So…. where were we? Oh yes….DENIAL. We were In Denial. About Death.
Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that in our culture-especially in this relatively 'young' culture of this country called the United States, we've virtually eliminated our opportunities to see or touch or talk about a body of someone we love who has died. It's become "impolite". It's "morbid curiosity" , "unnatural", "taboo". It's a manufactured cultural No-No.
I think this is literally crazymaking.
As my younger friends might express it...WTF?? Everybody dies. No matter what you think, how healthy you are, how spiritually aware, how 'good', how rich, how well fed, how physically fit, the fact is that 99.9% of us are going to die. ( I leave that small margin of possibility for the immortalists among us)
Death is not a sudden malicious disease or an unprecedented evil predicament. It's what happens. You get born, you live, you die. And generally, you leave your dead body behind. ( another small margin for the ascensionists and magicians among us)
What's odd is that my parents’ generation were actually on a cusp, or turning point of a very large change in the way people cared for their dead. What I mean is, they had actual childhood experiences of home or family funerals. But as they grew up, the custom and social ritual around death was drastically changing. The funeral industry was making huge inroads toward redefining what was ‘good’ and ‘right’ and ‘appropriate’ and ‘safe’- in terms of handling the body of one of our loved ones after death. And don’t forget the power of advertising….the lure of doing something ’new and improved’.
And too, in some ways it seemed that my parents had the task of proving how much better off they were than their parents. This often meant that they could ‘afford’ to pay more money for “professionals” to handle things that were previously handled by their frugal (and sometimes wiser) parents.
My father recalls that his grandmother’s wake was a family affair, carried out at home. Her body was prepared ( washed and dressed) by the women of the family, a casket was procured from a local woodworker, food was organized and provided by family and neighbors and his grandmother was ‘laid out’ or ‘waked’ in the parlor. A touching detail he shared with me is that after everyone had gone home-leaving the kitchen and dishes all cleaned and put away-my father and his father got out blankets and pillows and made makeshift beds of chairs put together so that they could sleep in the parlor with his grandma in her casket.
There was no squeamishness, no fear. He said to me ‘That’s just how we did it”. And the next morning, folks came to carry the casket to the church for her funeral.
He’s always talked about ‘a plain pine box’ for himself, but we talked seriously about his own funeral arrangements last summer. He joked, at first, about wanting one of my burial shrouds but then made it clear to my brothers and I that we were to call the local funeral home and have them do “the same as they did for your mother”. The standard procedure. Embalming, limited viewing hours, a metal casket, a Catholic mass, and burial in the local veteran’s cemetery. I wanted to ask him ‘what happened to doing it all at home’? But it seemed like too loaded a question.
"What happened" is what I'll talk about in my next post.
Thanks for all your comments. and yes, as one of you said, this is a conversation *dying* to happen. I think we're all just 'dying' to talk about Death. Feel free to do that here.