What to do with ashes

Guy Pierce / 13 October 2015

Whether you decide to scatter or store the ashes of your loved one, there are many possibilities. Read our guide to discover your options.



That an entire industry has evolved over the past 30 years around the dispersal of human ashes best illustrates exactly what you can do with them these days. In fact, there is very little you can’t do with them that’s hampered by legal restraint.

Just as funerals themselves have become more relaxed, and a minute’s silence often replaced by a minute’s celebratory applause at sports grounds, so the final act of disposing of a person’s ashes has become more inventive and less formal, though not at the loss of respect for the deceased.

Home storage

If you wish to keep to your loved one’s remains at a family home, then you would need to find a receptacle (urn) that would hold the approximate weight of five to six pounds (a woman’s ashes on average weigh around two pounds less than a man’s).

There is no legal hurdle to this but it is important that they are kept in a secure place, where the chance of accidental spillage is at an absolute minimum.

You may also need to consider the emotional adjustment to having them in the home. If you feel their presence disturbing or upsetting then don’t feel obliged to keep them. Find another way of disposing of them.

Columbaria

A columbarium is a mausoleum for the ashes. They aren’t that common in the UK and some research would be involved. As a family, you pay a ‘rent’ for storage, typically from around £20 a year for the ashes to be stored. Then there are the ‘extras’; plaque. engraving etc, which can be considerably more. Costs vary significantly around the country. Visit  The London Cremation or read the guide produced by Mintlyn Crematorium, Norfolk.

Crematoria

A crematorium will often store the ashes for you for a limited period of time, says 2-3 months free of charge, before dispersal. Funeral directors are far less likely to offer this facility, if only because of lack of space. It’s most important that you get written confirmation from a crematorium of how long they will store the ashes of a loved one.

There was a case where the husband wished his ashes to be mixed with those of his wife before there was scattered. He died two years after she had passed away, but the crematorium had only kept them for sixth months. They’d spread them, with others, on a rose bush plot in a private ceremony.

‘Oh, didn’t you get our letter?’ was their response to the unsurprisingly upset daughter.

Dispersal on water

For the deceased who had a strong association with the sea, or perhaps keen anglers who had a favourite stretch of river bank, there is no legal hindrance to disposing of their ashes on rivers or within UK waters.

There are marine companies that offer special boat hire (with crew) for those who provide this service, which includes a waterproof urn.

A 2-3 hour trip for 12 mourners, wishing to disperse the ashes on the River Mersey by catamaran, starts at around £200, for example, while a for party of seven scattering the ashes from a sailboat on the Solent, prices would start around the £280 mark.

Just check with the skipper which way the wind is blowing before you release them.

Visit Scattering Ashes for a comprehensive guide to boat charter services, for ceremonies on both river and sea.

Fireworks

If you wish to see your loved one go up in a puff of smoke and a blaze of colour, fireworks are an increasingly popular way to make a final farewell in style. The writer Hunter S Thompson is probably the best-known personality whose ashes went up in a pyrotechnic display.

You can either choose to ‘self-fire’ rockets containing the ashes, or opt for a more expensive professionally organised display.

Companies such as Essex-based Heavenly Star Firework offer both services.

It’s a simple procedure. For four self-ignited rockets, you separate a maximum 200gm (for a minimum of four rockets), send them to the company which then loads them into rockets which are sent back to you to let off. They can also put the ashes into more glittery display fireworks. The rockets ascend to 200ft, while the fireworks gain a minimum height of 60ft.

Prices for this level of display start at around £250.

Professionally run displays, which last longer and can accommodate more ashes, cost from around the £1,000 mark.

Jewellery

You may wish for a permanent reminder of a loved one in the form of a piece of jewellery, a ring or pendant, perhaps.

Ashes into Glass http://www.ashesintoglass.co.uk/ take a small amount of the ashes and, by mixing them with molten and coloured glass crystals, creates a unique stone which is then mounted on silver or gold as a ring, necklace or even as a paperweight.

Ashes (and hair) can also be used as carbon in creating laboratory ‘grown’ diamonds. There are several specialist companies offering a range of colour and cut including Heart in Diamond, a London-based firm operating throughout Europe.

Football grounds

For many years football clubs permitted the sprinkling of ashes on or around the pitch. However policy has changed in recent years and it is down to the individual club. There is concern among some groundsmen that the phosphates contained in the ashes would, in time, damage the pitch itself.

Crystal Palace is typical of many clubs where the fans’ memorial garden is now full and they are appraising how best to accommodate the wishes of fans and their families. St Lukes church at the side of Goodison Park has a memorial garden where the ashes of Everton fans can be spread.

Contact the individual club for their policy.

No-go areas

The Forestry Commission strictly prohibits scattering of ashes on any of its land. Welsh and Scottish mountain authorities are reluctant to encourage a strewing of ashes on mountains and peaks as the phosphate content of the ashes are known to damage the soil and fauna, particularly in popular visitors' spots. This goes for Royal Parks, too.

Local authorities prefer you not to spread them on their parks. If you are intending to do so, and want to hold a simple ceremony, then it is best to notify them first.

Spreading them on your your garden is fine. Do bear in mind that your house will not necessarily remain in the family over the next few years. A new owner might not be too accommodating when future generations arrive to say they want to see where granddad's ashes were spread.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.