I had to consider a case this week about scattering ashes of a loved one. The case involved a young woman who made a promise to her mother to scatter her remains at a very well-known public place that also happens to be private property. I’m not disclosing the place, it wouldn’t be fair to the business. The young woman didn’t ask for permission to scatter the ashes, she simply gained entrance, waited for the right time, no one was looking, and poof! Her mother was scattered. The question I faced was, do I report her to the business? Technically, she broke the law. The property owner has rights, and as a business the impact of potentially being known as a place where people scatter remains . . .may not be the perfect fit for the reputation any business.
The overall American demand for cremation in the United States is growing. Why? Because it’s easier? How? What is easier about cremation? No burial? No coffin? It’s easier to sneak around and dump your loved ones ashes before anyone sees you doing it? What makes that so attractive or easy? The thrill? The entertainment? A funny story? The reading explained the young woman was tense, stressed, and uneasy: That’s easier?
What are the current rules and thinking about scattering ashes? As you might suspect, but may forget as you promise you’ll scatter someone, there are some rules.
Disposition of Cremated Remains
In California, you may choose any of the following methods of disposition of cremated remains:
- Placement in a columbium or mausoleum – There may be additional charges for endowment care, opening or closing, recording, flower vase, and nameplate
- Burial in a plot in a cemetery – There may be additional charges for endowment care, opening or closing, recording, outer burial container, flower vase, and marker
- Retention at a residence – The funeral establishment or crematory will have you sign the Permit for Disposition showing that the remains were released to you and will file it with the local registrar of births and deaths. You may not remove the cremated remains from the container and you must arrange for their disposition upon your death
- Storing in a house of worship or religious shrine if local zoning laws allow
- Scattering in areas of the state where no local prohibition exists and with written permission of the property owner or governing agency. The cremated remains must be removed from the container and scattered in a manner so they are not distinguishable to the public
Scattering in a cemetery scattering garden; or
- Scattering at sea, at least 500 yards from shore (this also includes inland navigable waters, except for lakes and streams)
- Cremated remains may not be transported without a permit from the county health department and they may not be disposed of in refuse.
Cremated remains may be scattered as described above by a licensed cemetery, cemetery broker, crematory, registered cremated remains disposer, funeral establishment staff member, or the family. All cremated remains must be removed from the container for scattering. Avoid inhalation of the dust from the cremated remains, since there may be health risks. The county health department must issue a Permit for Disposition, and boat/aircraft operators must notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after scattering.
State law requires cremated remains disposers who scatter by air or boat to post copies of their current pilot or boating licenses and the addresses of their cremated remains storage areas at their place of business. The law also requires disposers to conduct scatterings within 60 days of receipt of the remains, unless the person with the right to control disposition is notified in writing of the reason for the delay.
Currently many people have adopted a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell policy”. This might have worked in the past, and even now, but I suspect in the future this mentality will fail miserably as more and more people require scatterings. It’s one thing to be an exception, it’s another to become the rule.
Are there health issues involved in scattering ashes? No. However, Businesses do have rights. It’s not reasonable to expect a dearly loved business to be the final resting place for your loved one without their permission. It seems simple now, not a big deal, but as the demand continues, the incidents grow, it will become unreasonable for most business to meet the needs of the rising number of covert drops of loved ones on their property. How would you like to be a theme park and suddenly realize your visitors were quickly turning your theme park into a cemetery without your permission? How many ashes seem reasonable for your park to overlook ? To still remain a happy theme park, and not cemetery?
For example, Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. In the past they have received requests to accommodate grieving families with time to memorialize a loved on site. Sadly, one particular family decided to take advantage of the situation and scattered ashes they were not permitted to scatter during that time. Currently the park has a simple and strict policy:NO.
However, as you might suspect, there have since been covert drops at the park much like the one I was asked to consider this week at a different well known business. Covert Attempts can go wrong, and result in the park being closed for hours. I imagine this ruins a few family vacations, not to mention lost earnings for the park. Who wants to make Mickey Mouse mad? Not me.
Obviously, part of the human experience is falling in love with particular location, a sacred place. For some people it’s a mountain top, for others a theme park. However, I wonder, why not a cemetery? Has something happened to the value of a cemetery? Is it because no one goes there anymore? Are cemeteries too sacred, or not sacred enough?
If you scatter your loved one at Disneyland, every single time you want to stop by for a visit, you’re going to pay at least a $100 to get in. Of course cemetery plots aren’t free, but I doubt you’ll be waiting in line for an hour to get in. Plus, I think if you show up with a family, you might be spending the cost of a plot in one visit. But then again, you get to multitask a family vacation and a visiting a lost loved one. I guess if you like grieving in a crowd, Disneyland might have its advantage. Plus, if you start to feel too blue you can jump in line for a quick ride on Magic Mountain. However, god forbid Disney security caught you scattering ashes and you become their legal precedent for lost earnings over wan up and investigation of your little covert drop.
I’m beginning to think Disneyland should open a cemetery. I bet it would be a success. Maybe some would think it’s a good idea? Others I’m sure might be offended. I don’t know. Time will tell. If they do, I hope they do it before Costco. I don’t want to multitask buying laundry soap and visiting a loved one in the parking lot while waiting for cheaper than average gas.