How do we celebrate death?

A listener emailed asking for a podcast on why do we have funerals? He told a story how both his wife’s Mum and Dad died last year and they wanted their ashes scattered on a particular beach on their wedding anniversary.

“We scattered their ashes together in a trench we dug in the sand as the tide came in. We wrote their initials by the trench and then drank a toast to them as the waves washed it all away. It was more moving than I was expecting and very apt. In a moment the initials, the trench and their ashes were all gone – with one wave. Just like everything we have built in our lives, and our lives themselves, end in an instant, never to be seen again.”

Our listener was very moved by his experience and was left with the question ‘Why do we have funerals?’ Who are we doing it for? Is it for the person who has died or is it for us?

I would say that although a funeral may represent the wishes of the person who has died and as they are the only person who will not be at the ceremony, I think that funerals are about the needs of the living.

In acknowledging that I intend to buy my own funeral but on the basis that my family can adapt and change whatever they want to meet their needs. My own needs will already have been met, in fact are already met, and in all honesty once I have finished with my body I do not really mind what happens to it. Be it donated to science, buried or burnt, it will be recycled once I am done with it, the only people that my remains will effect is my family. I think it would be supremely unfair of me to tell them what their needs are.

So, if I am right and the funeral is really for the living then why do we do what we do? In most societies the ritual of funeral is dictated by what we believe happens after death. For both humanists and atheists the religiosity is not there and the event can be treated materialistically. In these ceremonies I find there is more grieving than in those that believe that life continues after death.

Once religiosity is in the ceremony there are often issues of ‘the after life’ and that can lead to issues of judgement. Was the person a good person or a bad person? Are they heading for the pearly gates or the fiery furnace? And, when the belief is in re-incarnation there can be the celebration of life, or lives, to come.

Where do we come from and where are we going to?
This question seems to dominate our funeral attitudes. It seems strange to me that the first part of this question, where do we come from, does not hold fear and distress. When a child is born we all clap and smile but we don’t question if there was a pre-life. The second part of the question does for many create fear and apprehension and we do have a concern as to where we are going and we do then question is there an after life.

So what do we do with our dead bodies?
Some believe that cremation (ashes to ashes) is the appropriate way to dispose of a body while other believe that the body should remain intact and be allowed to decay naturally into the ground (dust to dust).

Cultures that worship the ancestors may collect bones and keep all the bones of many generations in the same building or cave that becomes a focal point of spiritual observance. To obtain the bones some cultures would put the dead, respectfully, on the rocks allowing the birds to pick them clean. While other cultures seek to preserve the body for the after life through mummification.

Whatever happens to the body, and I may be wrong here, it does not effect the person who once inhabited it. So, what we do with the remains is for the benefit of those that are alive not the dead.

My resource of the week is a death file. I have seen so many situations where the necessary information was never shared before someone’s death so that after the event people were hunting for the necessary information. I will ensure that my family have all that ready for them, including a paid for funeral which, as I said they can adapt to fit their needs. I would suggest that, whatever age you are now, you consider doing the same. None of us know the time of our ending just as none of us know where we are going.

Take care, be happy and live whatever life remains for you with a smile

Sean x

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