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woman placing a rose at a loved one's funeral

Should I Have a Funeral?

By Explore Options No Comments

The days after a loved one dies can be filled with many questions. “Should I choose burial or cremation?” “How do I write an obituary?” And for many families, “Should I even have a funeral?” is a pivotal question.

While everyone grieves differently, a funeral can be an important part of the grieving process and can help friends and family start their grief journey well. As you decide whether to have a funeral service, consider the purpose of a funeral and how it might benefit your family.

What is the Purpose of a Funeral?

Let’s start by looking at why we have funerals. Some people think funerals are just an outdated ritual, but funerals actually play an important role in the grieving process. A meaningful funeral can help surviving family members process their emotions about a loss.

African American man placing his hand on a loved one's casket at a funeral

According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, author and grief expert, funerals are a way of “expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of someone loved.” He says the funeral ritual has six main purposes:

  • help mourners acknowledge the reality of the death

  • give testimony to the life of the deceased

  • encourage the expression of grief

  • provide support to mourners

  • allow for the embracing of faith and beliefs about life and death

  • offer hope for the living

Without a funeral, it can be hard for those left behind to come to terms with their loved one’s death. When you don’t have some kind of service, you may struggle with starting your grief journey. However, having some kind of meaningful service or ritual allows friends and family members to acknowledge the death of their loved one, express their grief, support each other, and start the grief journey off on the right foot.

What if Your Loved One Wasn’t Religious?

woman placing a rose at a loved one's funeral

Not every funeral is religious! There are many ways to create a healing funeral service for someone who wasn’t religious. The most important parts of a funeral, like expressing your emotions and grieving with the support of others, don’t rely on religion. Instead of Bible verses, you could incorporate readings from your loved one’s favorite book or poems they enjoyed.

Remember that the funeral is a chance for family and friends to say goodbye and to gain support from others who are grieving. Even if you don’t want to have a full traditional service, having a less traditional service or an informal gathering can help you and everyone else on your grief journey.

What if Your Loved One Didn’t Want a Funeral?

Nowadays, many people insist they don’t want a big fuss when they die. Maybe your loved one always said, “Don’t do anything when I die. Just cremate me.” Or maybe they always insisted that funerals were a waste of money or time.

Row of candles lit at a funeral

While the wishes of the person who died are very, very important, you should also carefully consider the needs of the family. A funeral isn’t just about the person who died; it’s also about providing a time for everyone to grieve together.

Instead of having a funeral, you could also choose an alternative, like a memorial service, a celebration of life, or a simple private or public gathering. These less traditional options can provide your family and friends with ways to mourn your loved one together.

To go back to the original question – “Should I have a funeral?” – the answer is a resounding yes. But what that funeral looks like is entirely up to your family. As you explore your different funeral options, consider what you, your family, and your loved ones need. Saying goodbye to someone you love is hard, but having a funeral can help you all express your emotions and support each other. Whether you choose to have a full traditional service or a more casual gathering, having some sort of funeral ritual will help you and your loved ones start your grief journey on the right foot.

Woman in black dress holding black urn and white lily

FAQ: Your Guide to Scattering Ashes

By Cremation, Explore Options

When you choose cremation, there are more questions to answer than you might think. A key question is, “What should happen to the ashes after cremation is complete?” There are so many options to choose from. They range from urn burial, placement in a columbarium, keeping at home, scattering, and other more unusual choices, like launching into space. But for today, let’s discuss scattering and several frequently asked questions about the practice.

Man and woman holding a silver urn between them

Is scattering ashes legal?

The short answer is yes, scattering ashes is legal. However, you’ll want to pay attention to where you are scattering. Scattering in certain locations (like private property) may result in fines or minor criminal charges. There are no federal laws relating to scattering ashes on land, but some states do have specific guidelines. If you are interested in scattering, talk it over with a trusted funeral director. They can give you guidance on your state’s specific laws (if any) about the practice.

Is scattering ashes safe for the environment?

It all depends on where and how you choose to scatter. Scattering at sea, launching into space, or placement in a columbarium are amongst the least environmentally impactful options for cremated remains. However, if you choose to scatter on land, scatter the remains over a large distance and not all in one place. In their natural form, ashes may include chemicals and pollutants that could affect soil composition, impacting plant growth and the larger ecosystem. However, by scattering over a distance, you minimize this possibility.

Red rose sitting on sandy rock at beach

Where can I scatter ashes?

Now that we know scattering is legal, let’s talk about where you can scatter a loved one’s ashes. The biggest no-no is scattering ashes on private land that does not belong to you. In other words, don’t trespass on private property just because you like the view. This applies to private land, but also to places like stadiums, amusement parks, and the like.

Generally speaking, the best practice is to select a location and then determine what the rules and regulations are for that place. A few examples:

  • Ask permission from the land owner before scattering on private property
  • Get a permit or check regulations before scattering at a U.S National Park
  • Talk to the cemetery administrator before scattering in a cemetery or urn garden
  • Contact the authority in charge of a beach before scattering there

Many locations are available to you, as long as you request permission and complete any necessary paperwork. For example, you could scatter at your loved one’s favorite golf course or from an airplane, but there will be a little extra effort to do so.

