Stories From The Heart

Scattering Mom

By Jesse Kalfel, author of “So You’re Cremated … Now What? Over 100 Creative Ways to Scatter Your Ashes and Other Useful Information

My mother is going to die. I am not sure when but she is 97 and getting frailer by the moment. She wants to talk about her end. I don’t. It’s not a comfortable topic of discussion for me or most of us.

And we have a problem.

“You didn’t get a double plot,” I remind my mother.

“I know,” she says. “I was angry at your father for dying. For leaving me.”

“I can get a double plot. Move him over next to you when you pass.”

Pass. Croak. Not with us anymore. Expired. Kicked the bucket. We have lots of ways that avoid talking about the D-word: death. Like Woody Allen once said, “I don’t mind the idea of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

“He’s happy just where he is,” she says.

I ask her whether she wants her own plot.

“No. Too lonely. And I don’t like the idea of being cooped up in a box for eternity.”

I need another idea. Think out of the box, as they say.

“There’s cremation,” I offer. “Aunt Tillie and Uncle Pat did that. You can do things with your ashes. Put them places, scatter them if you want.”

“What did they do with their ashes?”

“Their kids placed them both in a memorial wall.”

She looks at me. She is concerned.

“A wall?” she asks.

“Next to their church. A fieldstone wall where you can inter your ashes inside.”

“A wall. A casket. What’s the difference? You’re trapped. I want something done with my ashes that’s really me.”

I had to think about that. What was something that was really mom?

“Let me do some research and come back with some suggestions,” I offer. “In the meantime you can think about what you would like to do with your ashes.”

I start by asking my friends what they would do when their time comes. They are divided about burial versus cremation. Those that opt for cremation have a few ideas about what they want done. Others have none. What I find interesting is that people see themselves as still alive when they consider burial and cremation. Cremation folks have an idea, like my mom, of seeing themselves trapped in dark and dank coffins with worms and bugs. Burial advocates feel the pain of the fire.

I figure the web can give me ideas. I Google cremation information. There are plenty of web sites with very dry and somber facts written by no-nonsense funeral directors. After the particulars are described including what the cremation process entails, these sites heavily promote a variety of urns and funeral services you could get from them for a price. Other web sites warn about legal issues; others offer news like a newly deceased celebrity being cremated; a few advertise local scattering services. I recount their blunt content and marketing spiel to mom.

“Why can’t we have fun with this?” she asks after I tell her what I have found so far.

She is right. No web site, magazine article, or blog has a sense of humor about cremation and what you could do for your last production.

You don’t often hear the words humor and cremation uttered in the same sentence. But taking what is a somber, emotional topic and reframing it in an entertaining yet informative way can actually help people discuss something that we all have to face one day. Those considering cremation can have a more comfortable way to prepare for a memorable send-off. Something that’s really them. A little fun with death.

So I do more research. What I discover is there is not one source that covers everything you need to know about cremation, the hundreds of urns types you can choose from, do’s and don’ts, scattering places or things you can do with your ashes aside from scattering them . And of course, humor is absent from everything I read.

“You should write a book,” mom suggests after I tell her there is no good guidebook out there.

So I start writing a book.

“Give me some ideas,” she says. “And I will give you some of mine.”

“You love the sea. You can have your ashes be part of an artificial reef.”

“King Neptune and fishies for company,” she muses. “I like that. What else?”

“You can be made into a diamond.”

“Then I would be really precious,” she laughs.

“We can also put your ashes into fireworks and have a great send-off.”

“A bit showy but then I was always a bit showy.”

“You have any suggestions?” I ask.

“I don’t have to do just one thing, right?”

“You can do as many things as want,” I answer.

“Sprinkle me on your father’s grave. I also want you to put me into the flower bed around my favorite tree in your backyard.”

“I know the one,” I say.

“You know those plastic pink flamingoes they have for lawns. The kitschy kind.”


“Drill a hole and pour some of my ashes inside.” She laughs and so do I. “Give the bird to your cousin Pat to fit in with his collection of lawn gnomes.”

She hands me a list and I read it. It has twenty-three names. Nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.

“Put a bit of my ashes in little velvet sachet bags and give each of these people a bag after my service is over. I want them to have a private send off and ceremony for me. I just hope my cousin Ella doesn’t flush me down the toilet since we had that fight last year.” She smiles about that one.

I am impressed with her ideas. She is having fun with this.

“Do the reef thing and fireworks on my birthday.”

“Consider it done.”

“Two more things,” she says.

I nod my head.

“I want you to find where Amando is buried. Sprinkle a bit of me there.”

This will be difficult. My mother is Holocaust survivor. General Armando Marin Muniz was the Chilean consulate general stationed in Paris during World War Two who saved my mother’s life by giving her a false identity as a Chilean national.

She sees me hesitate. “Try your best.”

“I will. What’s your last idea?”

“Save a little of me and take a pinch each time you and your family go on vacation. Scatter me in a nice spot.”

I realize that each idea gives her comfort as if she can actually see each scenario she has described. She sees herself with her husband, under my tree, and coming with my wife and daughter on vacations.

It also gives me comfort. She will always be close, especially at the times when I will miss her the most.

Cremation Questions and Answers


Question: How many Americans choose cremation every year?

Answer: Over 40% of our population choose cremation? Some states have even higher numbers: In Oregon the percentage of cremations is over 63%, Hawaii is 66%, Nevada is 65 %, Washington is 64 %, and Arizona is 59 %. The lowest state is Alabama with 9%. In England and Japan, 90% of its people choose cremation.


