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September 01, 2014
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A secular ceremony


At the dock, my cousins had hired a water taxi as an afterthought. The captain had agreed to ignore our nefarious activity—the dumping of human remains is oddly forbidden—and he slowly transported us to a lonely little island in the bay, where my cousins remembered going with their parents to clam in the sandy shallows on the Snark. As the captain cut the engine, my cousin Michael read a poem titled “Farewell” that ends “When you live in the hearts/ Of those you love/ Remember then/ You never die.”

Just then, we noticed a small white sailboat pass by with a red and white sail and four passengers leaning against the steady wind. It was the Snark. I turned to my cousin Jennifer, disbelieving my eyes. “It’s you,” I said, “It’s your family.” We just stared as the Snark tacked away into the bay.

The last stop on our ceremonial parade was the ocean, where my aunt got up from her wheelchair and walked with us to the edge of the sea. As she flung one last scoop of ashes into the surf, a gust of wind blew it back onto the beach and her. We all gasped, but she began to laugh as her son-in-law dusted the ashes of her husband from her shoes, and finally we were all laughing and crying at once.

And that is how you celebrate a life well-lived with or without religion.