What to Do With the Ashes 

Vatican Instructions on Burial and Cremation

The cremated remains, sometimes called cremains, are given to the family in a hard plastic container, similar in size to a five pound bag of sugar, but maybe a little heavier. The bone fragments have been pulverized and are light gray to white in color. Usually for a little extra fee, the crematory can split the ashes if several children would like cremains for memory purposes.

Although you will have filled out a form regarding disposition of ashes as part of authorizing the cremation, there is actually no requirement for you to decide up front what to do with the cremains. Just specify that you will take them home, and then you can decide at your leisure (and not under pressure) what is to be done with them. See below for some of the options.

USPS INFORMATION on how to package and ship cremated remains.

If desired, the cremains can be stored at home in the container in which they were received. Or you can spend tens to thousands of dollars for a fancy urn made of metal, wood, china, or other materials. We heard of one person who had the ashes put into her mother’s favorite cookie jar. A family member who does woodworking could make an attractive box for the ashes. If the cremains will be visible, perhaps combining the ashes with seashells would be a nice touch. What you should consider is potential leakage or breakability of the container, however. We are in earthquake country, after all.

  • Options in California were increased with the passage of a law in 1998 allowing cremains to be scattered or buried on private land with the permission of the landowner. So you could be buried near your beloved rose bushes or under an apple tree on your own or other relative’s property, golf course, or along a favorite hiking trail in a county, state, or national park (with permission from the superintendent), It is best that you don’t scatter on a windy day. Or at least throw them downwind. The color of the cremains is different from earth so it will be noticeable. You may want to cover the area with dirt or leaves to prevent the ashes from blowing away or being too evident.
  • Lately, some churches in the Bay Area are installing Memorial Gardens to hold ashes of their members in a permanent religious setting. Expect to pay a fee or donation for perpetual maintenance.
  • Variations are to keep the ashes of one spouse until the other dies, and then mix the cremains in one container for burial or scattering, burying both urns at the same time, or putting the urn into the casket of the second to die.
  • Cemeteries will store ashes in several ways. Call or visit the cemeteries to obtain current prices.
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Memorial Gardens and Columbaria at Churches

Los Altos
Los Altos Christ Episcopal Church, 1040 Border Rd., Los Altos 94022--(650) 948-2151. Columbarium and memorial      garden. $750
Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave., Los Altos, 94022—(650) 948-1083; 
     Email: [email protected]

Los Gatos
Los Gatos Presbyterian Church, 16575 Shannon Rd., Los Gatos 95032--(408) 356-6156

Menlo Park
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 330 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park, 94025--(650) 326-2083
St. Bede's Episcopal Church, 2650 Sand Hill road, Menlo Park, 94025--(650) 854-6555

Palo Alto
St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto 94306--- (650) 326-3800
All Saints Episcopal Church, 555 Waverly, Palo Alto 94301---(650) 322-4528
First United Methodist church, 625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto 94301--(650) 323-6167
First Presbyterian Church, 1140 Cowper, Palo Alto 94301—(650) 325-5659
First Congregational Church, 1985 Louis Rd., at Embarcadero, Palo Alto 94303—(650) 856-6662

San Jose
St. Francis of Assissi, 5111 San Felippe Rd., San Jose 95135---(408) 223-1562
Christ the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1550 Meridian Ave., San Jose 95125---(408) 266-8022 columbarium         for 60 niches

San Mateo
Transfiguration Episcopal Church, 3900 Alameda de Las Pulgas, San Mateo, CA---(650) 341-8206
Congregational Church of San Mateo, 225 Tilton Ave., San Mateo, 94401, www.ccsm-ucc.org
    —(650) 343-3694

St. Andrews Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 2789, Saratoga 95070--(408) 867-3493

Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church, 728 W. Fremont Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94087--(408) 739-1892 $1000 for plaque,         urn and perpetual care
St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 231 S. sunset Ave.,Sunnyvale 94086--(408) 736-4155
First Methodist Church, 535 Old San Francisco Road, Sunnyvale 94086
    -- Email: [email protected]  (408) 739-0826

Woodside Village Church, 3154 Woodside Rd., Woodside, CA 94062--(650) 851-1587 
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  • If the deceased is a veteran, the Navy or Coast Guard will conduct a sea burial at no cost to the family. It will be done at their convenience so the family will not be able to witness it. A flag is required, which the family can obtain from the Veterans Administration. It will be returned to the family. The funeral home will charge postage to send the cremains to the nearest base.
  • Funeral homes can arrange to have the ashes scattered at sea or over some wilderness area by a licensed pilot or boat captain. Some funeral homes no longer will make referrals because of the fear of lawsuits. Most do, however. Some mortuaries have their own planes or boats and may not charge extra for this service if you allow them to scatter at their own convenience along with other people’s ashes. This is a quite reasonable option, costing $75 to $500 for an unwitnessed scattering.
  • Personalize the scattering with a religious or spiritual ceremony. One or several relatives, a minister, or even a whole boatload of friends may get together for a send-off that is as simple or elaborate as desired. Licensed scatterers advertise in the phone book yellow pages. Funeral societies keep lists, brochures, and business cards for referrals to the public. You will find boats available at Santa Cruz, Monterey, Moss Landing, Half Moon Bay, or San Francisco.
  • The family can scatter the ashes on water themselves if they have a sailboat or motorboat. The law says the scattering must be done 500 yards or more from shore of the ocean or navigable inland waterways. (for example, San Francisco Bay, a big lake, or wide river). It must not be done from any wharf or pier. The ashes should be removed from the container—don’t just throw the whole box overboard.

We have received literature and notice internet offers to create mementos of the deceased person from some of the cremains, such as picture frames, boxes, jewelry, plaques. 
  • A rose garden or wooded area where ashes can be scattered or buried.
  • Outdoor niches in a wall, or indoor niches in a columbarium in which you can place the urn. Expect to pay extra charges for a brass or bronze plaque to inscribe the name and dates of the deceased. There are different charges depending on location, height, glass or solid door for the niches and size. The usual niches are about 10 inches wide, 12 inches high and 15 inches deep.
  • Ground burial in regular burial locations (up to four boxes of cremains—or one body and three cremains—can be placed in a regular sized grave, depending on policy of the cemetery).
  • Ground burial in urn-sized lots.