Woman in black dress holding black urn and white lily

Can you scatter ashes at sea?

While the federal government does not have laws regarding scattering on land (that’s left up to the states), they do have laws regarding burial at sea. There are typically two ways you can scatter ashes at sea: through the U.S. Navy or through a civilian charter company (or cruise line). To learn more about the requirements for scattering at sea, go to What You Need to Know About Burial at Sea.

“How” do I scatter ashes?

Always be aware of the wind direction. You will want to disperse the ashes with the wind, not against the wind. This way, the breeze carries the ashes away from you, and they don’t blow back into your face.

You can either scatter the ashes by hand (bring something to clean your hands with), or more commonly, you can hold the ashes at waist height and scatter them by gently “tossing” them out of the urn. Alternatively, you can purchase a scattering tube, which makes it much easier to scatter the ashes.

Wooden Christian cross necklace laying on book

How do the major religions feel about scattering ashes?

In the United States, the major religions are based in Christianity, according to Pew Research. For today’s purposes, we will look at the cremation viewpoints of Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons. Additionally, we will briefly touch on Jewish funeral customs around cremation.

  • Catholic Church: Cremation is accepted by the Catholic Church, but scattering is not. The entire cremated body must be kept together and either buried or placed in a columbarium.
  • Protestant Church: There are many denominations within the Protestant faith, but generally speaking, cremation and scattering the ashes are acceptable practices. Some denominations may place a stronger emphasis on burial.
  • Latter Day Saints: Cremation is not prohibited, but full-body burial is strongly preferred and encouraged.
  • Judaism: Reform Judaism allows cremation as long as the cremated remains are buried as one unit in an urn or burial container. Orthodox Judaism remains strongly opposed to cremation.

Can I have a ceremony when scattering ashes?

In most cases, yes, you can have some sort of ceremony to accompany the scattering. Again, it all depends on where you choose to scatter the ashes.

If you choose a scattering garden, work with the funeral home or cemetery to put together a program, like you would experience at a graveside ceremony. For scattering at a U.S. National Park, you can find a remote place to say a few words (though the gathering will likely be small and private).

Whether you choose to do something simple or more detailed, it’s important to express what’s on your heart and mind as you say that final goodbye.

Urn surrounded by red roses at a funeral service

What are some tips for planning a scattering ceremony?

  • First, always take the weather into account. You may not want to plan the ceremony for cold or rainy days, so keep an eye on the forecast.
  • Second, if you are transporting cremated remains, make sure that you have a sturdy container that opens and closes well and easily. You want to be able to release the ashes easily, but you don’t want the container to spill open during your travel time. If you need to fly with the ashes, check out What You Need to Know About Flying with Cremated Remains for more tips.
  • Third, plan the ceremony ahead of time because you may need to coordinate details with your chosen location. Without preparation, a scattering ceremony could turn into a minor scuffle with the law. So, do a little legwork to ensure everything goes smoothly.

If you have additional questions about scattering ashes, the funeral home is an excellent resource. Give them a quick call to set up an informal chat to discuss your options for scattering ashes. They will help you iron out all the details so you can honor a loved one’s life in a meaningful and personalized way.

Open wooden casket with ivory lining

Rental Caskets: What You Need to Know

By Cremation, Educational, Explore Options, Planning Tools

Cremation may be on the rise, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan a full service to celebrate a loved one’s life with viewing and visitation. Many families assume that choosing cremation means sacrificing a viewing or having the body present at the funeral service. But that’s where rental caskets come in!

Today, most funeral homes offer rental caskets, which allows you to select cremation and still have a full service with a loved one’s body present. There’s just one major difference. After the funeral service is complete, the casket will not be escorted to the cemetery. Instead, mourners will attend a gathering or reception, and the body will be prepared for cremation.

In this way, families can pair the healing power of saying goodbye in person with the cost-effectiveness of cremation. Thankfully, you don’t have to give up the traditional elements when you prefer cremation over burial.

Open wooden casket with ivory lining

What else do you need to know about rental caskets? Let’s review some important details to consider.

How is a rental casket different from a standard casket?

When looking at the rental casket, most people won’t be able to tell that it’s not a standard casket. However, the construction is a bit different. The foot panel swings out like a door, allowing an insert to be placed into or removed from the casket exterior. So, the deceased person is placed in a removable container (often made of wood or cardboard) and that box is gently slid into the rental casket. The removable insert comes with its own fabric liner, which is for one-time use, and it is hidden from view once inside the casket exterior.

So, the casket is re-used?

Yes and no; the exterior frame of the casket is re-used, but the removable insert is not. As mentioned above, at no point does the deceased person’s body come in contact with the rental casket itself. The removable insert fully supports the body and the fabric liner within the insert is one-time use only. In this way, the rental casket is protected and preserved.

Additionally, the rental casket is professionally cleaned and sanitized after each use. While the deceased body never touches the rental casket, this extra level of cleanliness is taken to ensure the best possible experience for everyone.

Couple standing next to a casket covered in flowers, paying their respects

What happens to the removable insert?

By law, when a body is cremated, it must be placed in a container of some sort (often made of wood or cardboard). The removable insert can perform both functions – both as the interior of the rental casket and the alternative container at the crematory.

