Ashes

We had a day for it, all right. It was, I think, the 3rd of August, a Friday, in what we would always have considered the depths of winter. It's a Brisbane winter we're talking about, and it can be cold and windy on Moreton Bay, but that Friday was, as you can see, balmy—blue sky, green-blue water, and a light wind. The water-taxi took us from Redland Bay out between Macleay and Coochiemudlo Islands, then up to Peel Island. Once we rounded Peel, we were looking across the broad expanse of the bay, with the port just visible to the west, Moreton Island to the north-east, and northern-most part of North Stradbroke to the east.

A person's ashes are surprisingly heavy. You can see below (1) the size of the container. It was by no means full, but when the woman at the crematorium handed it to me in a shiny white paper carry bag with rope handles, of the kind that more up-market retail stores will give you, she cautioned me to support the bottom of the bag. Dad's mortal remains sat at home for a week or more before I got around to arranging the trip onto the bay. Jen and I met J, C and K at the ferry. I was pleasantly surprised to see my daughter, M, there.

The boat was noisy, so we didn't talk much. I was expected to say something before we scattered Dad's ashes, but, predictable as that expectation may have been, I was at a loss for words. I was thinking about M, I was thinking about Dad, I was thinking about Mum. When Mum had died, in keeping with the desire to "keep things from the children" which had rendered her inevitable death a massive shock to both Cherie and me, her ashes were scattered by Dad, alone, on this same bay. It was years before I was able to ask him what had become of Mum's ashes, my silence no doubt reinforcing a belief that his silence had all been to the good.

Aunt Alma tells me that she had pointed out to Dad that it was a provocation to Mum's uneasy spirit that her final resting place was in the ceaseless movement of the Bay. Mum hated the Bay. While I was a baby, and up to the time that she had Cherie, the Bay would take Dad away from her for unpredictable periods doing inherently dangerous work. Every time he went out, there was a real risk she might never see him again. If the weather blew up while he was out, her anxiety would rise with the wind. Dad saw Alma's point, but the deed was done. Dad took decisions without asking for advice, let alone consultation; like his father, and like me.

So I stumbled through some words of farewell, and took up the ashes. The crematorium had thoughtfully provided a plug in one end of the container, and I had brought a screwdriver for the purpose. The ashes averaged out to a mid grey, but as I poured the first cast into the shallow green water beneath the boat, it looked almost white in the water. No-one else wanted a part of the process, so I continued. Cast after cast sank in a spreading cloud into the water, and passed underneath the boat, carried by the tide some distance into the Bay, before settling into the sandy bottom of Moreton. Towards the bottom of the container, the material grew coarser, and I realized that these were small fragments of bone, which I assume had been ground from the larger remaining bones. I resisted the urge to rinse the container, fill it, and let it fall to the bottom. Dad's nameplate, taped on (and visible in photo 1), should have carried it down.

1
Me with Dad's ashes

2
M (off frame), me, K

3
Me (casting the ashes), M, J (with petals)

When the ashes were gone, everyone threw some rose petals into the water after them. J had collected a bag of them for the occasion. That done, we toasted Dad in scotch and ginger ale, thoughtfully provided by K, and we had the captain of our little ship turn and head for shore. Back on shore, M asked Jen and me for a lift, but K said immediately that she was going past M's door, and so she went with K. I was kicking myself that I hadn't pressed the point, and so missed an opportunity to talk with her on the way home. Next time. Jen and I went to the Redland Bay pub for lunch, walked a way along the foreshore, and watched the lorrikeets, before dusting the red soil from our shoes and heading home.