Via Basel: Her Last Gift
The day was perfect, sunny with a chill in the air. The wind had slowed down to a gentle breeze and the waves were manageable. “The Neptune,” a comfortable boat we rented, was chugging along at a good clip in the Pacific with nine family members aboard. Our destination: Fraser Point at the tip of one of the Channel Islands several miles off the California coast just north of Los Angeles. The occasion: a burial at sea of her ashes as requested by my aunt Marie who passed away three months earlier. Thirty years ago, her husband and the love of her life had his ashes dispersed in that same spot. Why? A month before his tragic accidental death he confided to his daughter Dee that when he died he wanted to be cremated and scattered in the ocean at Fraser Point miles away from Simi Valley where she lived but could see the Islands and remember him. It just happens he was a Fraser too and had lived in the LA area for many years and met Marie there before they moved to Massachusetts.
After three and a half hours at sea upon reaching our destination we stopped, reflected, remembered, and, to the music of Scottish bagpipes, we released her into the vast ocean surrounded by multicolored flowers to join her beloved Don in a final act of reunion. A short, beautiful, and most meaningful ceremony.
Marie was a quiet, introverted person, as well as a generous one. Not having her own children, she considered all of us—nephews, nieces, cousins, as well as her stepdaughter’s family—as her children, showering us with gifts on all occasions. A few years ago, when Marie first mentioned her request to have her ashes scattered near her husband’s in the Pacific, I was not sure it was practical, since she lived in Chicago, but I wanted to honor it. What I had thought then might be a duty turned out to be yet another gift.
When she passed away at the age of 92, I was prepared to take her ashes to Los Angeles myself, but her brother Ramzi, who was in Chicago at the time of her passing, decided that a whole group of us would travel together. What a wise decision. It was a trip that bonded us together as well as with Marie.
After we landed in LAX on our way to the harbor, we witnessed the tragic fires in the mountains of Malibu, sharing in the losses of the local community. On the way back from the Islands, we were privileged to be accompanied by a pod of dolphins racing all around us, close to the boat.
And a couple of humpback whales, spouting water columns and bursting out of the surface in a series of fantastic jumps. Grief followed by unexpected joy. Her final gift was the best.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, retired, he will have more time for that. And for the next adventure.