Question: Why do people choose cremation?

Answer: The Cremation Association of North America conducted a survey with these results: to save money (30 percent); to save land (13 percent); personal preference (6 percent); it is simpler and more convenient (8 percent); does not prefer their body buried (6 percent). Other reasons cited were concerns for the environment, cold-weather constraints, and ease of transportation to distant burial sites.


Question: What does the cremation process entail?

Answer: According to Everlife Memorials, the cremation process starts with a container/casket containing the body, which is placed inside the cremation chamber. The cremation chamber’s main burner ignites starting the process of incinerating the body. Temperatures within the chamber often reach the 1800°F – 2000°F range. The burners within a cremator are fueled by either natural gas or propane. It generally takes about 1-1/2 to 2 hours for a body to be completely reduced to just the bone fragments by cremation. After the entire incinerating process is complete, a cool down period of 30 minutes to an hour is required before the bone fragments can be handled for further processing. When the time finally arrives, the cremated remains or bone fragments are removed from the cremation. The crematory operator removes all metal debris such as screws, nails, surgical pins or titanium limbs/joints with a magnet if the person had artificial implants during their life. The remaining bone fragments are then placed in a special processor that pulverizes the bone fragments to a fine powder called cremains or more commonly referred to as the ashes. The ashes are then placed in a container or an urn provided one is furnished to the crematory. The ashes are then returned to the family.

Cremation Survey Results (compiled by DA Roth)

Today, about a quarter of all deaths in the United States are followed by cremation. A new national survey indicates forty six percent of Americans plan to choose cremation, up fifteen percent from 1990. In some states, the choice of cremation is rising very rapidly.

About thirty percent of those choosing cremation state that they do it to save money; fourteen percent because it is simpler, less emotional, and more convenient; about the same percentage state that they want to save land. One benefit is that one’s remains may be scattered in a place or places that have special meaning, the ocean, mountains, or a memorial garden, among others.

A little over half of the respondents choosing cremation in the survey stated that they would most likely purchase a cremation urn.
About forty percent would chose scattering of the remains.

About twenty five percent would place the remains in a cemetery (sixteen percent to bury), (eight percent to a columbarium), (and one percent to a church columbarium).

Ten percent stated that they would take the inurned remains home.

Fourteen percent were undecided.

Almost ninety percent of all who choose cremation say they would like some kind of a ceremony. A casket can often be rented if a funeral service is desired prior to cremation, and the remains stored in a Cremation Urn (our business here at Signature Cremation Urns), or a service may be held with the Cremation Urn containing the remains.
A 2004 poll for the National Funeral Directors Association found 62 percent of U.S. adults want personalization at their funerals. The most popular forms cited in the survey included friends relating stories (50 percent), playing favorite music (47 percent) and displaying photos and personal items (42 percent).

Urns are available in many styles, materials and sizes that can be placed in cemetery niches or taken home.

Cremated remains can be placed in columbariums or special flush bronze ground memorials with canisters to hold the remains.

For those who choose to scatter the remains, portions can be retained and placed in keepsake urns or special lockets.

Additionally, the deceased’s name can be listed on a scattering plaque in a cemetery’s cremation garden.

People concerned with the environment can choose options that are eco-friendly.

Some thoughts about six feet under …

When it comes to graves, it certainly can help those people you left behind as a place to remember you.

However, the fact is that a couple of generations from now the only folks who will make their way to your marker will be the lawnmower guy that you paid for with the Perpetual Care option. Unless you died a real celebrity, you will be as forgotten as all the millions of shooting stars no one ever saw.

Maybe that’s hard to believe, so here are a few questions. How many people know where their parents are buried? How many know where their grandparents are buried. What about your great-great-great grandparents and when was the last time you went to their grave? See my point?

I am not putting down traditional cemeteries for people who like the idea of a permanent place of residence. If you choose cremation, you can have your ashes buried in a fixed spot. For example, Steve Allen, Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, W. C. Fields, Marvin Gaye, Burt Lancaster, and Greta Garbo had their ashes buried in traditional graves.

With cremation, you can stay put or go anywhere you want. Your ashes can be interred in a cemetery plot, displayed in an urn on top of a mantelpiece, or scattered on private property or at a place that was significant to you.

You also have many options that won’t keep you grounded. It’s your choice. What do I mean by “more options”? Simply stated, with cremation, you are virtually free to scatter, consign, shoot, drop, bury, or throw your ashes just about anywhere you want. Your big sendoff can be fun or solemn, unique, or more environmentally friendly.

And you don’t have to limit yourself to just one scattering choice.

More on cremation and scattering your ashes later.

Share your cremation scattering stories

I thought it would be great to start this blog with people sharing their scattering stories after a loved one (person or pet) has been cremated.

I’d like to start with an account I heard that is one of my favorite ash scattering stories. It made me feel that what this couple did was comforting and even poetic. The story comes from a woman who I recently met. I told her about my book, “So You’re Cremated … Now What?” and shared the following. Her husband was terminally ill and chose cremation. So they both took part in discussing what he wanted to do with his ashes. His first choice for scattering his ashes was to be buried on the golf course we he had played with his buddies for years. The grounds keeper said no problem and said he could be spread on the first tee so he could watch over his friends. His scattering second choice was that his wife take a bit of his ashes on all the vacation trips she would have after he was gone and pick a nice spot to scatter his ashes. This gave the husband great comfort knowing what and where he would be. It also gave his wife comfort and a connection to him by having a meaningful and personal ritual to scatter his ashes that she could carry out after he went to the Great Beyond.