Paying the ferryman and other rituals of comfort

We saw my brother off to sea one last time on Sunday – along with a dime for the ferryman.

Graham was retired from the Canadian Navy, and it was his wish to have his ashes committed at sea. We did so after the annual Battle of Atlantic commemoration ceremony in Halifax harbour on Sunday morning.

When the navy prepared his ashes for the committal, they placed a dime on the corner of the box. It is naval tradition to send the dead off with a coin to pay Charon, the ferryman from Greek mythology, to carry him across the river Styx.  Our Canadian navy uses the coin with the ship on it, of course—our dime, or what they call the “Bluenose coin.”

I hadn’t thought about they ferryman or Greek mythology before the ceremony, but I found the Bluenose coin to be beautiful naval ritual of comfort.

At times of death, humans seem to need rituals of comfort.

My father was a Mason, and when he died, the members of his lodge held a separate small ceremony. I don’t remember all the specifics of what each person did when they stepped up to my father’s coffin, but they all ended their time with him by pointing up. I presume it was their wish that “up” was the direction he would go. If you were to ask me where I believe people go when they die, I wouldn’t say “up.” I might say “around,” or “among.” But it gave my father’s friends comfort to point up, and that’s all that matters.

I’m not Catholic, but I have many close family and friends who are.  I have stood at funeral homes many times while Hail Marys have been said over the coffin. I can see that this small ritual brings comfort to those reciting and to the family present. When I die, I won’t have formal Hail Marys said over my body, but if it brings comfort to my Catholic family and friends to whisper a few, I hope they will.

At a memorial service for my 103-year-old friend a month ago, we released colourful helium balloons printed with the words, “Bon Voyage.” The colourful balloons (again going “up”) were a joyous ritual of comfort for us.

When I die, if I have lived at all well, my service will be filled with Muslims, Christians, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, humanists, and every other faith or non-faith. Each of them will need a different ritual for comfort. May I be sent off with balloons, dimes, Hail Marys, pointing fingers, and a collection of many other small rituals to help each person get through the day.

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About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on May 8, 2012, in good faith, Inspiration, Living life to the fullest, progressive christianity and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Very touching post. I enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing.

  2. So sorry about your brother, Arlene. Rituals are comforting, aren’t they? I will have to remember the coin to pay Charon…

  1. Pingback: Sunday ritual - Unemployblog

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