Where can I get a rental casket?

If you’re looking for ease and convenience, the funeral home is your best option. They will have rental caskets available, and there may even be options to choose from. It’s possible to rent from a third-party business, but please note, you will be responsible for making sure the funeral home has access to it before the funeral.

What is the average cost of a rental casket?

It all depends on your area and the funeral home. To get a sense of costs, request a General Price List (GPL) from reputable funeral homes in your area. The GPL should list the cost of a rental casket and what that fee includes. Remember, you will pay for the removable insert/alternative container in addition to the rental casket.

White rose on closed wooden casket

Can I use a rental casket if I choose burial instead of cremation?

While rental caskets are most commonly used for funeral services before cremation, they can be used when burial is chosen. For example, you might want a ceremonial casket for the viewing, but then bury the deceased person in a much simpler casket. Speak with a funeral director about your options. Then, weigh the pros and cons of whether renting a casket is best for your needs.

What’s next?

To learn more about rental caskets or the full service options available with cremation, contact a funeral home you trust.

Also, if you’d like more information what a General Price List is and what your rights are as a consumer, check out Know Your Rights: The FTC Funeral Rule. With this information, you can confidently interact with the funeral home and get your questions answered!

Row of gravestones with flowers at a cemetery

Burial FAQs: What Are Your Burial Options?

By Cemeteries, Explore Options No Comments

Burial traditions across many cultures have one thing in common—a permanent resting place is essential for honoring and remembering loved ones. But you have many options when choosing a permanent resting place, like ground burial, interment in a crypt, natural burial, or burial at sea.

With all those options come many questions. As you consider burial options for yourself or a loved one, choosing what’s right for you and your family is most important. To give you a better understanding of your burial options, here are some answers to common questions about burial! 

What Does a Traditional Burial Entail?

Red roses on top of a headstone

When you choose traditional burial services from a funeral home, you can expect a package that covers all aspects of the funeral and burial. This includes fees for the funeral director and staff, transportation of the body, embalming, burial containers (such as a casket and vault), facilities for visitation or viewing, arrangements for memorial or funeral services, graveside services, opening-and-closing costs (such as gravesite preparation, back-filling, and landscaping), and the hearse and other necessary vehicles.

While some traditional burial packages may include cemetery options, some cemeteries require additional expenses for preparations. These may include a cemetery lot or crypt, perpetual care of the gravesite, a grave liner, or the grave marker, monument, or headstone (which could include installation fees).

What Are My Burial Options?

Choices for burial options can vary greatly, depending on your preferences and budget. Cemeteries may provide most or all of these property options for selection and purchase:

  • Single burial space – used for the burial of one person or cremated remains
  • Double-depth space – used for two individual persons, one buried at a deeper depth and the other buried at a normal depth on top of the first
  • Family lot – a designated area used for multiple family members
  • Mausoleum – a public or private building for above-ground placement of caskets within crypt spaces.
    • Private mausoleum – a building, typically an adorned stand-alone building, that houses the remains of family members and creates a space for private visitation
    • Community mausoleums – a community, usually climate-controlled building, where families can select the location and level of the crypt and personalize crypt plates and crypt markers

As you consider the options available, think about what will work for you and your family. Would your family rather have one shared, private space for everyone? Or are you all fine with a public area? Talk to your family about these options as you make your decisions.

What Should I Ask Before I Buy Cemetery Property?

Row of gravestones with flowers at a cemetery

Before purchasing cemetery property, research your area cemeteries to determine which options best fit your needs. There are four types of cemeteries:

  • Private cemetery – private property designated as a cemetery where burial spaces are not sold to the public and burials are restricted to members of a family or friends of the family.
  • Public cemetery – a privately-owned or municipal cemetery property where burial spaces and lots are sold to the public.
  • National or state cemetery – a government-owned cemetery in which eligible veterans, their spouses, and dependents may be buried at little or no cost to the family. If you are a veteran, learn more about veterans’ burial benefits here.
  • Natural or green cemetery – a cemetery that requires a biodegradable casket or urn and places limitations on embalming.

Each kind of cemetery has its own benefits and drawbacks. Many cemeteries require fees to maintain the grounds, monuments, headstones, or markers. These may be included in the property value, so be sure to inquire whether or not perpetual care is included or if there are separate fees for upkeep. You may also request information about any rules or regulations the cemetery might enforce. Many cemeteries have rules about the types of monuments or markers permitted, seasonal decorations, grave candles, and flower placement.

Who Should I Speak to About Cemetery Needs?

Funeral homes are a great starting place for figuring out your cemetery needs. But while some funeral homes have their own cemetery, many do not. If the funeral home you are working with isn’t associated with a cemetery, they can help you find a local cemetery that fits your needs. In general, though, cemetery needs should be taken care of at the cemetery itself. Once you’ve chosen a cemetery, talk to them to find out more about the options they offer.

But how do you know if you should talk to the funeral home or the cemetery about your questions? Here’s a quick breakdown! For questions about caskets and grave liners or burial vaults, speak to the funeral home. For questions about a plot, opening and closing of the grave, or setting a monument, speak with the cemetery.

