I Confess

by Diane Dimond on June 14, 2008

My Dad, Allen Hughes, Circa 1940's

My Dad, Allen Hughes, Circa 1940’s

I have broken the law.

Ironic, isn’t it – for someone who so righteously writes about issues of crime and justice?

Here’s the deal.

When my Dad died Mom and I made that awful, painful trip to the funeral home to make final arrangements. We knew pretty much what we were going to do because Mom and Dad had both been adamant about drawing up Living Wills and writing down exactly what they wanted. (An activity I highly recommend for the peace of mind of those you leave behind.)

Among the ‘do not resuscitate’ declaration and the property disbursement directions was the request for cremation.

So, order given, Mom’s next decision was how she want the ashes stored. There was an option for a lovely ceramic urn, a sturdy little oak box or, if desired, a container made of biodegradable material that would float, for a time and then release its contents from the bottom as it slowly disintegrated into any desired body of water.

That was it! Dad had been in the Navy, an avid fisherman, the owner of a boat so the biodegradable container was the obvious choice. We chose the one that looked a bit like an oversized dinner plate with matching lid with a ship motif on the top.

Dad’s long expressed wish had been that his ashes be scattered at his favorite area of Navajo Lake in Northern New Mexico. My parents and their fishing buddies had spent countless long summer days and nights there and it was a natural place for Dad to want to spend all of eternity.

Some time passed and Mom died too. Suddenly I had the ashes of both my beloved parents to take care of.

Mom’s remains were easier to deal with as she wanted to be in a private place that I’m not prepared to disclose. But Dad’s remains … well, that was another matter.

We had to wait for the snow melt to give us the optimum opportunity at our appointed destination. And then there was the matter of whether it was even legal for us to release our Paper Mache contraption into a state controlled waterway.

Being the researcher/reporter I am I knew I should make some inquiries. I knew I should check the law. But I figured ignorance of the law might be considered some sort of defense (wouldn’t it?) and, besides, this was my dear father’s final wish. How could I not do what he had made me promise I’d do?

So, with my daughter, Jenna, and my husband, Michael, in tow we drove northward from Albuquerque toward Navajo Lake with Dad in his biodegradable resting place in the back seat. We were bound and determined to make it a celebration but at times tears flowed.

My nagging suspicion that what we were about to do was not lawful continued. I worried that if some state officer happened by we would be in trouble. So, in a clandestine pattern we traversed the lake, unwilling to hire a boat to take us out lest there be a witness to our crime. We zigged, we zagged, avoiding people as we saw them. To make the story of our hours long journey short we finally found the perfect place.

My daughter and I gently rocked the precious biodegradable package back and forth to heave it out into the stream of water that would swallow up my father’s remains.

I don’t want to give any details about exactly where we accomplished this lest there be some sort of unlikely effort to undo what we did. But, when it was over and we had watched Dad’s temporary final resting apparatus literally melt and disappear under the water I knew we’d done the right thing. The law be damned.

In the weeks that have passed I’ve wondered if scattering Dad’s ashes the way we did really was illegal. Finally, I relented and contacted a top Navajo Lake Park Official to ask.

“Navajo Lake State Park is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation and operated under a lease agreement by New Mexico State Parks,” as the e-mail explained to me. “The B.O.R. does not allow any memorials such as the scattering of ashes on their properties.”

Gulp. So my suspicions were correct. But why would such a profoundly soothing act be prohibited at a lake that spreads across 21 thousand acres of land? I was referred to Section 423.28 of the B.O.R.’s public conduct rule.

“…Such an allowance could result in Reclamation becoming responsible for long-term management of burial sites, a practice inconsistent with reclamation’s mission.”

Well, so be it. I had been on a mission of my own. My Dad is where he wanted to be for all eternity. Mission accomplished.

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