When Things Go Wrong, Very Wrong: Four Short Stories Highlighting the Misadventures of Burial at Sea by Donna Capara
With the best of intentions and well laid plans, sometimes things take a turn for the worse. Things happen in every aspect of life, business and yes, even in the funeral industry. We take every precaution, think ahead and still, challenging situations present themselves and all we can do is go with it.
Burial at sea, often referred to as ash scattering and the planning of such is not without its trials. Considering that while the practice is considerably old and steeped in tradition, the average client is very new to the concept and requires much hand holding. Throw Mother Nature into the mix along with “colorful personalities” and you have the makings of, let’s just say, interesting outcomes. These stories are being shared to help you prepare for and take into consideration the misadventures and even the challenges that can be posed when conducting a burial at sea.
Mr. Micro Manager
This gentleman attempted to account for every detail of his father’s ash scattering service and while customer service is paramount, his requests took trying my patience to a whole new level.
The service was to take place off the coast of New Jersey, Sandy Hook to be exact in the vicinity of Raritan Bay, where he wanted to deposit the ashes. Early on in our correspondence he made it very clear the service was to be performed on an outgoing tide. In addition, there were to be no ferries running in the event they crossed into the current that took his father’s cremated remains. Now to those you who run any kind of business, you know that scheduling is based on a number of factors and if I called and said, “I want an appointment, when the moon is in the seventh house”, you’d be a bit concerned as to how many more requests might be forthcoming. I (he) was very fortunate that the boat’s availability happen to fall in accordance with a favorable tide, but I couldn’t account for the ferry schedule. Just when I thought all was settled, he asked that the captain wear his formal uniform. We primarily use fishing and sightseeing boats because they’re Coast Guard inspected for safety and a clean shirt is as good as it gets. In addition, the captain typically doesn’t leave the wheelhouse, thus what he wears is of little consequence. I can’t account for what the client envisioned, but I could only think he had an officer from a cruise ship in mind. What else could he possibly ask for I thought? Here it comes; I needed to assure him there would be nothing floating in the water in and around where he would scatter the ashes. By this he meant garbage and debri to which I assured him the NY and NJ waterways have been significantly improved, but I couldn’t guarantee there wouldn’t be a floating log. Finally with all the details covered and the date approaching he explained he’d be driving from Boston to NY the day of the service with no others in attendance, nor would he be staying overnight. It’s a long trip one way, let along back again on the same day, but that was his call. All was set, the day was clear, conditions calm and my captain and crew at the ready. Just before the scheduled departure time, we received a call from Mr. Micro Manager; he was a just about at the NY border when he realized he forgot his father’s ashes home.
“He Ain’t Circlin The Drain Yet”
Her words exactly, “He ain’t circlin the drain yet”, when this next client called to learn more about a Full Body Burial at Sea. Sadly her husband was terminal and his wish was to buried at sea. She wanted to use a shroud which she would sew herself in accordance with our direction and proper material. When the time came and with the assistance of her local funeral director (Tennessee) they prepared the body along with the necessary balis weight of 100 pounds secured inside the shroud. The weight assures that the body will remain at the bottom of the sea, a required depth of 600 feet. With a Transport Permit in hand, the plan was to place her now shrouded deceased husband in her van for the road trip to Fort Lauderdale. Upon her arrival the boat was ready to sail out the four miles to reach the required depth. All went well, the boat came back to port and the client returned home to Tennessee. But something went awry.
A few days later a passing fishermen found the floating partial remains of a man. Yes, you guessed it! It appears a large game fish, likely a shark bit into the shroud. When the widow was notified of these developments her sentiment was, “Well, he wanted to be eaten by the fishes”.
They Shoot Coffins, Don’t They?This story goes back some years, long before the growing interest and practice of full body burials at sea. Unlike the the story above, this funeral director used a metal casket, which today is standard practice; except he neglected to have holes drilled into it before preparing it for the funeral. Several holes of one inch diameter are required at the head and foot of the casket to allow for a quick and full submersion. The captain loaded the heavy casket onto the swim deck of the boat and set out to sea they went. Off the coast of Georgia, it’s a considerable distance to reach the six hundred foot depth as the Continental Shelf takes its turn eastward, from Florida up through the northeast.
The captain reached the burial site and off loaded the casket expecting that with it’s heavy weight, it would readily sink. She waited and waited and waited, until she recognized the casket wasn’t going anywhere except with the current. To the aghast of the funeral director on board, she took out her shotgun and proceeded to shoot holes into the sides.
Dust In The Wind
It was a dank, cold and blustery March afternoon when I accompanied a single passenger on an ash scattering charter. In my experience, I find that when folks board the boat, they’re bit distracted from the task at hand and often engage me in conversation. This particular woman seemed to want to be alone and had few words. All I knew was that she was scattering the cremated remains of her niece.
As part of my service I offer a scattering tube to allow for a more controlled flow of the ashes when scattering. It’s easy to hold and point away from you and with the wind at your back, there’s virtually no chance of “Blow Back”. That’s when the cremated remains blow back onto you and the boat.
The captain positioned the boat with the bow into the wind as I handed her the tube for her to scatter. I removed the end cap, handed it over and she began to take fist fulls of ashes and began throwing them like a baseball. Ashes were getting all over her and me and as luck would have it, we both wore black coats. I took her hand, holding the urn to show her how to use it, but again she release another fist full. I shrugged my shoulders and stepped away as she emptied the container in this manner. I’ll never know what was going through her mind, but I have a sense that her quietness masked some very raw emotions.
Thankfully these stories are far and few between and 99% of charters go off without a hitch. The more common episodes include passengers becoming seasick or the ever presence of Mother Nature deciding to blow gale winds, snow, rain or the occasional hurricane.
About the Author
Whether you are a family or a funeral service professional seeking guidance and direction for making arrangements , Donna Capra is considered one of the nation’s leading authorities and most trusted resources for Burial at Sea.
To learn more check out https://www.nationwideburialatsea.com/about to read her story and visit https://www.nationwideburialatsea.com/blog-1 to gain helpful blogs and industry insights and information for arranging burial at sea.
Joél Simone Anthony, also known as ‘The Grave Woman,’ is a licensed funeral director and embalmer. She is dedicated to eliminating misconceptions about post-life preparation while stimulating an open, honest and straight forward discussion about death. You can submit your comments, questions and requests to firstname.lastname@example.org or by using our contact page.