09 April 2015

Some Funerary Observations

I've previously posted about the propriety of keeping the dead--that is, their graves--in closer proximity to the living. I expressed my thoughts in terms of the the Creed's confession that Christians believe in the communion of the saints. Check here and here.

Those who find my take on the subject of interest would do well to go here and read Susan Fiske's post The Death of the Funeral. Fiske, in turn, draws many of her observations from a book by Caitlin Doughty, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From the Crematory." I haven't read Doughty's book but by Fiske's account (and many others, as well) it's worth reading.

Backing up one step from my goal of restoring graveyards to churchyards, Fiske observes that
In our culture, it’s easy to avoid dead bodies. Internet cremation services will dispose of Uncle Joe without inconvenience. Out of sight and out of mind — that’s the way most of us prefer death. We pursue immortality by spending billions on anti-aging products, bingeing on exercise and diets, and surgically altering even the most innocuous body parts. Now, even the way we deal with dead bodies enables our denial of the inevitable. In order to avoid death, we have killed the funeral.
In short, as she piquantly puts it, "The dead are playing hooky from their own funerals." The American fear of death on the one hand causes us to spend billions on extending our lives by a few years and on the other to pay someone to whisk away the body of the deceased and "eliminate" it as far out of sight and mind as possible.

Death is not pleasant; it is fundamentally at odds with the nature of the universe created by the living God. But for Christians to run away from it as fast as those who have no hope is yet another demonstration of their cultural captivity.

With Fiske, I fully agree that a funeral should not elide the reality of death. I concur that a person's death should be situated in the context of sin, salvation, and ultimate redemption. And I certainly urge that we call the ritual gatherings that mark the passing of life "funerals" and not the oh-so-upbeat-American euphemism "celebration of life."

But I would not go so far as to eliminate from the funeral--as Fiske seems to suggest--memorials of the deceased. That is, photographs, videos, and the like showing loved ones full of vibrant life, when contrasted with the present--and visual--reality of their death can contribute to the felt reality of our own mortality.

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