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Goodbye, my friend

Three days ago, we committed my father's ashes to the sea, and his journey came to its final destination.

We left at around 10 - my brother, my niece, my brother's frien Marianne, and I - and made it to Plymouth around noon. We didn't have to be at the gates of Devonport (the naval base) until 1.30, so we wandered around looking for a place to eat. We ended up ducking in an odd pub with an overly-chlorinated smell, and a giant Elvis statue in the corner. And, of course, we had a Jameson's for the old man.

And I found myself wondering, of course, whether Dad had stopped off in that pub at any point, or indeed any of the pubs we passed (strangely, I didn't find myself wondering whether he had dropped off his clothes at the nearby dry cleaners). And as the bus took us through the gates and on to the base, I swear I could have so easily just seen him there, walking along in hs uniform, probably whistling. He liked to whistle; it is an abiding memory I have of him.

We were accompanied by two Royal Navy cadets; one of them bore on his cap the name HMS Collingwood, which was a training ship on which Dad served at one point. The cadet was so young, still had acne. It felt like a cycle was beginning again, somehow.

We boarded the vessel - there were five families, and apparently they do these ceremonies, on average, just once a month during the six months or eight months when the weather is suitable. I stood out on deck, listened to the waves washing against the hull, recalling so vivdly the many times I have been at sea and just stolen a moment out on deck, listening to that same sound, thinking of all the occasions he must have done so.

Then the chaplain gathered us down below in the passenger room as we passed the breakwater and entered Plymouth Sound. He explained that, for sailors in the Royal Navy, this spot is home; this was the point after a long deployment when they know they are back.

Each family took turns, and we were told we could take us much time as we needed.

We were first.

The cadets held Dad's casket on a slide, covered by the Union Flag. The chaplain said a brief prayer, and the cadets tipped the slide and Dad's casket went into the water. i remember feeling a slight surprise that it disapeared immediately beneath the waves; I guess I had anticipated a gentle entry somehow.

I stood there at the railing and looked at the spot. And I just said, "You're home now, Dad. You're finally home."

And Stephen and I cried, big sobs. And the chaplain very gently put his hands on our shoulders, told us to take all the time we needed. He gently offered some comforting words which didn't quite register. Naomi was crying softly, but bless her heart she put her hand on my arm to comfort me.

We went back inside; the other families took their turns. I noted inwardly some surprise that the next three did so quite impassively; the final family, like us, was crying.

We circled the spot a couple of times, the petals of flowers that some had thrown gently floating on the surface.

Then we turned around and headed back to port.

And with that, my father's eventful journey is finally at an end, and he is finally at rest. And of course, he lives on ... in our memories, our dreams, our hearts, and our souls.
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