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Burials at sea..are they green, blue, or aqua?


By Captain Brad White

Marshfield Hills – In the United States, we have a population of 325 million people and about 2.7 million die per year.  About 41% choose traditional in ground burials while the remaining 54% choose cremation.

In July 2018, the National Funeral Directors Association forecasted that by the year 2035 the national cremation rate will reach nearly 80% or 2.8 million cremations per year…an astounding growth number of total cremations.

Cremation is faster, cleaner, cheaper and more efficient.  No rush to have a final memorial service –a grieving family has time to process what just happened in their life.

Cremation offers less of a carbon footprint with fewer board feet of casket wood being harvested as well fewer tons of metal and concrete for required underground vaults and of course the elimination of many thousands of gallons of toxic preservative fluids that could leach into our precious water tables.

Burials at Sea have been happening for over 300 years – that’s the blue part. With today’s squeeze on available cemetery space, the change in the death and dying culture leaning more towards cremation, and fewer family cemetery visits, Sea burials have become quite popular in the last 15 years. As an alternative “green” option in granting the final wish of a loved one, what do you do with the cremated remains?  Cemetery space or maybe an above ground columbarium? Or, scattered in the mountains or at sea.

Post death, a loved ones’ cremated remains are typically placed in a temporary urn on the family room mantel for a short period of time, then in year three the loved one’s remains are relegated to the sports closet behind junior’s golf bag, and then around year five when the family cleans the closet or moves to a different home we receive the call to scatter their loved one at sea.

In North America, 175 million citizens live within 10 miles of the water.

Oceans appeal to folks from all walks of life.  People summer at a favorite beach, fish a special canyon or visit their favorite light house (over 18,600 worldwide). Those locations that created fond memories become their family’s final monument to their loved one, so frequently the family requests to scatter nearby one.  Families from all walks of life have a huge gravitational pull back to the therapeutic ocean they often visited to become their loved one’s final resting place. It’s comforting to know their cremated remains can travel the warm ocean currents, world-wide, with incredible wildlife, forever.

When scattered three miles to sea* during an outgoing tide, outbound cremated remains create a beautiful plume of ashes that gently sink and spread out while commencing their next journey into the after-life, the aqua part.   *EPA’s regulation for distance offshore which also happens to forbid scattering in rivers, lakes and streams which are off limits.

I have witnessed thousands of scatterings and while quite breath taking, after some maritime readings while hoisting and flying the eight bell end-of-watch yacht burgee in their honor, the most poignant moment is always when a family member also scatters rose petals with the loved one’s remains to create a huge flower field. This is accompanied by their favorite songs while the ship’s cannon is fired in their honor.  It is that moment that seems to start the healing process which then allows for much needed final closure.

When people find out that scatterings at sea are legal, they always say, “I didn’t know you could do this, where to or how to,” and we always then hear the welcome sigh of relief when they know that this option is a viable, dignified, fitting and affordable alternative for their loved one’s final disposition.

Next month, in part two of three, “Down Wind, Down Tide and off we go”…we will focus on the federal and state laws, regulations and straight skinny on how and where to scatter remains by boat or airplane.  Our final series part three article will center on, “Is there really a Davy Jones Locker?” Full body burials at sea—Do I need to be embalmed?  How far off shore do we need to go?  Casket or Natural shroud?
 *EPA’s regulation for distance offshore which also happens to forbid scattering in rivers, lakes and streams which are off limits.

© Jessica Leigh Photography

About the Author
 Capt. Brad White, Founder of New England Burials At Sea,  is a native of the South Shore, navigating its waterways for over 45 years with the last 15 years as a USCG Licensed Master Captain conducting burials at sea. You can reach Capt. Brad at 781-834-0112, or oceanburial@aol.com. Visit his website for much more information: NewEnglandBurialsAtSea.com

Reprinted from the January 2019 edition of the South Shore Senior News