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'Scatter Days' Get Uncle Joe's Ashes Out of the Closet

Some funeral homes are offering Scatter Days as a way for families to respectfully dispose of the ashes of loved ones that have been resting in people's homes. Godong/Getty Images

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At the end of "The Big Lebowski," Walter conducts an impromptu memorial service for his bowling friend Donny on the edge of an oceanside cliff. Then, he dumps a coffee can containing Donny's ashes ... which the wind catches and whips directly into The Dude's face. It is a hilariously ghastly scene, and one you'd likely not want to repeat. Thanks to "Scatter Days," you don't have to.

Scatter Days are one resource for families figuring out what to do with the cremains (cremated remains) of their loved ones, particularly if they've stowed them at the back of a closet for years. Some funeral homes have started offering specially designated days for families to spread the ashes of their loved ones in a final resting place, for free. Some funeral homes offer their rose garden or memorial park for the task. Others place the cremains in an ossuary (underground receptacle) along with the ashes of others who have died. Typically, the home also hosts a memorial service that honors the dead.

"Families hold on to the remains often because they're not ready to let go, but in other cases, it may be because they're unaware of other options," said Christine Hunsaker, owner of Southern Cremations & Funerals in Atlanta in a press release. Southern Cremations held its first Scatter Day in October. "Our goal is to offer a way to memorialize a passed family member in a peaceful and dignified manner."

One funeral home estimated that one in five Americans have cremains at their homes and no plans to memorialize them. It's a trend that's likely to grow, because more Americans are choosing cremation over traditional burial. (For 2019, the National Funeral Directors Association projects the cremation rate at 54.8 percent and the burial rate at 39 percent. In 2015, the cremation rate was 48.5 percent.) In addition to providing a resting place for loved ones, Scatter Days help prevent "wildcat scattering," in which families sneakily (and illegally) scatter ashes in places they hold dear.

Scatter Day ceremonies are held on different dates, depending on when the funeral home in question decides to do it. In order to take part in a Scatter Day ceremony, you'll likely need to complete an authorization form, as well as a certificate of cremation or cremation permit, and you'll need to register or contact the funeral home to let them know you want to participate. To find one in your area, search for "Scatter Days" and your city.

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