A girl tosses ashes from the ferry boat

19

By Chuck Woodbury
ROADSIDE JOURNAL
If you live in the Seattle area, you likely ride a ferry from time to time. I love riding the ferry. The trip from where I live in Edmonds across Puget Sound to Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula is about 20 minutes. I walked on the ferry last Saturday (an option to driving on) for a meeting near the dock.

I was happy to be on the ferry. It’s relaxing to sit by a window and watch an occasional sailboat pass or a huge container ship — and, on rare occasions, a pod of Orcas. Gorgeous mountains are all around, including Mt. Rainier to the south and Mt. Baker to the north, both magnificent Cascade volcanoes.

But I was feeling a little sad. I had just announced in this newsletter that my days were numbered at the helm of RVtravel.com. After decades working hard, expressing my creativity, and associating with so many wonderful people, it was difficult to think of stepping away. I am sure many people who retire from work they love feel the same.

About midway across the Sound, the captain announced that the ferry would soon stop briefly for a “memorial ceremony.” I assumed that meant for someone to throw the ashes of a loved one overboard.


I was curious, so I walked to the back of the ferry. A group of about two-dozen other people were standing there, all quiet, all respectful. Below, a young woman and another five or six people stood at the right rear on the car deck. The ship soon stopped. The young woman held a small white container, cardboard I think — the ashes.

Someone said a few words. The woman raised the box to her lips, kissed it, and then after a few seconds of thought, tossed it with both hands into the water. She was sobbing. Her companions gathered around to comfort her. In a few seconds, the ferry resumed its journey.

I wish to be cremated when I die, and I have often thought about having my ashes scattered in Puget Sound. For a moment, I envisioned that young girl as my daughter, tossing me into the sea.

That may sound morbid to you, but not to me. As I get older, thoughts like that come more often. They don’t necessarily make me sad. I think they are simply my way of coming to terms with my own mortality, drawing ever closer as the days, weeks, months and years pass by, ever faster.


19 COMMENTS

  1. Chuck, thanks for posting this story. I don’t think it’s morbid, but certainly difficult to talk about, especially to our kids. But having gone through a number of funerals recently I’ve had an opportunity to talk to my kids and asked them if they wanted us buried at a cemetery so they could visit or just spread out in the ocean or mountain place. None of them wanted a cemetery to go to, so I am slowly coming up with places each of the kids can take me (or their Mom, depending on what she wants…although she is reluctant to talk about this subject as well).
    My thoughts are to try and pick a place that is meaningful to both the kid and me and our specific moments together, plus their personalities. I have four kids, one son, 3 daughters, and each one is very different. While I haven’t actually done any of this, I’m thinking of making a video for each one, NOW, not when I’m sick, and put my request in the video. Since my son is a musician, it’ll have something to do with music. Perhaps sprinkle me along the sidewalks of Nashville? One of my daughters is an avid outdoors person, so perhaps alongside a mountain stream with views of the surrounding mountains? Just something that wouldn’t be too difficult and one I know they would enjoy, even while grieving.

    Anyway, thanks for bringing up this topic, and it certainly is something we need to deal with, and doing it now when you are relatively healthy is a good idea…at least I think so.

  2. We buried my mother last month next to dad, as she wished. However, my wife and I will be cremated and the boys will take the post hole diggers and plant us in the Starr Kansas cemetery. Starr is a Kansas ghost town with the cemetery being the only remains of the town left. It’s in the Flint Hills which if you are a native Kansan is one of the many beautiful places in the state plus it’s in Greenwood County which is also one of the most beautiful places in the State. Okay, Okay, I know there are those that argue that there is no beauty in Kansas, but please remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you spend as many years here as we have you learn to see the beauty in the shades of gold, the big sky’s, the green ribbons of streams and rivers against the golden grasses of late summer. That’s why we want to spend the rest of eternity there. There will probably never be any developments to disturb our rest and no traffic to scare off the wildlife. Just peace and quiet.

  3. I didn’t know the Washington State Ferry service would do this, nice to know. Many years ago I was on a whale watching trip in Grays Harbor, Washington. Midway during the trip, one of the passengers started dumping ashes over the side, everyone on the boat was scrambling to get upwind of her. The captain was a bit perturbed, I think ,he would have been fine with it if she had asked first. The lady said the cremains were of a friend of hers; she was doing to spread them in Puget Sound but said the water there looked so dirty. I remember thinking at the time, ” Geez, lady, you’re dumping ashes in the water.”

  4. In addition to being a regular blood donor, I’m also an organ donor. I figure that, once I’m gone, anything I’m no longer using that might help somebody else, is fair game. I DO hope though, that they double check that I AM in fact dead before harvesting anything. 😉

  5. I have 18+ acres of gorgeous, remote, unimproved mountain property with a creek running through it (my lifelong dream). My sons know that’s where I want to end up. I’m not “aka” “Mountain Mama” for nothing. 😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com

  6. Having serviced aboard a Fireboat in a large metropolitan port, we were occasionally tasked with a memorial service (dept. members) to scatter cremains. Always solemn & respectful occasions. It didn’t hurt to know which way the wind was blowing too.

  7. We carry my daughter’s and sister-in-laws ashes with us when we travel, they have been scattered, a little at a time when ever we find a pretty place, while on an RV trip, a cruise ship or a ferry. We now also have my hubby’s parents and they will join the process.

    • I did the same with my dog’s cremated remains. I scattered some on the hill he loved to run in circles on, and the rest in places where I traveled that I thought he would have liked. The final ashes of my [sacred] dog were scattered in the sacred meadow (Panther) on the sacred mountain (Mt. Shasta) in CA.

  8. I’m with you too, except I want to be released to the forest. My late husband told me he also wanted cremation and as we owned the 3 acres our house was on in PA, that was where he wanted to be. He would sit for hours looking out the windows in his study, watching the deer and other animals. So that was where he went, just myself, a few family and friends.

  9. The times I have been apart of spreading ashes the container was not spread, just the ashes. But you do have to be careful of the wind direction or the ashes come right back to you.

  10. Not to be a wet rag on the discussion but a few years back a neighbor’s family whose parent had passed, asked me if I would take them out on my sailboat so they could scatter the remains offshore (in Florida). I later learned that it is illegal to do so unless you are more than 3 miles out. I have never learned the reasoning behind that alleged law but anyone wishing to do so may research it to find out for sure.

    • It is legal to dispose of ashes (spread bare or in quickly biodegradable containers) in National Parks and public land, with permission or optional permits. Where there are no permits needed, you still have to let the EPA know within 30 days.

      It is legal to dispose of cremains more than 3 nautical miles from shore because it’s open ocean outside the local jurisdiction. Some states like CA allow you to spread cremains closer to shore, but most don’t. The concern is mainly that the container not degrade fast enough and the (eg cardboard box) floats back into a beach. Bio-concerns are pretty low since anything infectious should be burnt up during cremation, but an urn floating under your dock can be upsetting.

  11. Ey purchased a plan where they scoop you up anywhere in the world, bake you til you are done, and toss your ashes into the closest sea. The company handles all of the details. (National Cremation Service). All your friends have to do is toast your nonexistent spirit.
    Not too soon Ey hope. Still have diesel to burn and places to see before humans make the earth uninhabitable.
    Burn Diesel and use Paper Plates. The one with the biggest carbon footprint WINS.
    (Sure, tell me how “green” you are)

  12. Our children thanked us when we presented them with our prepaid cremation plan and directions to the location where we want our ashes scattered. Now they will not have to deal with ‘hassle’ and grief at the same time.

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