What Are My Casket Options?

brown casket with lace lining

Caskets come in many different materials and a variety of price points. The selection of a casket is solely up to you and your family. Is there a particular type of casket that might be meaningful to your family? Modern caskets are typically made of wood or metal, lined inside with different fabrics. Most caskets are either half-couch or full-couch caskets. Typically, the cost depends on the materials used for construction. Some caskets (typically made of metal) withstand outside elements. Other caskets, such as those used in green burials (made of hemp, wicker, and other biodegradable materials), encourage the process of decomposition. No matter what type of casket you choose, you can personalize the casket by adding photos or special items.

What is an Outer Burial Container?

Most cemeteries require an outer burial container to prevent uneven landscapes and avoid sinking ground. Most outer burial containers, or burial vaults, are constructed from concrete and metal. At burial, these containers are placed around the casket in the ground. The costs of outer burial containers vary depending on the type of material. When you look for a cemetery, you can ask whether or not they require an outer burial container.

What is Natural Burial?

Green plant growing out of soil

Natural burial, or green burial, is a burial with minimal environmental impact. Natural burials are becoming more prevalent and are a great option for those who want to be conscious of the environment. Green burials may include a nontoxic, biodegradable casket, urn, or a burial shroud. There is usually no embalming, or if embalming must occur, eco-friendly embalming fluid can be used. A green burial usually takes place in a dedicated green cemetery or natural preserve.

Please note that green burial grounds are not available everywhere. Check the Green Burial Council’s website for a listing of certified green burial providers. If you want a natural burial, you may still have the option in a conventional cemetery. A more natural burial can also occur by using a wood or biodegradable casket. If the cemetery requires a vault or grave liner, you can turn it upside down without a lid to allow the casket to degrade naturally.

What If Traditional Burial Isn’t Right for Me?

couple standing by the ocean

There are plenty of alternatives to traditional burial! The most common alternative to burial is cremation. Some people choose to donate their bodies to medical science. However, this is not a true form of disposition since the body is usually cremated and returned to the family after about a year. Examples of less common forms of disposition are burial at sea or alkaline hydrolysis (water cremation or aquamation).

There are also different memorial options with cremation. You can turn hair or cremated remains into a diamond, create Parting Stones, or send remains to space. Newer, experimental developments in body disposition include cryogenic freezing, space burial, mushroom suits, plastination (preservation of body parts by replacing water and fat with plastics), and promession (freeze drying with liquid nitrogen and using vibration and dehydration to reduce the body to a dry powder).

As you make decisions about burial, please remember that each state has its own laws and may not legally recognize all forms of disposition. Check your state and local laws to ensure that the disposition method you wish to use is legal. You may also transfer a body to another location where your chosen form of disposition may be legally carried out. To learn more about all your options, talk to a trusted funeral professional. They can help you understand all of your options and make decisions that work best for you and your family.

Black urn sitting on side table with flower vase nearby

What Should I Know When Considering Cremation?

By Cremation, Explore Options No Comments

When considering final disposition, you have two main choices: burial or cremation. But what should you know when considering cremation? With this quick overview, you can get your questions answered and identify the options that most appeal to you.

Dark colored urn surrounded by a ring of red roses with mourners in the background

 What is Cremation?

Cremation is a form of “final disposition,” which simply refers to your preferences regarding what happens to the body after death. At present, people often choose between full-body burial or cremation, though there are other options (click here to learn more).

The cremation process exposes the body to extreme heat and flame, resulting in the reduction of the body to bone fragments. The fragments are then ground down into what is commonly referred to as “ashes.”

Afterward, the cremated remains, which usually weigh somewhere between 3-7 pounds, are placed in a chosen urn or temporary container and returned to the family. From there, families have many options for memorialization, including scattering, urn burial, and placement in a columbarium.

Columbarium wall covered in flowers

Is Cremation Really Eco-Friendly?

Although cremation does reduce land use as compared to burial, the practice is not considered green by either the National Funeral Directors Association or the Green Burial Council. Flame-based cremation releases pollutants into the air, including mercury, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxide. Additionally, flame-based cremation also requires a significant amount of fuel, which results in carbon monoxide emissions every year.

On the other hand, water-based cremation (alkaline hydrolysis) is thought to be more environmentally friendly. Instead of using fire, this form of cremation uses water, agitation, and either potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide to reduce the body to bone fragments. Water-based cremation has a smaller carbon footprint, uses less fuel, and doesn’t release emissions from the body. However, water cremation is not widely accessible yet, so it may not be available in your area.

Urn sitting on memorial table surrounded by yellow and light purple flowers

Can I Have a Service with Cremation?

Absolutely! In fact, there are quite a few service options available when you select cremation. The final disposition you choose does not dictate whether or not your family has the opportunity to celebrate your loved one’s life and say goodbye in a meaningful way.

To learn more about your service options, go to “Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony,” where you will find a breakdown of your cremation service options. And if you’d like to do something entirely different, simply speak with your trusted funeral professional. Most funeral homes are willing to work with you to create the type of service your family wants.

Blue metallic urn surrounded by yellow flowers

What are My Permanent Placement Options with Cremation?

After cremation takes place, you will need to decide what to do with the ashes of a loved one. Again, you have quite a few options when you select cremation.

