How to Hold a Burying Ashes Ceremony: Step-By-Step


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Planning a graveside service for a loved one is never easy, but you will feel better about it if your loved one completed end-of-life planning. When someone completes an end-of-life plan, they choose whether they would prefer an open-casket visitation or a direct cremation. They select the flowers they would like to display at the service and the music they would like to have performed. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

If your loved one chose to be cremated, they might have left instructions to bury the cremains instead of scattering them on land or at sea

Here are some general guidelines for planning a ceremony for burying ashes. The first section will give details on how to plan a ceremony at a cemetery. The second section discusses how to plan an event on private property. 

Steps for Planning a Burying Ashes Ceremony at a Grave in a Cemetery 

Several years ago, Catholic leadership announced that cremation is acceptable in some instances, even though the burial of the full body is preferred. The announcement went on to say that the Catholic’s cremains must be placed for eternity in a sacred place, such as a Catholic cemetery. 

Whether your loved one was Catholic or not, here are some steps to take when planning a graveside service where the person’s cremains are buried. 

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

Step 1: Determine whether the graveside service will be a stand-alone ceremony or the last service in a series of events

Some families hold a visitation (or a wake), a funeral, and a graveside service when their loved one dies. Other families may choose to hold two events, or some may prefer to host one simple ceremony. 

This decision will have a bearing on how simple or complex the graveside service will be. If other events were held, most graveside services are brief ceremonies that give loved ones a chance to say a final goodbye. 

Step 2. Schedule the event with the cemetery staff

Even though the burial of a small urn is much simpler than the burial of a casket, you still need to make arrangements with the cemetery staff to schedule the event. After all, the site needs to be prepared for the interment of the urn. 

As you schedule your event with the cemetery director, you will also discuss the logistics of the event. It is up to the cemetery staff to not only prepare the ground for the urn, but they will also set up chairs and temporary shelter to protect the mourners from the elements. 

Be aware that some cemeteries may require that you bury an urn inside an urn vault. This may add to the expense of the burial. The vault protects the soil from collapsing when the earth settles. It protects the integrity of the urn as well as creates a smoother surface to maintain. 

Tip: If you're looking for something very unique (think a game, their motorcycle, or instrument of choice), you can custom order an urn from a store like Foreverence. You submit a design idea or sketch, then the company designs and 3D prints your urn, so you get a 100% unique container.

Step 3: Schedule a religious leader or someone to lead the service

Hopefully, your family, the cemetery staff, and your loved one’s minister or priest will be able to find a day and time for the service that works for everyone. If your loved one had no religious beliefs, you might need to ask a funeral director or friend to lead the ceremony.

As you speak with the preacher, other religious leader, or funeral director, you will also discuss the ceremony’s details. You might have to choose readings or music selections if they weren’t included in the details of the end-of-life plan. You may ask that the deceased’s obituary be read, and you may share stories that could be used in the eulogy. 

Of course, many times a graveside service is a brief ceremony. It may include a reading, a song, and a prayer. 

The length of the service is up to you. Most of the time, only members of the immediate family, the elderly, and the infirm are given chairs at graveside events, limiting the length of your service. Of course, if the event is private and only intended for the members of the immediate family and close friends, you may not have to worry about the length.

Step 4: Confirm how the cremains will arrive at the site

Funeral homes will release the cremains to the next of kin that is designated on a form. Talk with the crematorium director about who will be in charge of transporting the cremains to the cemetery. 

Step 5: Spread the word

Funerals and graveside services that are open to the public are generally announced in one of three ways.

The details of the service may be included in the obituary that is published in the local newspaper. The details may also be found on the website of the funeral home. Finally, it is common for service information to be spread by social media or word of mouth. 

» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

Step 6: Choose a headstone

Most people who choose a cemetery burial also mark the spot with a headstone. This process is usually completed well after the burial, although some who complete end-of-life planning may have the stone set before it is needed. 

Steps for Planning a Burial of Ashes on Private Property

Did your loved one ask that his or her cremains would be buried on private property? If so, this may make some parts of the planning process easier, and some parts more complex. 

As you plan to bury the remains of your loved one on private property, you may consider the long-term consequences of this action. Even though it is legal to bury cremains, you may need to disclose this when selling the property. You may also feel melancholy at the idea of leaving the cremains behind when you move. 

Here are some steps to consider when planning your event. 

Step 1: Consider the tone of the event 

Much like in the first step on the previous list, you need to decide if the burial of your loved one’s cremains will be a stand-alone event or if it will be the culmination of several. Since the event is held on private property, you may feel more freedom to have a less somber tone than a traditional burial ceremony. 

Step 2: Choose a speaker

Whether you have a religious leader perform the ceremony or a friend of the family, determine who will be the primary speaker at the burial. This doesn’t mean that several speakers can’t contribute to the event, but it may be helpful to have one master of ceremonies to perform introductions. 

Your speaker may assist you in choosing readings, poems, and songs for the ceremony. They may also find or write an appropriate prayer. 

Keep in mind that there may be little flexibility in the service if your speaker is a minister or priest. You may be given readings from which to choose, but the words of the ceremony may be pre-written liturgy.

If your speaker is not a religious leader, you may have to add those items to your to-do list, especially if your loved one did not make any choices in their end-of-life plans. 

You may also consider having the service be a free-flowing event with no script or specific order of events. The beauty of having an event such as this on private property is that it gives those attending a chance to gather, share memories, and say goodbye. 

Step 3: Consider the event details

The benefit of having a graveside service at a cemetery is that those facilities have parking, bathrooms, tents, and chairs to use. If you have an event on private property, you’ll have to consider these event details on your own. If you don’t have a tent or chairs, this may alter the length of the event. 

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

Step 4: Make arrangements to pick up the cremains

Don’t forget to pick up your loved one’s cremains before the service. Many funeral homes will only release the cremains to the official next of kin, so be prepared to show proper identification.

Step 5: Prepare the site

Unless you plan to dig the burial spot as a part of the ceremony, you may consider having this task completed before the event. Even if you want family members and friends to participate in the digging, you may work the ground a bit beforehand, so the soil is easier to manage. 

Step 6: Consider how to mark the site

Burying cremains on public property gives you flexibility on how to mark the site. Of course, you can choose to have a headstone placed at the burial spot, but this is not required.

You may want to create a garden near the burial spot, similar to a cremation garden. This could be a quiet spot with a comfy bench and water feature that gives you a place to go when thinking about the person you lost. 

Final Thoughts

You have many options to consider when trying to determine what to do with cremation ashes. If scattering does not conflict with your loved one’s religious beliefs, you can follow these steps and host a scattering ceremony instead of a burial of the cremains ceremony.

Another beautiful option for keeping a loved one's memory alive is a memorial diamond created from ashes. Some companies, like Eterneva, create lab-grown diamonds and allow you to pick from several cuts and colors for your gemstone. For an earthier look, Parting Stone can solidify your loved one's ashes into a set of natural, river rock-type stones. 

The most important thing to remember is to treat the cremains and the process with respect. Even though the gray material looks like sand, it is the final remains of the person you loved. 

If you're looking for more on planning ceremony with ashes, read our guide on how to plan a cremation ceremony.


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