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‘Scatter Day’ honors lost loved ones

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A final resting place, a memorial, a grave site – these are things Chris Keller says many people who cremate their loved ones never see.

He’s trying to change that for families in Albuquerque.

Keller, the executive director for Sunset Memorial Park, started its “Scatter Day” program two years ago. One Saturday a year, the park invites families with cremated loved ones to spread their ashes and engrave the name of the deceased in stone at no cost. This year’s event will be on Saturday.

“We’re trying to change the conversation and culture about how important a final resting place is,” Keller said. About 80% of the families who brought their loved one’s ashes to Scatter Day in the past two years had them at home for decades, even generations. Keller said people tell him it’s because they “didn’t know what to do.”

Instead of moving an urn from a mantle, to a closet, to the attic or the basement, he hopes the event will finally give people the opportunity to lay their loved ones to rest.

“When people see the urn (boxed up) they feel guilty and they don’t know what to do with them,” Keller said.

In its first year, the event drew close to 400 families, who scattered about 1,200 remains.

“When people showed up, there was a palpable sense of relief,” he said. Close to 20% of people who have come to the event have told him they only got their loved one cremated because of the cost of a funeral or because they wanted to hold onto their loved one a little longer.

Keller said he knows families sometimes cremate their loved one with a specific place in mind, like the mountains or a golf course where their dad played for years, but while those areas might change over time, the cemetery “will always be a cemetery.”

People can choose to pour the ashes into an underground vault with a spout that opens into the middle of a flower garden, or scatter them into a rose garden at the park.

At first, Scatter Day was not advertised as a solution for pet owners who had lost their furry friends, but after one man showed up with 24 little urns, Keller said that had to change.

Anyone holding on to the ashes of a pet can scatter them in the Best Friends Pet Cemetery on site.

After laying the ashes to rest, families choose between a wall in the rose garden, a wall of multi-colored granite and stone panels, or a brick path to engrave the name of their lost loved one.

The event costs Sunset Memorial Park about $20,000 a year, but Keller said the cost doesn’t really matter, as long as families are getting what they need.

“I don’t like the term ‘closure,’ ” he said, “because you never stop remembering your loved one. The act of choosing that final resting place though, that seems to open some doors in people’s hearts.”