Ashes to Water

August 17th, 2017

Returning my aunt and uncle to their favorite spot

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On a mirror-calm bay, on a see-forever day, we scattered my aunt and uncle’s ashes. They died within months of each other over the past year and we took them back to northern Canada, to the cottage they built so long ago.

A step-cousin in our blended family created paper boats to hold their remains. There are eight siblings and multiple grand and great-grands, so a flotilla of temporary nautical containers were assembled and filled.

My uncle was a biologist, as are some of his offspring. Making sure to honor him, they knew that once a body is cremated, it’s not a health or environmental risk anymore. Still everyone wanted to be sensitive to their sparsely populated neighbors.

Standing on shore or paddling out on kayaks and rowing/motoring over to their former cottage, grown children and grandchildren found their spot, said their goodbyes and released their parents into the bay.

I was fine, helping get my cousin’s kayaks and boats into the water. The camera helped keep me at a distance, as it’s done in the past. But then a step-cousin’s daughter and her little girl caught my eye. They watched in the foreground as their own aunts and uncles  paddled away. The circle of life and the sea of emotions washed over me. It all hit me in waves and I needed to hug my mother, sob for a while, mourn their departures.

There was a boat with an empty seat for me. I climbed aboard with my cousin. He’s a writer and former journalist too, so he was okay with his kid cousin tagging along. We sang one of his mom’s favorite songs, dipped the paper boat and gently offered her into her favorite bay.

One of my cousins had never seen a fish in their bay, ever. He asked for a sign that morning — to finally see a fish, he said. As he swirled his mother and step father’s ashes into the water, two fish swam up, circled, and swam away.

Another cousin, on the same morning, also asked for a sign. He sat out by the bay, closed his eyes and asked for something, anything. Opening his eyes, a family of ducks and ducklings were waddling right in front of him. His step mother always had an affinity for duck families and would shout out to her twin, my mother, to come watch them whenever they’d show up.

I don’t know where we go when we die. My aunt was spiritual and said she absolutely wasn’t afraid of death. I’m not sure where my rational, scientific uncle stood on the matter, but I know where they both lie now. It’s by turns a serene, sky blue bay, a frozen, subarctic basin and yes, a playground for fish, ducks and a few new old souls.

In many ways, death is what happens to the living. We stay behind while our aunts and uncles head out into the great beyond. A buddy of mine long ago asked, “death is a fascinating voyage, but are my bags properly packed?”

We’ll all embark on that voyage, hopefully not before decades pass beneath us. Beforehand, though, I’d love to get a sign like my cousins did, a peek behind the veil.

I’m keeping an eye out for any fish or ducklings that wanna waddle or swim my way.

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