Burial/Inurnment of the Cremated Body

First, you can choose to place a loved one’s cremated remains in a cemetery. You could place the urn in:

  • A columbarium niche
  • An existing adult burial space (next to a spouse)
  • A smaller plot designed for cremated remains
  • An urn garden
  • A mausoleum

Some families also choose to place a small portion of the cremated remains in cremation jewelry or other memorial items, such as cremation glass, cremation benches, or memorial rocks.

White urn with orange stripe, sitting on nightstand at home

Retain the Urn at Home

Second, you could choose to place the ashes in a decorative urn and keep them in your home. Some families choose to split the cremated remains into portions that can be divided among family members and multiple keepsake urns, while others choose to contain the remains in one ceremonial urn.

One word of caution: Make sure that you indicate in your will what should be done with the cremated body when you die. After your own death, whoever handles your estate may not know about your loved one’s urn and may dispose of it unknowingly. So, if you do keep a loved one’s cremated body in your home, make sure that you communicate a plan for their care after you are gone.

Family on boat setting our memorial flowers and scattering a loved one's ashes


Third, you could choose scattering. Most often, ashes are scattered on private property, on public lands (like national parks), in a cemetery, or at sea. Make sure you check all laws and ordinances before you scatter. For example, many national parks require a permit, and scattering at sea must take place at least three nautical miles away from land. Your funeral director can help you figure out what laws are in place and help you apply for any necessary permits and registrations.

A Quick Note on Scattering

Scattering all the physical remains of a loved one in one unmarked location can be difficult. For some family members, it’s important to have a place to go to feel close to a loved one. Before scattering, talk to your loved ones and see if it would be healing and appropriate to also create a permanent memorial.

You could set a plaque at the scattering site, place a memorial bench in a special location, or even reserve a portion of your loved one’s ashes in a columbarium while you scatter the rest. There are a lot of options, so speak with your family to get their thoughts.

Two men exchanging cardboard boxes

Can You Ship Cremated Remains?

Yes, you can mail cremated remains via the USPS, but there are certain regulations in place. Check out “5 Tips When Shipping Cremated Remains” to get an inside look at best practices when shipping a loved one’s ashes.

Additionally, you can fly with cremated remains (domestically and internationally), but there are a few extra hoops to jump through. Make sure you speak with your specific airline about their requirements, but also give “What You Need to Know About Flying with Cremated Remains” a quick read. It will give you an understanding of how the process works.

Attentive funeral director sitting on couch as he listens to older couple talk

With Cremation, Do I Receive the Same Support Services from Funeral Directors?

Yes, you certainly do. Funeral directors perform the same professional functions with cremation as with burial. They will help you create a personalized final tribute, coordinate all the behind-the-scenes details, communicate with the cemetery (if necessary), assist with legal documentation, and provide grief resources.

No matter what final disposition you choose, the funeral home staff will give you their best efforts and provide service that meets your needs. To learn more about how funeral directors can assist your family, take a moment to read “What Do Funeral Directors Do?

Woman using a calculator to calculate the cost

What Does Cremation Cost?

Cremation does tend to cost less than burial, but the cost of either is ultimately in your hands. You can choose the services and merchandise you want and ensure that the total cost stays within your budget. If you prefer burial but feel like cremation better fits your budget, speak with the funeral director. They can review the options and discuss whether there might be a burial option that could work for your family.

For more detailed information about the cost of a funeral, including statistics from the National Funeral Directors Association, go to “What is the Average Cost of a Funeral?

Black urn sitting on side table with flower vase nearby

One Final Note

As you consider your options, keep the emotional needs of your family in mind. Choosing between burial and cremation isn’t the only decision before you. If you are tempted to forego a funeral service to save money, first make sure that’s what your family wants. It may seem like a fuss to put together a service. But more than likely, the family needs time to honor life, share memories, and remember the person who has died. Only when we face the pain of loss can we begin to heal from it, and the funeral service is the start of the journey.

If you’ve decided you prefer burial or would just like to understand all your options, check out “Burial FAQs: What Are Your Burial Options?

Zion National Park, Utah

Your Guide to Scattering Ashes at U.S. National Parks

By Cremation, Educational, Explore Options

There are countless ways to honor a loved one’s life and memory. It’s just a matter of finding the options that are 1) meaningful to the family and 2) beautifully reflect the deceased’s life and interests. For outdoor enthusiasts, honoring a loved one’s life at a U.S. National Park may be just the right decision. But can you scatter ashes at National Parks? You can! But there are certain rules and regulations to follow. Let’s review some key information you will need as you plan a scattering ceremony at a National Park!

Joshua Tree National Park, California(Photo: Joshua Tree National Park, California)

How Many U.S. National Parks are There?

At present, there are 63 sites that are commonly referred to as “National Parks.” They include places like Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, and so on. These are types of parks we will focus on today.

However, the National Park System encompasses more than 425 sites, spanning over 84 million acres. In addition to the 63 National Parks, they also manage national battlefields, national military parks, national historic sites, national monuments, national forests, and national reserves, to name a few.

Can I Scatter Ashes at Any U.S. National Park?

In most cases, yes, you can! There are no federal laws that govern burial and cremation – it’s left up to the individual states. That means that there are no “set” rules for scattering ashes at National Parks. Instead, each park has their own policy, based on the laws of their state.

