Chapter 9.7 Funeral Ritual

Funeral Ritual

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910) American Humorist and Writer

Over the years, the ritual of a funeral for a deceased has been a major event in almost every culture.  The ceremony has three functions: to honor the life of the deceased, to pray for his or her forgiveness before the Almighty, and to dispose of the body.

Honoring the life of the deceased does provide closure for those that remain, by recalling events that touched the people he or she knew.   Normally, (and hopefully) only the positive remembrances are recited.  It also gives some people a chance to symbolically bury the hatchet along with the body.

Bury the hatchet:  a tradition that the Iroquois Indians used to make peace with their enemies.  Originally, long before the colonists came to America, five tribes met and buried all of their hatchets to solidify a peace agreement.

The praying for the deceased’s forgiveness is a nice touch, but I doubt it will have any major effect on any confrontation at the pearly gates … remember? … We are responsible for our personal actions …  No one else is in this game.

Yet praying does provide an opportunity for the participants to perhaps alter their attitudes of the person, and perhaps they will become more tolerant of individuals that they relate to during the rest of their lives.

“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not….”
Yoda       Star Wars movies

In my mind, the strangest part of the funeral process is the amount of attention focused on the body.   I realize I’m in a real minority on this issue, so here’s another item that may not jive with your thoughts. I can understand the need to dispose of the body in a prudent fashion, either by burial six feet under or via a funeral pyre.  I struggle with why we go to such great expense to preserve a body with no one home.

“Everything that science has taught me – and continues to teach me – strengthens my belief in the contiuity of our spiritual existence after death. Nothing disappears without a trace.”
Wernher Von Braun (1912-1977),     German Rocket Physicist

I remember when my dad died one afternoon.  He had struggled with cancer and it was his time to go.  My mom called to tell me and I took off on the three-hour drive to their house.  When I got there my mom told me that hospice had come to pronounce him dead, but she wouldn’t let them take the body until my brother and I had one last chance to see him.  He lay there on his side, rigor mortis having set in.  As I touched his cold body, I became very aware that he wasn’t there, he wasn’t in this body.  His body was but a shell that he had occupied during his time (this time) on earth.

“The body is the shell of the soul, and dress the husk of that shell; but the husk often tells what the kernel is.”

Of course, the ancient Egyptian rulers kind of set the mark for honoring the body post-mortem.  (a la King Tut exhibit 2005 and of course the Egyptian Museum 2009).  They entombed great treasures and worldly possessions of the noble for his pleasure in the afterlife, although I really doubt the young King spent too much time admiring them.  They also went to great lengths to preserve the organs and the body, through their mummification and sealing processes (except for the brain … I find that strange).  This art of mummification has provided archaeologists with some tremendous insight into the times and their culture.

“You can have money piled to the ceiling but the size of your funeral is still going to depend on the weather.”
Chuck Tanner,     Baseball player

Today, many people spend some fair amounts of money on ornate caskets or urns, to send the person out in style.  Embalmers try to make the deceased look normal and many people want one last look …  one last look at the empty vessel that no longer carries the soul.

Burial plots have become expensive real estate.  People want this empty vessel or their ashes to be in a beautiful, quiet vista, with park-like scenery.  A docent at the Ronald Reagan library recounted this story:

Ronald Reagan was shown the location that he and Nancy were to be buried at the RR Library.  Nancy remarked something to the effect of “Won’t it be nice to be laid to rest with such a beautiful view?”  Ronald laid down flat on the ground, looked straight up at the sky, and quipped “It just looks all blue to me.

It is important for many of the living, however, to have a symbolic place to visit the deceased, to visit the body (or the ashes) that was empty and soulless when it was placed there.  It seems that the plot is a portal for some people to connect with the loved one, to ask for forgiveness or guidance.  And who knows, maybe it is a special place that their loved one can re-connect with them. I just hope that the burial site isn’t a place of guilt … someplace one must visit regularly to respect the person gone. I’m not real big on guilt, you will remember.

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
Yogi Berra,     Baseball Player and Quotemaker

I do see value in gathering many of the close acquaintances of the deceased.  In some way, these people were a part of the departed life.  Collectively they help to define the life, and provide a diverse focus of, mostly, supportive energy.

“As a well-kept day brings happy sleep, so life well-used brings happy death.”
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Italian Polymath (Renaissance Man)

Recounting remembrances helps to rekindle memories of the deceased, one last time.  And as my wife tells me, we are really going to the funeral to support those living who have suffered an end of part of their (and/or our) lives.  But by my book, I don’t need the body for that … a picture will do just fine, and maybe a couple of good stories.

“I can’t think of a more wonderful thanksgiving for the life I have had than that everyone should be jolly at my funeral.”
Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900-1979),   British Admiral and Statesman
Assassinated by an IRA bomb on his boat


3 Responses to “Chapter 9.7 Funeral Ritual”

  1. J Says:

    We honor our bodies in death as we honor them in life.

  2. Lo La Says:

    PapaD’ — this reflection is so apropos for me right now. Two people in my tiny (3-person) office are struggling with death/dying issues. Both cancer — one a ripe old 92, the other a tragically youthful 47. While both women are still alive in hospice care, the younger person’s family has been actively engaged in gathering memorials, turning their memories to pithy, touching tributes.
    The older person’s family seems hell-bent focused to make the woman survive.
    How different are their attitudes toward the inevitable!
    Thanks for this chapter. I’ve been feeling so stressed by their personal ordeals, yet my attitude toward death is much more ‘holistic’ — I liked the upbeat quotes and thoughts you’ve shared. Thanks again. LL

  3. Bonnie Says:

    The idea of “ashes to ashes” makes sense to us. Many friends have taken a little boat ride in and around Morro Bay and gently let their loved ones’ ashes enter the ocean water. It seems like a good plan…. when the time comes….

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