Glenn Stok helped his elderly aunt with her affairs in her final years, and writes about the social and legal issues he learned from it.
I know this is a very difficult time for you if you have a relative who passed away. The decisions you make at this time are out of love. If you have knowledge of their desires, you can feel comfortable that you are making the right choice.
Everyone in my family is close to nature and care for the world and the environment. So they all wanted to have their ashes scattered over the ocean. That was their way of being returned to the Earth. A green burial, if you think of it that way.
A Personal Decision to Be Cremated
It is so important to leave written directives to our loved ones about our final wishes. My Aunt's wishes were to be cremated and have her ashes scattered in the ocean.
I remember my father saying that he could not imagine decomposing in the ground with worms crawling through his remains. That may sound morbid, but that’s how he explained it.
My Aunt felt the same about being cremated. She once reminded me of how my father had spoken about it. Both my parents and my Uncle wanted to be cremated.
Being Jewish, you might wonder why my Aunt would want to be cremated. Some people tell me they consider cremation the same as when the Nazi’s put our ancestors in gas chambers.
My grandparents were killed in the Holocaust. As a child of the Holocaust, I have a clearer understanding of the comparison. Killing by gas or other means is murder. Jews were tortured alive. Cremation, on the other hand, is a clean process performed after death.
Even though we are Jewish and cremation is not acceptable by Jewish tradition, there is more to consider about one's feelings that needs to be respected.
Now, after a long life (she lived to the age of 98), my Aunt was the last to go. My sister and I are the only ones remaining. My Aunt and Uncle never had kids.
There were also no other living relatives related to my Aunt because her only sister was married to a man for only a short time before he was killed in a concentration camp. They never had any time to have children.
As for my Aunt and Uncle, they wanted to travel. That was their life’s goal after getting married. So they decided not to have children.
Planing a Wake and Funeral Arrangements
My Aunt wanted her friends to come to pay their respects. So I made plans with a funeral parlor to have a wake.
Family and friends attend a wake to chat and share memories of the deceased. It is also a time to comfort one another.
I also arranged the funeral. Since she was being cremated, the funeral was simply for the family to say their last goodbyes before the cremation.
We had a huge turnout at the wake. Many of my Aunt's friends had already passed away, but many of my friends and my sister’s friends knew my Aunt and knew what a wonderful person she was. So they came.
Why Orthodox Friends Might Not Attend the Funeral
According to the Jewish tradition, when someone dies, they are buried as soon as possible. There is no viewing and no wake, just a quick funeral.
I was surprised that one couple, who were good friends of my Aunt's, did not show up. I imagine it was because they were Orthodox and probably did not approve of the decision to be cremated. But I remember that they came to my Uncle’s wake and funeral many years earlier. So who knows what really happened.
My Aunt had tried to tell me something about them when she was on her deathbed a few days before she passed. But she wasn’t in any condition to make much sense, and I didn’t know what she was trying to tell me.
I think she knew they would not want to show us any signs of respect. Too bad that friends can’t look past that.
What Service Can I Use to Scatter Ashes at Sea?
My sister and her husband had to return home in another state before I could arrange to carry out the last of my Aunt’s requests to have her ashes returned to the Earth by scattering over the ocean.
Being that I had to do this on my own, I ordered from Amazon a book on Creative Ways to Scatter Ashes. I learned a lot from that book on how to handle these things. For one thing, I needed to hire someone with a boat.
Searching the Internet, I found someone who brings people out in his boat to perform the ceremony of a loved one. He had two options: Either have him do it at a small fee or go with him at a much higher cost.
He probably does it for many in one trip when he does it alone, which explains the large difference in the cost. After all, it’s a long trip. You see, in some states, there is a law against scattering ashes over land or at sea. That’s how it is here. So we had to go out far enough that we were in international waters.
Since my sister had already flown back home, I took care of this myself. I chose the option to go on the boat and do the ceremony myself because I wanted to be sure my Aunt was appropriately treated. Besides, I also wanted to go because of my love for her.
The Trip to Scatter Her Ashes in the Ocean
I arranged to meet the fellow I hired at the location where we would start our journey out to sea.
When I arrived early in the morning, it was stormy with thunder and lightning. We had to wait since it would be dangerous to be out at sea during an electrical storm. We watched the display nature had put on for us.
Watching the storm over the water was very surreal. I got to see the various weather patterns. In some spots, the heavens were spewing heavy rains down from clouds.
