Friday, March 23, 2007

On funerals and rituals.

I was glad not to be there when my grandmother passed, bodies creep the beejebus out of me. (I'm not sure if this is due to instinct or childhood trauma. I've almost always had someone else dispose of dead pets because I don't want to touch the bodies.)

My mother said, before she left the room after my grandmother had passed, a nurse came in to open the window. She said they do this to let the soul out. I liked the idea of that ritual, although I don't think souls (if they existed) could be confined that way. I found comfort in this ritual, despite knowing it's pointless. Despite my efforts of purging supernatural superstitions from my life, it's hard when there is still that flicker of hope somewhere within my mind that our existence is more meaningful.

I went with my mother to prepare for the funeral, and meeting with a funeral director is quite an experience. I've watched 6 Feet Under, and Family Plots, so I thought I new what to expect.

If it was up to just my mother and myself, Grandmom would have been cremated, end of story. But some of the family felt need for closure, which meant a church service and possibly a viewing. This means picking out prayer cards, caskets, and clothing for the deceased. We still wished to have her body cremated, and the funeral director said we could "borrow" a casket, but then before burning, her body would be removed from it, and he didn't think that was respectful. In my own mind, I was thinking; really, how respectful is the process of embalming a body to begin with? And why would it matter? As for my own body, aside from someone molesting it, or stealing parts of it, I really wouldn't care, and definitely wouldn't care if someone burned my body without a casket.

The services included a church ceremony the night before the "viewing", with bible readings and remembrances said. I've always believed a funeral is for the living, not the dead, so if some find comfort in a church service, I cannot justify begrudging them that at this time. The service at the funeral home the next morning turned out to be closed casket. When my mother and uncle went to check out the mortician's handy-work, they decided against it. My mother said "it just wasn't Mom." We had brunch after the services at the funeral home, as she was being cremated and buried at some other time.

Times like this spark conversation about our own deaths. My husband and I discussed our wishes for what would be done with our bodies at the time of our death. That conversation basically ended with, "you'll be dead, and I get to do what I want with it." To me, it would depend on the time in life and circumstances of death what I would do to my husband's body. I would only find a viewing of him necessary for his family, or if we had children, but not for myself.

On the other hand, he had very set ideas of how a funeral should go down. All funerals he'd ever been to were the same, and he thought that was the way they all should be. A wake the night before, viewing the next morning where nobody says anything, a church service, and then brunch as nobody visits the grave site at that time. With all this in mind, he thought that my grandmother's funeral was quite strange, but I found that having the ability to order things however we wanted made it much more meaningful for everyone.

Hopefully I won't be the one making these types of decisions for many years to come.


Blogger David W. said...

I don't blame you, I get creeped out with bodies too. What really bothered me once was finding a suicide. My wife and I were out for a walk at night, and were the first ones to notice a guy hanging by his neck ten feet below his apartment window (about six stories up). It was all I could see when I closed my eyes for days.

If your husband thought your grandmother's funeral was strange, tell him about a funeral my wife went to once. It was for a great aunt she hadn't seen in years -- that nobody had seen in years. They get to the funeral, walk up to the casket, and my wife thought ... "that really doesn't look like Aunt Bobbie." Her father agreed. Later, another relative approached them and asked her father, "Jim.... Is that Aunt Bobbie?" "No!" They talked to the funeral director, but the only other body there was a diabetic with one leg. Not her either. So, they buried whoever it was, and never found out what had happened to Aunt Bobbie.

The really strange part is that none of the other relatives said anything. They had all convinced themselves that it really was her.

11:25 PM  
Blogger new.atheist said...

Oh I just can't imagine finding a suicide... that would definitely scar me for life too.

The story about Aunt Bobbie is both funny and sad. I always think how sad it is when I hear stories of neighbors or the mailman being the ones to notice that they haven't seen the old man in Apt. 12 for a year or two. To be so forgotten is just the saddest thing to me, that nobody had been to see her in years (even if she had chased people off), such that they couldn't tell for sure if it was her body, and that nobody came looking for whomever's body it actually was!

2:03 PM  
Blogger The Alpha said...

"In my own mind, I was thinking; really, how respectful is the process of embalming a body to begin with."

What is deemed to be a respectful remembrance of those that have passed is rather subjective. Embalming and "gussying up" the body so that it is presentable does seem a bit disrespectful in hindsight. I'd much rather people celebrate me for who I was as a person, than pay homage to my body. But to each his own.

7:54 PM  

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