Zion National Park, Utah(Photo: Zion National Park, Utah)

However, there are some general guidelines to be aware of:

A special permit is often required

Many National Parks require that you state your intentions to scatter cremated remains. You do this by submitting an application for a “special use” permit. This permit gives you permission to scatter a loved one’s remains at the park.

Each park will have their own paperwork to complete, so you must visit the website of your preferred park and fill out their permit request form. Allow at least 30 days for processing. You will receive the authorization permit in the mail once it has been approved.

Note: A few parks do not require a permit to scatter ashes. It will be clearly outlined on the park’s website, if they do require a permit.

Keep the group small

Some National Parks put a limit on the number of people allowed to participate in the scattering ceremony. Make sure you’ve checked into the regulations for your preferred park. However, if you would like to have a larger gathering, some parks require an additional permit granting permission. Again, the park’s website will outline all the requirements.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia(Photo: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia)

Stay away from public use areas

When you choose the location for the scattering ceremony, most National Parks prefer that you find a quiet, secluded space to do so. This way, you have more privacy, but also, your gathering doesn’t disrupt the natural flow of the park. Avoiding public use areas means that you should stay away from roads, walkways, trails, buildings, and parking areas.

Also, don’t scatter in just one spot; spread the scattering out over a larger area. And stay at least 100 yards away from any waterways or creeks. Additionally, some parks will have extra requirements regarding the location. For example, Yellowstone does not allow scattering near thermal areas.

Leave no trace

As any avid outdoorsperson knows, it’s important to the natural habitat that you “leave no trace” of your presence. The same holds true at National Parks. What does this mean for scattering? You cannot leave a marker of any kind to commemorate the event. However, you can pin the location on your phone using GPS, so that you always know your loved one’s final resting place. Also, many National Parks keep a “Book of Memories,” where you can record your loved one’s name as an act of memorialization.

Do not bury ashes

Burial is not allowed at National Parks, so do not bury the cremated remains of a loved one.

Yosemite National Park, California(Photo: Yosemite National Park, California)

Consider the weather conditions

Before settling on a date for a scattering ceremony, take weather conditions into account. Some parks may be closed for snow, flood, or other seasonal climate changes. If you need to make changes to your dates, contact the park directly.

What Type of Information Do They Request on the Permit Authorization Form?

Every park has their own application form, so the questions may vary from park to park. However, they will generally ask for:

  • Mailing address
  • Name of person whose ashes will be scattered
  • Preferred date, location, time
  • Number of participants

Also, some National Parks may require an application fee. If they do, it will be clearly outlined on their website. If you wish to do anything other than scatter ashes, you may need to apply for additional permits. For example, if you want to camp off the beaten path, you may need a wilderness camping permit. If you have larger plans than a scattering ceremony, you may need an additional permit. A park ranger can help you iron out the details.

Redwood National Park, California(Photo: Redwood National Park, California)

Do I Need to Carry the Permit with Me?

Yes, make sure you keep your permit with you. If a park ranger happens by and sees your scattering ceremony taking place, they may ask to see your permit. If you don’t have it with you, you may have to pay a fine.

Can I Include a Service When I Scatter the Ashes?

Absolutely, you can put together a short ceremony in honor of your loved one. While you cannot set up a large-scale event, you can invite each person to say a few words. Or you can sing songs, pray, drink a special beverage, and so on. Just keep in mind that it should be simple, intimate, and leave no trace when the ceremony is complete.

(Photo: Badlands National Park, South Dakota)

Where Can I Find Information About a Specific National Park?

To make planning a little easier for you, here’s a list of all National Parks that allow scattering.

From A to Z:

Haleakala National Park, Hawaii(Photo: Haleakala National Park, Hawaii)

Today, there are so many ways to honor a loved one’s life in a meaningful and unique way. And a scattering ceremony at a U.S. National Park may feel like just the right thing to do. Hopefully, this complete guide gives you all the information you need to get started. However, if you have additional questions, you can either reach out to the park directly or speak to a trusted funeral professional. They can help you get all the answers you need!

Woodland forest with trees and purple wildflowers, sun peeking through the trees

Answering Your Green Burial Questions

By Cemeteries, Explore Options No Comments

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “green burial,” but it doesn’t really mean anything to you. Today, we’re going to dive into what it is, how it differs from standard burial, what makes a burial “green,” and more. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of green burial and whether it’s right for your personal wishes.

Woodland forest with trees and purple wildflowers, sun peeking through the trees, green burial concept

What is Green Burial?

Founded on the belief that death care practices shouldn’t be harmful to the environment, green burials aim to leave minimal environmental impact. The goal is to conserve resources, protect workers from potentially harmful chemicals, and reduce carbon emissions with the aim to restore and preserve natural habitats.

What Makes a Burial “Green”?

It’s always best to discuss green options with a local, trusted funeral home, but green burials focus on a few key factors:

  • Burial containers made of non-toxic, biodegradable materials
  • Embalming with non-toxic materials, like plant-derived essential oils
  • Caskets are not covered by a grave liner or burial vault
  • Marking graves with trees, plants, or stones rather than traditional grave markers
  • Burial takes place in a green-certified cemetery

Person wrapping their arms around a tree; the tree has a red heart on the bark; green burial concept

Is Green Burial Common?

