Q. My father is very ill and wants his ashes scattered in a lake near the family summer home when he dies. Are there restrictions on doing so? Who should I contact for specific information? Also, there will be no minister present when the ashes are scattered. Is there a protocol we should follow or particular words that should be said?
Your questions raise some complicated issues. One is location. Is the lake on private or public property? The owner’s permission is required to scatter ashes on private property. If the lake is on public land, such as in a city or state park, local ordinances or the state dictate what can and can’t be done, and you may need a permit.
In some cases the deciding factor is the number of people attending the event. A city park, for example, may require a permit only if more than 20 people will gather. To check the rules and regulations in your case, call the local Department of Parks (or Recreation). You can also dial the non-emergency 311 number (if available in the area), which can connect you to the appropriate agency. If the lake is in a national park, a park ranger can provide information.
You never know what’s necessary (or not). For example, in the state of Washington, you can scatter ashes on all public navigable waterways, including the Pacific Ocean within the three-mile limit, without reporting it.
Be aware, too, that you can purchase a water soluble urn, which gradually sinks and releases the ashes, from a funeral home or online. Such an urn can be handy on a windy day when ashes may be blown in unintended directions. However, never use a non-biodegradable urn for this purpose.
Another consideration is whether you wish to place a stone or other permanent marker at or near the lake. There’s a basic human need to be able to visit a lasting memorial for a loved one. For some, just visiting the lake itself is enough. Others want more. If you’re among them, be sure to ask for permission to place such a memorial on private property or inquire about the rules for doing so on public land.
As for appropriate words to say, one or more of the bereaved could talk about a positive memory of your father. Another option is saying a prayer or reading a meaningful poem or passage from a book.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons / Dave Hilditch Photography