She threw fist fulls of cremated remains into the wind.
It was a cold blustery day in March, when I accompanied a woman on an ash scattering service at sea; she was to release the remains of her niece. I would have liked to have gone out on a sunny day, but because she was only going to in town for one day we had not choice. Once on board we went into the cabin to stay warm until we reached the site of internment. This is the time I like to learn a little bit about the deceased, however the Aunt remained very quiet.
Other than the actual relationship, I didn’t know much more about how she came to be the only family member on board. Why were there no other relatives I pondered? No friends, parents, brothers or sisters. She carried the temporary container with the cremated remains very close to her body and she seemed reluctant to hand them to me. I was to transfer the remains from a plastic bag to a scattering urn, which would provide a more controlled flow of the contents when she scattered. She followed me to the far end of the cabin to watch as I set up the urn and removed the bag from the plastic container. Carefully, slowly and lovingly I transferred the ashes; her eyes watching my every move. Once finished I presented her with the urn, which she again hugged to her body.
Upon the vessel’s arriving at the site of internment, I explained and demonstrated how she was to release the ashes into the water. The scattering is a cylindrical tube, designed to allow the contents to pour out in a controlled flow. I asked her if she wanted to recite a prayer or reading, but she declined. It appeared she understood my instructions as I removed the end cap which would allow the contents to easily flow out when the urn was held over the rails of the boat. It was then that she began taking handfuls of remains and throwing them overboard and into the wind. The remains blew about everywhere, landing on our coats, in our hair, some made it to the water. Try as I might to show her how to use the urn, she wanted to do it her way. I backed away brushing myself off as she continued taking one handful after another. At first I viewed with curiosity, anyone would, but then I watched her expressions. Her face first twisted with anger, then resolve and finally satisfaction. I watched her free her niece, I watched her free herself. Her loving and unconventional release bespoke of a bond far greater than an Aunt / Niece relationship and it moved me to tears as I watched her empty the urn one fistful at a time.
We mostly sat in silence on our way back to port, therefore I never came to learn what life events may have brought the two so close or why there was no one else on board. She did share that her niece suffered from a lifelong condition that confined her to a wheelchair, but didn’t say much more than that.
The memory of this poignant memorial service remains with me to this day. There’s a line from from the song made famous by Bob Dylan, Blowing in the Wind, “Yes, and how many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free”?