While not the most common choice, interest in the practice is rising. According to a 2017 National Funeral Directors Association survey, more than 53% of respondents expressed an interest in exploring green options.

In response, many funeral homes are looking into what certifications are needed and what changes should be made to accommodate this interest. At present, there are a limited number of cemeteries approved by the Green Burial Council (GBC), but that number is increasing every year.

How Does a Cemetery Become “Green”?

To become green-certified, a cemetery must meet the Green Burial Council’s Cemetery Certification Standards. The GBC recognizes three different types of green burial grounds.

  • Hybrid Cemetery – Most common; at hybrid cemeteries, a section of a traditional cemetery is set aside specifically for green burials.
  • Natural Burial Grounds – This is a standalone cemetery where specifically natural burials take place; only burial containers of biodegradable materials, no chemicals, etc.
  • Conservation Burial Ground – This type of green cemetery must meet all the requirements of a Natural Burial Ground but also be run by a government agency or non-profit.

To learn more about GBC’s certification requirements, click here to visit their website.

Woodland area, showing grass and a red-capped mushroom

Is There a Difference Between Green, Natural, and Home Burial?

Generally, people use the terms interchangeably. However, there is a small difference. With a green burial, the burial portion must take place in a green-certified cemetery. However, a natural burial can take place in any cemetery where burial without a grave liner is allowed.

In case that was confusing, let’s recap. Both green and natural burials focus on minimal environmental impact, biodegradable caskets, and the use of non-toxic chemicals. However, the type of cemetery determines whether a burial is “green” or “natural.” A burial is only considered “green” if the body is buried in a green-certified cemetery. Otherwise, it is considered a natural burial.

As for home burials, they could fall into either category, depending on where the burial takes place.

Is Green Burial Allowed in All 50 States?

Yes, the practice is legal in all 50 states. However, there may be some state-specific requirements, especially if you want to transport a body across state lines. To get more detailed information, stop by a funeral home you trust, and they will get the answers you need.

Looking at up at the top of the trees in a forest; leaves are orange and yellow with the shape of a heart showing

Is Cremation Considered Green?

While cremation does reduce land use, it’s not considered “green” by either the National Funeral Directors Association or the Green Burial Council. Cremation by fire emits potentially harmful substances into the atmosphere and burns fossil fuels. Because of this, the practice is not considered as environmentally friendly as green burial.

However, water cremation (or alkaline hydrolysis) is thought to be more environmentally friendly. It has a smaller carbon footprint, uses less fuel, and doesn’t release as many emissions. If you are interested in water cremation, talk with a funeral director. This form of cremation is not widely accessible yet, so it may not be readily available in your area.

Can I Still Have a Service?

No matter what type of burial or final disposition you choose, it’s always recommended that you plan some sort of service. As human beings, we need to know that our lives matter. The funeral service is where we do that by coming together to remember and honor a loved one’s life and legacy.

Plus, the service is an opportunity to process the pain we feel and give and receive support from friends and family members. We aren’t meant to do life alone; we need each other in both the good times and the difficult times.

While green burial may be on an expedited timeline, that doesn’t mean you have to give up having a service. Instead, speak to your funeral director and review the options.

Small planting beginning to grow in the dark earth; green burial concept

How Do I Ensure My Burial Is Environmentally Friendly?

If having an environmentally friendly funeral is important to you, there are many things you can do to ensure your end-of-life choices are as green as possible.

First, speak with a trusted funeral professional about the options available in your area or if a service would need to be entrusted to a third party (such as water cremation). Second, decide whether you want a fully green service or if you want only certain elements to be green. These days, funerals are very personalized, so you can mix green elements with traditional elements.

But as you consider the options, remember that the Green Burial Council looks at the following items when determining whether a funeral is green or not:

No Toxic Chemicals

Body preservation, such as for a viewing or visitation, should not include any harmful or toxic embalming chemicals. Instead, refrigeration, dry ice, or eco-friendly embalming fluid should be considered.

Biodegradable Burial Materials

Use a coffin, casket, or shroud made of biodegradable substances like bamboo, wicker, silk, or hemp. Sustainably harvested wood is also a good option.

Small stone heart resting in the moss of a large tree out in the forest; green burial concept

Avoid Concrete Vaults

Many cemeteries require grave liners or burial vaults to prevent the ground from sinking over time, but their manufacture and transport causes carbon emissions and uses great amounts of energy. For this reason, a green burial will not include a liner or vault.

Natural Grave Markers

Green cemeteries suggest the use of natural objects for grave markers (such as trees, shrubs, perennial flowers, or rocks). Many cemeteries provide a GPS location so that a loved one’s grave can be easily found.

Where Can I Find More Information?

For more information regarding green burial (or natural burial), speak with a local funeral professional or visit the Green Burial Council website. Remember, green burials are not available everywhere, but your local funeral home will work with you to come up with a plan that best fits your needs and wishes to protect the environment.

