How to Plan a Cremation Ceremony: Step-By-Step


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Cremation is pretty common in the United States these days. In fact, more Americans than ever are choosing to cremate their deceased loved ones instead of burying them in a cemetery.

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It’s not surprising that the traditional funeral service has changed as a result of the growing number of people who choose to be cremated when they are gone. Instead of picking out a coffin, families are picking out an urn for ashes. Instead of having the funeral service immediately after the death of a loved one, families who choose cremation can wait for better weather or a more convenient time.

And instead of planning a traditional funeral, families now plan a cremation ceremony.

Let’s walk through a modern cremation ceremony. We’ll go over what it is and how to plan one and offer some creative ideas on what to do during your loved one’s service. We will also answer some of the frequently asked questions you may have regarding cremation ceremonies.

Tip: If you'd like to disburse your loved one's ashes in nature in a unique way, you can work with Parting Stone to solidify the ashes into small cremation stones. You can then hold a ceremony to place some or all of the stones somewhere special in nature, or display them in your home.

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What’s a Cremation Ceremony?

A cremation ceremony usually refers to one of three events.

Most of the time, a cremation ceremony in the United States is actually a scattering ceremony. Before holding this ceremony, the family researches the state laws for scattering ashes. They then plan a service to accompany the act of scattering their loved one’s remains.

In some cases, a cremation ceremony is an event the coincides with burying the cremated remains or the placement of the urn in a columbarium niche. This type of service would probably be most like a traditional funeral.

In some instances, a cremation ceremony may refer to the service held at a crematorium. During this service, the family is present when the body is placed in the retort. Although more crematoriums allow families to be present during the cremation process than in the past, this is still not a common practice in the United States.

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

How to Plan a Cremation Ceremony

Generally, a family has more flexibility when planning a cremation ceremony instead of planning a burial in a cemetery. There are several reasons for this. 

First, because there is no body to contend with, you can have a cremation ceremony in any location you wish. Second, if the body is already cremated, you can wait to have the service until a convenient time. Finally, since cremation ceremonies have not been around as long in some communities, you can write the script on how one should be completed. Since no one knows what to expect, you can do what you want.

Here are the basic steps on how to plan a cremation ceremony. For this article’s purposes, we will assume that this ceremony describes one where the remains of the body will be scattered.

Step 1: Send out a cremation ceremony notice to family and friends

The cremation ceremony notice (or invitation) may be different than a traditional obituary with a funeral announcement. This is especially true if you wait for several weeks or months to have the service. 

Since burials often occur within a week of the death of your loved one, there is usually not enough time to send out service announcements in the mail. People typically hear about the service through funeral home websites, local newspapers, social media, or word of mouth.

You can use those traditional sources to spread the word of a cremation ceremony but you may also have time to print and mail formal invitations to extended family members and close friends. 

Step 2: Plan the order of events of the cremation ceremony

Did you have a traditional funeral when your loved one died? If so, the people attending the cremation ceremony would not expect the same type of service during this event. 

If this is the only service that will be used to honor your loved one, you may want to use more elements that people would associate with a traditional funeral.

These events may include a formal welcome, the reading of the obituary, the reading of the eulogy, prayers, readings of scripture or funeral poems, music, the scattering of the ashes, and a formal closing.

Step 3: Assign responsibilities

Once you have created an order of events for the cremation ceremony, it is time to divide the responsibilities among the family members. Perhaps one family member could write the eulogy while another one reads it at the service.

Maybe your brother can be in charge of scattering the ashes, and your sister can recite the poem. Make sure that everyone who wants to speak at the ceremony is given the opportunity.

Step 4: Ask for permission

As you do your research, you will learn that there are varying laws for each state regarding scattering ashes. If you would like to distribute your family member’s remains at a park near you, you may need to ask for permission first. 

Go through the proper channels to get permission. Imagine how awkward it would be if dozens of people are gathered for a cremation ceremony at a park — but a local ranger stops you and says you’re not allowed to scatter cremated remains there.

Cremation Ceremony Ideas

The number of ideas for a cremation ceremony is practically endless. Your service can match the personality or interests of your loved one. Here are some ideas to get you started. 

Scatter the ashes at the root ball of a new tree

We love the idea of placing the ashes of your loved one around the roots of a new tree. Not only is this an earth-friendly option, but it also gives you a specific place to visit when you need to connect with your loved one. 

Take a cruise

Officially, one is supposed to travel three nautical miles from shore before scattering cremated ashes at sea. Consider gathering your family members or friends on a day cruise (or even an extended cruise) to complete the cremation ceremony. Talk with your boat charter or cruise line representative to see if they have any special instructions.

» MORE: A will is not enough. Get all the documents you need.

Plan an aerial scattering service

Do you know a pilot? Ask someone with a small plane to scatter the ashes of your loved one over a spot that was significant to him or her. No special permission needs to be given to scatter the cremated remains in this manner, but, of course, the remains need to be removed from the urn.

Cremation Ceremony FAQs

Until cremation ceremonies become as frequent as funeral services, there will probably be a lot of FAQs about them. We will attempt to answer some of them below.

What do you wear to a cremation ceremony?

Before deciding on what to wear to the cremation ceremony, first understand what will be happening during the service as well as its location. 

If you are going to a crematorium to watch the body enter the retort, you may want to wear the same clothes as you would to a traditional funeral. This includes your best dress clothes in dark or muted colors.

If an urn is being placed in a columbarium niche or buried in a cemetery, it would also be appropriate to wear traditional funeral attire.

If the cremation ceremony is going to be held outdoors and the ashes are going to be scattered, it would be appropriate to dress as nicely as you can for the weather. 

How long does a cremation ceremony usually last?

Most cremation ceremonies last about an hour or less. The cremation ceremony might be a lot shorter if a funeral was held immediately after the death of your loved one. 

Do you bring flowers, gifts, or donations to a cremation ceremony?

If a funeral service was held immediately after the death of the person, you probably would have already paid your respects by ordering flowers or a plant to be displayed at the service. You may have already donated to a charitable organization as well. If this is the case, you would not be expected to bring another gift for the cremation ceremony.

Is this is the only funeral service planned for the individual? If so, it’s appropriate to bring a gift to a cremation ceremony. You may bring single flowers to throw with the ashes if they’re being scattered at sea. You might want to order a plaque if the ashes are going to be placed at the root of a tree. 

Creating a Special Ceremony

As you plan the cremation ceremony for your loved one, it may inspire you to start your own end-of-life planning

Consider whether you would like to be cremated or buried. Choose the music for the ceremony and figure out who you would like to serve as a pallbearer. If you are going to be cremated, write down what you would like to have done with your remains. Planning your own end-of-life service doesn’t have to be a sad experience at all. Think of it this way — you’ll be taking care of all the details of your life for your family members. 

Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, you have more than just the ceremony to think about. Handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.

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