He once owned a boat called “Nautilus” and lets just say that it was not the most seaworthy craft, and he was not the most seaworthy sailor. But if you ever wanted Bob Slowey to dive deep into his rich treasury of stories, you only had to ask him about that boat, how it leaked, almost sank, how he polished its teak railings with a toothbrush, and how his earliest close to death experiences happened below deck while his boys Chris and Bob Jnr were batting down the hatches up top, to survive the hurricane.
How appropriate then, On Sunday last, on a balmy afternoon on Chesapeake Bay, that Joan and the family took Bob’s ashes after they had been cast in concrete to be placed in the deep as part of the artificial reef made from the remains of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. As the concrete was lowered, Grandson Liam cried out, “Goodbye Granpa.” Liam regretted not tying a quarter to it, because when he was four years old, Granpa dazzled him with the magic of the disappearing quarter. Daughter Mary Jo told the story of thinking as a kid that her Dad was a spy, because every phone call from work, he would sign off to wife Joan, “1, 2, 3.” Mary Jo only discovered later that it was their secret code for “I love you.” As she looked out at the roses the family had cast on the sea, she whispered ” 1,2,3, Dad.”
These and so many other stories were told and retold as the boat took us out to the Bay. The experience, meant to be the closing act of a great life, was also the opening act of a whole new set of memories for us, and assuredly for his grand-kids. And maybe it was the promise of new practices of how we do funerals in this energy and environment-conscious world.
Funerals are traditionally about black clothes and coffins and days of mourning and condolence-honoring the real sense of loss. But Bob’s family and friends did not mourn that way-The funeral mass was held in a Delaware Bar-and the liturgy transitioned from sacrament to saloon even before the final prayers. Death’s sadness was not ignored, but it was taken to be a part of how life inevitably unfolds. Why imitate death in a ritual of silence and sadness when we the living are still responsible for being life givers and life preservers. Nature does not waste death-so why should we? Life is always the bigger story.
Just as we all drank to Bob at his funeral, we commended his remains back into the circle of life, knowing that even now, the whole marine ecosystem is renting out space for fish and crabs and all diversity of sea life. And Mary Jo even gave us the co-ordinates, N 39 12.430′ W 076 18 400′. It made us jealous because Bob gets a head start on the rest of us at the Second Coming. Jesus won’t need the GPS.
Bob’s funeral was as unique and memorable as his long life. He always told Joan he wanted to be where he could see the three bridges of the Bay, and that is where we placed him, to await the parousia. And in doing that, with the sun gleaming on the waters, we all felt on this glorious day, that perhaps there was a fourth bridge too, and we were on it- Bob had passed over, but we were surely waving our goodbyes from the other end. He was not gone, as the old preachers used to say, but simply gone on ahead.