In other spots, I could see various cloud formations spinning around, making images in my mind. Seeing lightning strike water was extremely amazing.
After an hour or so, the storm had passed. It was still cloudy and wet, but no thunder or lightning. So he told me, "we can leave now."
As we traveled farther and farther out to sea, I could see the land formations that I knew so well, but never saw from that perspective before.
Eventually, the land was no longer in sight. He told me that our local laws did not permit scattering ashes, so we needed to be out to international waters.
I asked him to take pictures of me with my camera while I performed the ceremony of scattering her ashes. And I must say, I was very pleased how they turned out. He did a great job catching the whole event as he instructed me what to do and how to do it.
Ash Scattering Basket
He had made a basket that is used to place the ashes in the water so that the sea can capture them in a calming a surreal way. The first thing I did was open the plastic container that the crematory provided with the ashes, and I placed the ashes in the basket.
By the way, you don’t need to use a basket. If you want to let individual family members release some ashes, one person at a time, you can do that with the container from the crematory. I did it that way years earlier for my Mom.
It’s also ok to pour the ashes from separate small containers so that everyone can do it simultaneously.
It’s just a matter of choice. Allowing each family member to pour some ashes is an excellent way to provide closure for each one.
There is no need to purchase an urn if the ashes are going to be scattered anyway. Sometimes the ashes are sealed in a can. My Aunt’s ashes were in a sealed plastic bag inside a black plastic container.
My Aunt was proud of America, as it was her safe haven ever since she escaped the Holocaust. So I let her sit next to the American Flag for a while as I said my prayers. I just wanted to be with her for a while before saying goodbye.
The power of the prayer brought out the Sun momentarily, as you can see from the shadows.
The storm that had been through the area was making waves and tossing us around quite a bit as I prepared to let her into her final resting place.
I had to hold on with one hand while I held on to her with the other. It was her way of letting me feel the strength she had had throughout her long and difficult life.
I tied a rope to the basket before releasing her to the sea. The purpose of the rope was to pull back the empty basket after her ashes are free of it.
Scattering ashes is a clean and environmentally correct method of burial. Only ashes are returned to the Earth. That's why I needed to pull back the basket after I'm done.
I let her drift away from the boat. That was the hardest part of it, as I knew there was no turning back.
What was I thinking? There was no turning back anyway. Life is over. I will miss her. Many people will miss her. She was so special. She was kind, and she was caring—no doubt why she lived so long.
The basket started sinking as I realized she would finally be peaceful.
The winds started to kick up just as she sank beneath the sea. I could feel it at the top of my head. Almost like some energy force pulling up on my hair.
There she goes. She was peacefully becoming one with the world.
The last few years of her life were so difficult because her frail body was getting so weak she lost all quality of life. The problem is that she was totally aware of that fact because her mind always remained strong.
Suddenly the heavens opened up.
The clouds from that dreary storm had parted, and the light from the warm Sun shown down over the whole area where I had just released her to the world.
My Aunt could now be peaceful.
Now she could rest and be with the world and with her husband. I know my Uncle's ashes were somewhere around there too.
Together they loved to travel and see the world. Now they can do that again. Only this time, they are closer than ever.
Doing It On Your Own
If you plan to scatter ashes over public water or public land, it would be good to check with the local laws first because they are different in every state. Some cities and states don’t allow scattering ashes anywhere. It’s worth knowing the rules to avoid being fined.
How to Find Burial at Sea Services
You can find services or boat rentals by doing a Google search for “Scattering Ashes” or “Burial at Sea Services” and include your location in the search.
When I did that search, I found people offering to do it by boat and plane over water.
There are many methods to choose from that you will find.
Interview a few of them and ask questions. Some will do it alone for you, and others combine several families in one outing. So you need to be sure you get what you are expecting.
Also, some services do the scattering for you, and others let you and your family do it.
Prices vary depending on the options you choose. The cost is higher when you include yourself in the ceremony, but you have to check for prices locally.
Eulogy in Loving Memory
You can write a short eulogy to print on plastic cards for everyone who attends the wake or final services. I chose to write a poem for my aunt.
98 years of sunrises.
98 years of sunsets.
Tomorrow begins without me.
But I can still see.
I never gave up hoping.
I never gave up on thee.
I want for you to continue
to have your sun shine and be free.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Glenn Stok