It was one of those days that they really do make picture postcards out of – a nearly perfect slice of sunshine that warms the soul without overheating the body. It was October 10, 1999 and our small group was gathered in a rented boat as Captain Mike guided us into the Pacific Ocean just off of San Diego, California.
As we cruised through the harbor, we caught glimpses of seals crowded together on each of the channel buoys with seagulls standing watch on a perch above them. Hundreds of sea birds soared and swooped and occasionally dove into the water as we passed. Some pelicans glided like prehistoric birds of prey barely above the water while others posed like statues on dock pilings. We motored on, leaving in our shallow wake an eclectic armada of watercraft that ranged in size from a two person fishing boat to the massive gray hulk of a Navy aircraft carrier. We picked up speed after leaving the harbor and, as the boat skipped across the top of the water, bursts of spray along the side glistened with tiny rainbows.
Captain Mike shut down the engines after we reached an uninhabited patch of ocean and we sat there and awkwardly began to share our memories. We passed around photos and listened as Grandma added vivid color to what had been faded black and white. She also managed to restore beauty to a poor one-eyed Teddy Bear who had most of his fur loved off by a little girl over 70 years before. During a quiet moment, I saw a butterfly winging its way past the side of the boat. It was a surprising sight because we were a couple of miles from land but the butterfly appeared to be unconcerned as it continued in a straight line for a distant island. It reminded me of a poem I had written several years before – a creased copy of which was the one personal item that Mom included in the envelope of writings she left for me. Mary later said that she felt that the butterfly was a sign of Mom’s presence – and who am I to argue? After all, I know from personal experience that God sometimes works in mysterious ways.
When the time came for our final goodbye we stood at the side of the boat, each with a hand on the bag that contained the ashes, and slowly poured them into the ocean. The water, which had been almost black in color, was transformed into a beautiful shade of green as the ashes, like a gentle cloud suspended just below the surface, drifted slowly toward the open sea. Mary tossed a rose onto the water and we stood in silence for a few minutes until the cloud was out of sight. Goodbye Mom, we love you.