ones with the dilemma of what to do with the ashes.
For many families, when they finally decide on what to do with your remains after cremation. It tends to be the not knowing if they have made the right decision that troubles them.
Iman Bowie, supermodel wife of musician David Bowie, didn't have to worry. The singer asked for his ashes to 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?
What happens to your ashes after cremation
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.
Usually your ashes weigh around 1.8kg to 2.7kg. They 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.
When you receive your ashes there will be a metal serial numbered tag. The tag will withstand the cremation process and provides a permanent means of identification.
Lastly, contrary to popular belief the texture of your ashes will be quite coarse.
What no one tells you about cremation
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.
Furthermore, in the event that 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.
For instance the British entertainer, Sir Bruce Forsyth CBE. 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 that contains his agent's ashes. Brucie’s blue plaque reads: "He rests in peace within the sound of music, laughter and dancing ... exactly where he would want to be."
Pic: London Palladium - Sir Bruce Forsythe's resting place
Scattering ashes on water
If you want your ashes scattered on water, you will be in esteemed company.
The likes of; 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.
See Frequently Asked Questions at the bottom of this article for the laws regarding scattering ashes on water in the UK.
21 amazing things to do with ashes after cremation
Ready to be inspired? Here’s a list of 21 amazing ways for you to go.
1. Ashes pressed into a vinyl record
Your 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 memorial, you 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.
So, 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, as loved ones will be descending tandem with a qualified freefall parachutist.
Besides the jump fee, there is no cost to scatter ashes from the sky. The skydiving centre will complete the necessary Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) form.
White clouds, a piercing blue sky and a unique vantage point make this an unforgettable way to say goodbye.
3. Ashes incorporated into a painting
The art of the possible
Your ashes can be blended with acrylic paint and turned into a privately commissioned painting. Alternatively, 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
Do you have artistic tendencies?
Did you know that human ash can be turned into a ceramic glaze? and the glaze can then be applied to a bowl, a vase, a sculpture, an oil burner, or even a coffee cup (for the practically minded). Also ash can also be added to clay.
Taking this on board you could decide to commission a unique piece of art after you're gone, which will become a family heirloom.
A further 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
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
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.
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.
11. Ashes scattered at National Trust sites
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.
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.
14. Incorporating your ashes with wildflower seeds
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.
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.
16. Ashes in a Viking longboat
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!
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.
If this is the way you would like to go, we would advise leaving this cautionary note for the person who will be given the responsibility of scattering your ashes:
If your ashes are still in the container from the crematorium, they need to check first that your ashes are loose and not in a plastic bag. It has been known for a ceremonial scattering at sea to end with the surprise of the bag 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 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.
19. Ashes embedded in a memorial reef
For the nautically inclined, your ashes can be placed inside a ‘solace stone’. This is deposited on the seabed three 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.
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: wood, ceramic, wool, wicker, cardboard, marble, metal, stone. The casket can be covered in glitter or wrapped in an off-the-shelf pictorial design to reflect your life and interests. You can even have the casket wrapped in your own desighttps://bygc.me/glittern.
Where is the best place to scatter ashes?
The best place for your ashes to be scattered is the place that most resonates with you and that will bring the most solace for the people you leave behind.
Jean Alice Rowcliffe is a former royal nanny and author. In her memoir, The Last Tear, she writes about how her only child, James, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 17. He died 11 months later on the eve of Mother’s Day. He never got to see the world, so wherever Jean goes, she takes a little of James's ashes with her and scatters him there.
You can read more about Jean’s journey beyond grief in The Last Tear – A Memoir by Jean Alice Rowcliffe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, they can, and there is no need to make any formal record of doing so.
If you want to be scattered on private land, the owner will need to give their permission.
This option needs careful consideration. The landowner may grant permission, but could deny loved ones future access to the site should they want to visit.
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
If you want to be scattered on a privately-owned stretch of water, the owner will need to give their permission.
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.
The best way to scatter ashes depends on the location and the weather.
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!
Raking is the act of scattering on the soil or sand and then raking cremated remains into the ground.
Trenching is where ashes are poured directly into the earth or buried inside a biodegradable container.
If you like the idea of the sea being your final resting place, a suggestion is for a loved one to draw a special message in the sand and to pour your ashes into the trench. They can then watch the sea kiss the shore and take you away.
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.
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.
How to mark and find the exact location for the scattering of ashes.
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.
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