Ashes to Splashes (Weekly Dig)


Originally published in the October 10 edition of Boston's Weekly Dig. (Be sure to click over to the Dig for the artwork).

Like many mothers, my mom loved saying, "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!" But it was how she wanted to leave this world that was a more serious declaration. She did not want to be buried. Instead, she wished to be cremated and for us to spread her ashes in the ocean.

Nearly two years after her passing, my older sister and I finally fulfilled her wish. After abandoning plans to drive from New York to one of our mother's favorite beaches in either Virginia or Rhode Island, we settled on the much closer town of Montauk on the eastern edge of Long Island. Since no Thurston had been there before, we thought it would be an adventure for the three of us. We were right.

We arrived early on a sunny Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately, we had no idea what we would do next. Neither of us had put much thought into exactly how you get someone's ashes into the ocean. The movies make it look tranquil, simple and beautiful. There's either a ship in the middle of the sea or a small low-flying plane; or it takes place on a cliffside with the wind blowing just so. But we were not in a movie. We were in Long Island on a beach without a pier.

For an hour, we hiked along the coastline, scrambled across rocks and trudged through the sand looking for the right spot. At a calm-looking section of sea, we decided to roll up our pants, empty our pockets of electronic devices and wade in. This would be just like the movies. I suggested we head for the other side of a large rock about 20 feet out and distribute the ashes there. The rock would shield us from other people and provide physical support in case we slipped.

I am an idiot.

The current was strongest around the rock, and the ground there was covered with sharp, broken seashells. Things were even worse on the ocean side. Rather than providing support, the rock just gave the ocean something to slam us up against. Every 15 seconds or so, a wave that had looked calm from the sandy beach pummeled us against the slippery, algae-covered rock. Rolling up our pants had been a quaint idea, but getting them soaked only made us more determined.

"You're the strong one! You have to do it!" my sister yelled to me, as she was knocked over by yet another wave. It sounded so melodramatic that we both laughed. All the somberness of the moment evaporated as it became clear to me this was really quite stupid. We could get seriously hurt. I quickly opened the urn and untied the plastic bag with my mom's remains.

"You've got 20 seconds!" warned my sister. I finally got the bag open and began unceremoniously dumping my mother's ashes into the Atlantic. Just as I finished, the biggest wave yet launched me against the rock, jammed my foot onto the broken shells, cutting it open, and drenched my sister and I from head to toe.

As we limped and laughed back to the beach, I was sure I could hear our mom yelling her favorite threat.

BARATUNDE THURSTON IS A COMEDIAN AND AUTHOR. HIS COLUMN RUNS BIWEEKLY. CATCH HIM PERFORMING AT THE BOSTON COMEDY FESTIVAL THIS WEEK. FOR DETAILS, VISIT BARATUNDE.COM