Excerpt: Sea Burial Laws According to Country by Kasia Van Schaik


He wants to be cremated and she wants a burial at sea. Not that she’s dying, but eventually, when she does, she wants a water burial. This is a deal breaker for him but she will not compromise. Predators. Bathers. Contamination, he says. Water burials are restricted, even prohibited, in most countries. What is her reason for wanting one anyway? Why does she always have to complicate things?

They drive five hours towards the nearest body of water.

He undresses on the beach.

He is a thin man. Cold water repulses him.

I was right, he says. Or he says, I am right.

She undresses too, but more slowly.

Somewhere, miles away, it has begun to rain.

Days earlier, a squall of Blue Bottles washed up on the shore, tentacles like dark hair streaming across the beach. Their true name is Portuguese Man ’O War but no one, not even the Portuguese, calls them this. They call them “monk’s hat jellyfish” or “floating terror” or “Little Boat.”

We are not safe, she says.

Rainclouds gather over the open water.

He doesn’t respond. He is too far out, swimming a clean front crawl.


A burial at sea must be approved by the authorities. For this purpose, it is often necessary that the deceased had a special bond with the sea. This can be, for example, an earlier work as a sailor or a deep spiritual connection to the sea.

Relatives may leave flowers on the water. For environmental reasons, packaging and wreaths are prohibited.

The body is washed and dressed in handmade clothing, the seams left unfinished. 


It is important to discard any handkerchiefs used to wipe away tears at the funeral. Under no circumstances should these handkerchiefs be brought into the house.


The government-funded sea burial — now offered by all large cities — resembles a half-day cruise on an all expenses paid, air-conditioned boat.

Coffins are considered wasted wood, graves wasted farmland.


Body must be sewn into a weighted shroud and not interfere with undersea communications.


Family members are not allowed to attend a burial service on board a military vessel. The commanding officer of the ship will send the family a personal letter describing the exact date and time of the ceremony, the burial flag, pictures or videotape of the ceremony, and a chart showing the longitude and latitude where the service was performed.


Relatives may leave flowers and other disposables on the water.

Bereavement leave covers only scheduled working hours and should not exceed three (3) days.


A freelance journalist is last seen on the deck of a homemade submarine. Her body is found five days later, on a beach south of Copenhagen. Her head is missing. Her torso weighted down with metal rods. This, the submarine owner explains when questioned by the police, was to ensure a proper sea burial.


The burial rite is performed with props including flowers or breadcrumbs, umbrellas and plastic trays. The umbrella is carried by the deceased’s daughter, while the tray, wrapped in red or white cloth, a receptacle for the ashes, is held by the son.


This burial-at-sea topic is of great interest to our audience, as Japan is facing an increasing scarcity of land for cemeteries.

Scatter my sister three miles to sea

east of Plum Island

a place where

she loved

to summer

56157703_277115183178495_9063604287145246720_nKasia van Schaik is a doctoral student in the English Department at McGill University. Her writing and criticism have appeared in Electric LiteratureThe Los Angeles Review of BooksPrism InternationalThe Best Canadian Poetry Anthology (2015), This Magazine, and elsewhere. Kasia is the fiction editor for carte blanche, the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s literary publication. Her poetry chapbook, Sea Burial Laws According to Country, was published in 2018 with Desert Pets Press. @kasiajuno

Find Kasia’s chapbook at Drawn and Quarterly in Montreal or at www.desertpetspress.com.

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