"The first funeral service I ever performed left a bad taste in my mouth. First year in the ministry. Twenty-four years old. Knew it all. No need to seek advice about anything. Which is why I so easily agreed to help a lady scatter the ashes of her husband from an airplane flying over Bellingham Bay. No problem. Go up in the plane. Open the door. Pour out the ashes. Say a few comforting words about death. Go home.
The pilot assumed I knew what I was doing. The widow assumed I knew what I was doing. And I was certain I knew what I was doing. So up we went. I even wore my brand-new black clerical gown for the occasion.
Over the middle of the bay, at about five thousand feet, the pilot held the cockpit door open, and I took the top off what looked like a two-quart ice-cream container and poured the ashes out the door.
The slipstream poured the ashes right back in the door.
Filling the cockpit with the final dust of Harry, the deceased husband.
Covering the widow, the pilot, and me.
The results of intensive cremation are kind of like flour. Clean flour, though. Purified by fire. Which is why you wouldn't be harmed if you happened to get a lot of it in your mouth and nose. As I did. Also the pilot. And the widow.
The conventions of behavior are not clear in these circumstances. You're not really sure if spitting or blowing your nose is respectful of the deceased.
We flew back to the field in silence.
There's not a lot to say at such a time.
This situation was not covered in seminary training...
The widow was nice and calm and cool about the whole thing. "This will be...funny...someday," she said, and drove off alone in her own car with Harry's ashes beside her in the vacuum-cleaner bag.
I don't know what finally happened to Harry. I'm still too embarrassed to inquire. But I do wonder sometimes what else was with him in the bag and what happened when they poured Harry out the next time.
NOTE: It is very important first to put a clean bag into the vacuum cleaner - something you may forget to do in your haste."