Close-up on woman's hands as she holds a makeup brush and uses it to prepare eye shadow for use

Funerals, Cosmetology, and the Restorative Arts

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals

The loss of a loved one raises many questions, including what happens to a loved one’s body after it is transferred to the funeral home. You may be wondering how a body is prepared for the funeral and if you even need to have a viewing or an open casket service. Many families think that a viewing won’t be beneficial, but according to renowned author and grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt, the viewing can be one of the most healing aspects of a funeral.

Woman in black dress standing next to an open casket at a viewing, placing a red rose inside the casket

When planning a funeral, Dr. Wolfelt suggests:

When possible (and culturally appropriate), I always encourage families to spend time with the body of the person who died. Your family can have a private visitation only, or you can also have a public visitation, which gives community members the same chance to gather around the person who died. Over and over again families have told me that spending time with the body helped them come to terms with the death and begin to make the transition from life before the death to life after the death. Although it can be painful at first, time spent with the body is usually extremely healing in the long run.

To answer any lingering questions you may have, let’s discuss what happens behind the scenes during the preparation process. That way, you can choose the best possible option for your family and your journey toward healing.

What are the benefits of viewing the body?

To answer this question, let’s look to Dr. Wolfelt for guidance. Based on his years of experience walking alongside grieving families, he has found that a viewing can help mourners:

For those who don’t live near the deceased, it can be especially important to physically see them one last time. If you have loved ones who live far away, ask them if they want to see a deceased loved one physically before burial or cremation takes place. For some, that final moment together is critically important to the healing process.

Cosmetologist wearing makeup kit around her waist

Why do we need to prepare the body for viewing?

The purpose of a viewing is to allow friends and family members to pay their respects and say goodbye in person. In a recent survey on funeral preferences, 34% of people indicated it was important to physically see the deceased and a full 60% saw the practice as acceptable. But for the viewing to have the best possible impact, the body should be prepared ahead of time, ensuring the deceased person looks as much like themselves as possible. Depending on the family’s wishes, this preparation often includes embalming, cleaning and dressing of the body, and cosmetology.  

Who prepares the body?

More than likely, at least two people will prepare the body for viewing. The embalming process must be completed by a certified embalmer. If restorative arts are needed, which may be necessary with facial injuries, the embalmer will use wax, plaster, and other materials to restore the body as much as possible. Afterward, the body will be dressed in clothing selected by the family.

Finally, the mortuary cosmetologist will complete the preparation process by adding makeup, styling the hair, and even completing a manicure. A cosmetologist must be licensed to provide cosmetic services to the dead, and most cosmetology schools include courses on mortuary cosmetology. In the absence of a cosmetologist, the embalmer will take on the role and apply cosmetics to the deceased.

Close-up of makeup brushes, foundations, powders, and concealers

What’s the difference between cosmetology and restorative arts?

Both cosmetology and restorative arts produce a pleasing visual representation by recreating a lifelike appearance. However, “restorative arts” refers to the reconstruction of the body due to significant trauma, such as a car wreck. On the other hand, “cosmetology” refers to the hairstyle and makeup used to emulate the person’s appearance. This would include brightening the face, matching skin tone, styling the hair, caring for the nails, and so on. The two practices work hand in hand to ensure the deceased person’s essence is captured as closely as possible.

What does the family provide to help with the preparation process?

In order for a loved one to look as lifelike as possible, the embalmer and mortuary cosmetologist rely on the surviving family for help. The family will select clothing for the deceased, including any jewelry or special items. The family will also supply a reference photo that the cosmetologist can use to match the deceased’s makeup and hairstyle as closely as possible.

If there are any specific cosmetic requests, such as the use of a distinctive shade of lipstick or nail polish, the family can drop these items off at the funeral home. The cosmetologist will then use these items to add an even more personalized touch. Often, it’s the small details that make a loved one’s appearance feel that much more genuine to those who are mourning.

Man looking tenderly at a photo, looking at someone he loves

Won’t seeing the body negatively affect my good memories of my loved one?

In the vast majority of cases, seeing a loved one’s deceased body is not going to affect or take away the quality of your precious memories. For many, having time to sit quietly and privately with a loved one is the most meaningful part of the funeral. Yes, it’s going to be painful. It may feel uncomfortable. But to heal, it’s necessary to embrace the discomfort and the pain, so you can figure out how to move forward without that special person.

A quick note: There will always be cases where a viewing isn’t possible. You can rely on the funeral professional to give you an honest assessment. If a viewing isn’t possible, that’s okay. Work with the funeral director to identify other ways to honor your loved one’s memory and celebrate their life.

Is preparation of the body necessary for a private viewing?

The decision ultimately resides with the family. If the viewing is taking place soon after death, then neither technique may be necessary. However, if the viewing is delayed, it’s recommended that there be some form of preparation and preservation. Some states may have specific laws regarding the length of time a body can remain un-embalmed. The funeral director will know the specifics for your state.

Close-up on woman's hands as she holds a makeup brush and uses it to prepare eye shadow for use

With these questions answered, the next steps are up to you. Talk to your family members. Ask them whether they think a viewing is a good thing. It may not be something you need, but your mother, brother, or daughter may need it. Ultimately, the funeral is intended to help people reflect on life, celebrate loved ones, and take the first steps toward healing and reconciliation. For some, that may include a viewing where they can see a loved one’s beloved face one more time.

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