BURIAL AT SEA

Between Galveston Island and the Bolivar peninsula is a fairly wide stretch of water. Too deep and too rough to attempt driving across. And it would have taken many hours to drive around from Galveston to Bolivar. Someone had the grand idea to set up a ferry service and it is very handy.

During the winter season, it was a simple matter to drive up, get in line, when the ferry docked you would drive onto the ferry for a 39 minute ride to the Bolivar peninsula. No worries, no waiting.

Summer was a different story. To go visit a hospice patient on Bolivar could result in a wait in line for the ferry ride could be as long as 4 hours. When you wished to return there would be another wait just as long. To see one patient on Bolivar could make for a very long day. And that was for one patient. Most of us would see about 4 or 5 patients a day. We HAD to do something about the ferry.

The Governors Office provided us with an official letter allowing us to drive up to the waiting line and use the OFFICIAL USE LANE which took us to the head of the line. Police, government vehicles and Hospice workers used this lane.

Do this enough times and you get to know Captains, deck hands and all sorts of folks. You have a 20 minute or so ferry ride in all sorts of weather with time to share as the wind whips through your hair and sun beats upon your face OR the rain soaks you from top to toe. During one of those trips the Captain asked me when I would want to do a burial at sea.

The Captain informed me that though it wasn’t written in his regulations, that it had been his practice to set up a window during travel across the open water that we could perform a “burial at sea.” The deceased had to be cremated. All persons involved would walk on the ferry and so inform the Captain of our desire. He would have the crew tape off a section of the rail for us and at the deepest point of travel they would power the engines down for exactly five minutes. That was all the time you had. The crew would tell you where to stand so the cremations would be carried by the wind away from the ferry. Your service ended when the engines cranked up.

The first time about ten people gathered with me as we committed an elderly sea captain to the water. He had died of cancer and had been a Hospice patient. His wife was so relieved we could do this. He never wanted to be “stuck” on land. Most of his life had been spent on the decks of ships. Our small group gathered with his ashes as we said and sang our goodbyes. It was a quiet and breezy crossing.

It quite surprised me that as we would gather, the normal ferry traffic would exit their vehicles and people would wander about laughing and being vacationers, or workers going about their days. Out came the tape with crew and myself gently herding family and friends to our spot. Immediately as the engines wound down and we started the service, all other voices were quiet. People would come forward until we were all in a small knot about this family. At the appropriate time, the ashes would be committed to water and wind. Sniffling and crying could be heard as the end of this human life was honored. No one, it seemed ever resented the momentary slowdown. All, to a person, took part in the service. All were touched. Many by standers reached out to the family offering their condolences.

It became a fairly common practice and all it took was the okay of a Captain who understood the needs of the people he served. After he mentioned it to me, we had an additional service to offer our patients and families. It soon became a service that was offered to anyone who wanted it. I have no idea if that still continues. But for those of us who rode the ferry in the ’80s and early ’90s it was a pleasant respite for those who didn’t want to be stuck inland Thank you, Captain.

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