In a recent article for The Teak Rail, we discussed the proper and dignified way to scatter ashes for a memorial at sea. It occurred to me in explaining the “How To”, I neglected to share the “Why” for making the decision in the first place.
First and foremost, the why can be addressed simply by following the request of the deceased. Many of our memorial services conducted on the Papagallo are a direct result of the wishes expressed many years prior to a person’s death. This makes it easier for the members of the family knowing what their loved one’s wishes are. Their choice now is how best to honor those wishes. Many may choose to gather on the edge of the harbor jetty or rock outcroppings at the shore’s edge and simply deposit the ashes there. Some may venture out to sea in their own or a friend’s pleasure craft or hire a fishing day boat to fulfill their loved one’s wishes. I have even heard stories of family members walking to the end of the pier and throwing the ashes off with the end result of the pilings getting dusted in the process. All things considered, compared to a traditional burial at a cemetery, a burial at sea will be a fraction of the cost.
I would remind the surviving family members the scattering of ashes is something they will do only once. It should not be looked upon as a final duty they have to perform to please everyone; rather a genuine desire to honor the life and memory of a departed loved one with dignity, love, respect and heartfelt appreciation for their connection and friendship while here on earth.
In the open sea there is a refreshing freedom unable to be experienced from shore. A place where the wind, sea swells, sounds and sea life come together to provide a spiritual setting for a person’s final journey to the hereafter. Having witnessed many burials at sea, I have learned to listen, to observe and feel what takes place during the service. No two are the same. The grieving of those in attendance display emotions varying from joy, sadness, humor, love, fond memories and respect to name a few.
Expanding upon the whole experience and to further answer the question why, It reminds me of the following service onboard. The wind was about 15 knots out of the northwest with swells at 6 to 8 feet and, even with the stabilizers, there was a very uncomfortable pitch to deal with. On deck everyone was holding tightly to the rail, many on the verge of seasickness. Surrounded by his adult children, the husband of the deceased for over 55 years sat on the deck bench, forward of the helm, holding his beloved toy Poodle. In his early 90’s, he was the first to begin the service with stories of his life and experiences shared with his departed wife. He shared how they relocated to the area in the mid 1930’s. He went on from there in chronological order ticking off the years of their life together. It was obvious we would not have the time nor could the guests hold on as the story progressed to the 1950’s. His daughter graciously whispered in his ear that we needed to move on and he could share more about their lives on the return to port. We released the basket of ashes over the side with everyone saying their goodbyes. He remained on the bench holding the Poodle as tears streamed down his wrinkled face. The Captain did our customary 180 degree turn and we headed to port.
Normally the ocean conditions are calmer than what we were experiencing that day. Everyone was relieved that we were returning to the calmness of the harbor. Even as rough as it was, there was still a majestic beauty to the power of the sea. Motoring back, I began sorting out my own emotions. The gentleman on the bench was a real inspiration and a living testament to true love and loyalty. On deck that day we shared in his pain and grief with the loss of his wife, but I took away much more with a total admiration for his expression of everlasting love. It remains with me to this day.
If you choose to have a memorial at sea, choose well to offer your respect and honor those who have left this world.