My mama’s resting place is the ocean. My family and I laid her ashes into a stunning, secluded waterway that fed into the Tasman Sea, 12 years ago. It was a perfect send-off to a true water baby who loved the beach so much she’d steal your body board and ‘whoosh!’ away on a wave when you were just a little kid, leaving you simultaneously sobbing at your empty hands while laughing at her cheekiness. To this day it still makes me laugh…
Every year, we honour her memory by placing fresh flowers into the waves at the beach, while we reflect on her life and our fun times together.
It’s a powerful and beautiful ritual. People around the world honour lost loved ones, ancestors and Gods, using flowers and water. In Thailand, there’s even a festival centred around this, called Loi Krathong, which I went to a few years ago.
An ancient, global ritual
Flowers and water have always been sacred mediums to venerate the dead.
The Japanese use water to purify and cleanse graves, before placing flowers in meticulously clean water vessels above them to show deep respect through the maintenance and beauty of their hake.
Pagans and Santeria honour ancestors by sitting 7 or 9 bovidas (glasses of water) on ancestral altars to summon gods such as Oya, guardian of cemeteries – believing that changes in the water reflect what is happening with the dead. Evaporating water means the dead are ‘drinking’ it, for example. Flowers and perfume are offered daily.
Christians see flowers as symbolic of eternal love that transcends mortality. The life of flowers is fleeting, attesting to the transitory life of man. There is profound religious symbolism in the very fact that flowers do not last forever.
Water and flowers are and have always been the perfect token – coming from the earth, beautiful, life-giving, and will return to the earth without a trace.
The modern issue
All of this brings me to a moment today. On a coastal clifftop wander, I came across the evidence of one of these sacred moments. I imagined the person, introspective and sombre, throwing the flowers over the cliffs and into the ocean. Maybe said a prayer. Perhaps shed a tear.
Unfortunately, the remnant I came across wasn’t a harmless, natural flower. It was this plastic ribbon, over 2 metres long. It’s a modern issue that now invades an ancient practice: plastic marine debris.
We now live in a world where we risk the lives in the sea for the sake of honouring those who are already dead.
This ribbon would live on forever if I hadn’t collected it – killing as it went, inside the stomachs of sea life, or tightening like a noose around their necks and limbs as they swam.
This ribbon represents all that is at odds with what the bereaved intended. It’s a temporary, superficial and disposable offcast from what I’m sure was a special moment to remember a significant, unique and glorious life. I find a lot of these ribbons; each one, hugely inappropriate when you think about it…
Honouring the dead should never include harming the living.
I get that it may be difficult to be aware of the little things while we’re in the narrow focus of this ritual, but a bit of extra care and respect for the living while practising it will go a long way. Keep this in mind if you’re buying flowers- where will the plastic go?
If you also celebrate the memory of amazing women, men and children who have passed, go rubber band, cellophane, ribbon and tape free. Fresh flowers in all their naked glory are just so much better! They are 100% natural beauty, worthy as a symbol to honour the dead. Much much better than a cheap ribbon. The living will appreciate it much more too.
RIP Mama, and long live the Sea x