Cremation and ash-scattering: How families are choosing to conduct their own memorial services

Scattering cremated remains. What to Know

Cremation is changing the funeral industry, not just regarding the disposition option but also how we memorialize the cremated remains. There is an increasing trend toward not holding a formal funeral service at a funeral home when families are choosing cremation.

More families are opting to wait to memorialize until after the cremation is conducted, and in some cases, are choosing not to use a funeral home to deliver the funeral or memorial service.

Do families really want to scatter cremated remains?

Scattering cremated remains by balloon

The NFDA Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study reports that of the 61% of Americans who would choose cremation for themselves, 51.1 % would opt to have their remains scattered in a sentimental place.  Over 50% of respondents stating that they would choose an ash-scattering for their final rite of passage is staggering.  The implications of this mindset to funeral homes and cemeteries are far-ranging but largely signify the potential for a huge decline in the profit margins on conducting funeral services and interring remains.

Cremation ash-scattering statistics

The recent NFDA Cremation & Burial Report provides some insightful statistics on what happens with cremated remains. At present, 39% of cremated remains are returned to families, 37.1% are buried at a cemetery, 1.6% are scattered at a cemetery, and 8.6% are placed in a columbarium. Furthermore, 19.8% are scattered at non-cemetery locations.

So, indications at present suggest that one in five families who opt for cremation conduct their own ash-scattering memorial, and this figure is likely to steadily increase over the coming years.

Costs involved in a cremation ash-scattering service

Cremation Memorial Service

Those families who conduct their own ash-scattering service often do it at very little cost.  They may take a small group of family and friends to a special sentimental place and do their ‘own thing’…….scatter the remains, and have their own private farewell.

Minimizing the costs for a permanent memorial is one of the main reasons families choose ash-scattering.

There is a whole array of ash-scattering services and companies that will help a family do a cremation ash-scattering. Obviously, all this comes with a cost, and it can range from very simple unaccompanied sea or land scattering in the region of $150 – $350 to a group boat charter or organized life celebration event that may be in the price range of $450 – $2,000 (or more).

The division of the funeral industry:  cremation disposition and memorialization

I believe it is fair to say we are witnessing a division of the funeral service industry as we know it.  For decades, we entrusted the funeral home to care for everything.  They arranged collection, transport, funeral products, a funeral service, and interment at a cemetery or columbarium.

Cremation has opened the path to the funeral industry splitting into 2 schisms – disposition and memorialization.

Cremation disposition:

A cremation takes care of the immediate disposition of the body.  A direct cremation can affordably manage the need to deal with the disposition of the deceased and requires limited services from a funeral home or funeral director.  The funeral home will collect the deceased from the place of death, shelter the remains whilst the legal requirements for authorization and permits are obtained, and then the cremation is conducted.  Once the deceased is cremated the remains are directly returned to the family.

This means the family can utilize the services of a funeral home to conduct the disposition, but not necessarily the memorialization of the tribute aspect of a funeral service.

Memorialization & Personalization:

With the division of the traditional death care industry, more families are opting to perform their own memorialization services.  Once the cremated remains are returned to the family, they can organize a tribute that fits around the family.

‘Personalization’ is quite the buzzword in the funeral industry right now, as funeral directors are keen to meet the demand for more personalized tributes and still feel that there is a value-add they can offer a family in creating a personal memorial tribute.

Cremation Plan

As highlighted above, more families are choosing not to inter cremated remains, and there is a growing interest in ash-scattering memorials.

If a family chooses to conduct an ash-scattering ceremony in a sentimental spot, this can be done without the need for officiation by a funeral director or celebrant.  Although, celebrants can be hired to help organize and conduct a memorial service.

The option to conduct a simple cremation service after a death occurs, then opt to hold a family memorial or ash-scattering ceremony, means death care can be delivered at a fraction of the cost that we are used to.

The NFDA 2023 report surmised that the average cost for a traditional burial was $7,484 (without a cemetery plot).  A direct cremation service can be arranged across the United States for around the cost of $1,000. [This price does vary by state and city but ranges from $695 to $1,795 depending on location].  If a family then conducts their own memorial service, funeral costs can be reduced significantly!  With many families living paycheck-to-paycheck, below the poverty line, and without life insurance today, direct cremation and a simple family farewell ash-scattering offer an affordable funeral alternative.

If you want to determine the cost of a direct cremation near you, use our Local Provider Search

For more information about conducting your own memorial service, use our section on What to do with Cremated Remains and Memorialization from the Cremation Blog homepage.

Sara Marsden

I have been researching and writing about the death care industry for the last fifteen years. End of life services and experiences are something most of us choose not to reflect upon until we are suddenly faced with dealing with it. I have been contributing comprehensive and independent resources for families that explain how the funeral industry operates, and the laws that govern funeral practices. Sara writes for US Funerals Online and DFS Memorials LLC, as well as contributing to other forums and publications for the death care industry. I have a BA in Cultural Studies. This helps my analysis of cultural death care rituals, alongside a career background in Business Management. The death care industry is undergoing an epoch of change and this fascinates me.

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