Morticians board writes guidelines on scattering ashes after cremation

Pamphlet intended to stop use of inappropriate sites

February 22, 1999|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

The State Board of Morticians has come up with guidelines on the proper way to spread cremated remains in the hopes of dissuading mourners who have been pouring ashes onto a private beach on the Chesapeake Bay and at other inappropriate final resting places.

The board completed a pamphlet last week that is intended to be given to anyone considering cremation. The move was a reaction to complaints from residents of Venice on the Bay, an Anne Arundel County community with a bay view so stunning it almost seems an invitation to spend eternity there.

The board somberly suggests that people ought not leave their loved ones' ashes on other people's property, in lakes and streams, or scattered over public places like parks and beaches.

Elizabeth Groninger, board director, said the pamphlet's blunt and detailed approach was deemed necessary after events last October.

Venice on the Bay residents came to her and other state officials after noticing strange cars pulling up to their beach full of well-dressed -- and often crying -- passengers. The visitors often would disperse ashes on the beachside property.

One man carrying a large maroon bag unloaded almost 5 gallons of ashes -- the remains of five bodies -- during three turns up and down the beach.

In an instance caught on video, a group tried to throw ashes out into the bay, but a gust of wind blew the ashes back over the mourners, the beach and the parking lot.

One Venice on the Bay resident was so disturbed by the idea of souls being trapped in the parking lot that she began pouring holy water over the cars.

Unlike most states, the officials realized, Maryland had no rules about dumping ashes after cremation. Local police said the most they could do to discourage the practice was to enforce trespassing laws.

Residents say there have been no more beachside or parking lot ceremonies since their story got national attention in October. But state officials have continued to respond to the problem.

The Department of Natural Resources publicized regulations against spreading ashes over water within seven miles of shore. That rules out the Chesapeake Bay, which is just seven miles across at its widest.

Groninger said the morticians board hopes to begin distributing the pamphlet to the state's 1,400 licensed morticians and funeral directors by late spring or early summer.

To discourage improper spreading of cremated remains, the pamphlet offers advice:

People should give "serious consideration" to disposal, and not even spread remains on their own land because "in due course the property may be owned by another."

Mourners should consider delegating the actual dumping of remains to friends, because it can be an "unpleasant emotional task for a close relation."

If mourners keep the remains, they should check laws before taking them across state lines. Some states do not allow residents to keep them, requiring instead that they be stored in a mausoleum.

Keep in mind that acting as custodian of cremated remains means having to plan what will be done with them after your own death. Remains in your possession "become your survivor's problem at your demise."

To avoid such potential problems, the pamphlet suggests that remains be stored in a mausoleum.

"What we're basically asking is that individuals take time and really think about what they are doing," Groninger said. "You can't just go out and haphazardly dispose of remains. They should use common sense and have respect for the meaning of what they are doing."

State lawmakers said the rules from the morticians board were also needed -- even if only to make people take seriously what they are doing.

"I would absolutely hope that these guidelines reinforce the idea that burials should be kept respectful," said Del. Joan Cadden. "What we saw was a very disrespectful way to handle these things and I think this will make people focus on the solemn nature of what they are doing."

Pub Date: 2/22/99

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