I thought about entitling this post “I hate funerals” but then realized that, doesn’t everyone? At least everyone but totally creepy folks you would not like to meet anyway.
But my remarks are more to the aspects of funerals that I consider outmoded and down right barbaric. We, it seems haven’t come far from the time when Neanderthal man first dropped a few flowers into the grave of his relative upon burial. We haven’t progressed and it is downright disconcerting to me!
No doubt we need some sort of closure, although that phrase is so overused I’m not sure what it means. I’ve heard people say they experienced closure when a murderer was executed, although I find that hard to understand. How the deliberate murder of the murderer helps you cope with the loss of your loved one is mystifying. In any case, I accept that the experts say that we need to have ceremonies of this type to properly let go and move on.
Perhaps, but again, I’m not really sure. The simple absence of the one you love and are used to having around seems an ample way of understanding that they are gone. I don’t see how one can be confused, but perhaps it helps that a bunch of friends and relatives gather and talk about the person in the past tense.
But the manner of how we engage in this practice seems all wrong in some respects. And one in particular drives me nearly crazy with anger, and not a little fear and foreboding. It largely depends on how well I was connected to the deceased. The looser the relationship, the easier I find the practice. The closer, the more I seriously try to avoid the whole thing.
I’m talking about the practice of open caskets, which are surely the norm in America. Whenever I am made aware that another funeral is in the offing for me, I think of this incident.
Several years ago, while I was still practicing law in Detroit’s busy criminal court system, I was sitting one day on the inside rail, awaiting my case being called. This area is reserved for lawyers and cops, a long bench that curved behind the prosecutor and defense tables in the main arena of action. I happened to be sitting next to a wizened copper, a sergeant. One of those guys who had no ambition by and large, and was doing the easy duty until retirement came around.
He and another middle-aged officer were engaged in a conversation about funerals. I no longer remember if it was involving someone recently deceased in the department or what. In any case, one was relating the experience of attending his older brother’s funeral some years previously. “You know,” he said, “I can’t tell you how many people came up to me, and remarked on how ‘good’ John looked. Finally someone actually said to me, “Didn’t they do a good job? Doesn’t John look nice? And you want to know what I said? I said, yeah, he looks good alright, good and dead!”
That sums it up for me, and always has. Under what theory are we to think that someone looks good with a lot of makeup on, dressed up as if for a party, and lying in a box, often with glasses on over closed eyes? I find it macabre, and well, actually creepy in the extreme. I can tell you that of all the funerals I have attended, when I think of the person in question, the image of them in a casket ALWAYS comes to mind if in fact that was the method used.
So goodbye to all the images of the person laughing and smiling at me or at some event. Goodbye to images of tenderness and loving eyes returning my gaze. No, instead, I get this lousy image of someone looking not at all like themselves in a box! Now that’s closure I guess, of a sort.
Not the kind of closure I wish to experience however. I have felt this way for a very long time, and once in my lengthening lifespan I have had the opportunity to do something about it. That is when my father died. I recall discussing all this with the funeral director, with my aunt, my dad’s sister sitting next to me. I simply piped up and directed them to have the casket closed.
My aunt gasped! “What? People who haven’t seen your dad in years will be coming. They will want to see him!”
“They can ask for a private moment then,” I replied. “I want it closed.”
Closed it was. She grumped and complained to anyone who would listen no doubt, but I didn’t care. I prepared a few large pictures and a montage of his life in pictures, from his youth to his retirement. They graced the casket and an easel near by.
I probably had gotten the idea from a coworker of mine who had died several years before. An older man, who had died of prostate cancer, his wife had a photo of him blown up to poster size and we met to have a real wake, with lots of folks giving eulogies. No body, no gruesome body.
I have had the displeasure of seeing a lot of dead people in caskets. Many looked nothing like themselves in life. Mothers insist that their undercover cop kid, killed in the line of duty, be shaved and have his hair cut. Nobody recognized him. Isn’t that sad? It made it all more painful to me.
And of course we can move on to the expense of these luxury boxes. I mean what exactly is the point? I recall that thing too, walking around a room of boxes, there to choose the one. All priced unbelievably high. All described as plush, or soft, or words to that effect. Little psalms printed at eye level on the inside lid. Somebody expecting the dead to waken and read or something?
The one pictured above has 32oz of copper! It has pieta and last supper hardware and is brushed with copper and has a velvet lining! Wow, now aren’t you utterly impressed? It only sells for $6530.00! Sobering? And most are guaranteed to be waterproof, although who ever checks I wonder. And in the rare case where foul play is queried some time thereafter, more often than not the waterproofing failed and what is left is, well, the stuff no doubt of nightmares.
We went to a funeral as you know on Saturday. The lady in question was 65, and had died from cancer. She was a cousin of my husbands. I think I met her once in the ten years I’ve been in Iowa. She lived close by. The image at the funeral parlor will not keep me up at night, for I had no recollection of her in life. Her life, in eulogy from a reverend who seemed intent on talking as fast as humanly possible, was book ended by a song by Elvis Presley and one by Vince Gill. Favorites of hers. It was all surreal, as they all are. Mostly we sat quietly, and then went to say those meaningless phrases to family. “Sorry for your loss” and “My deepest condolences.”
Plenty of “Parker, is that you? Well I haven’t seen you in so long. I was hoping you would come!” Our opportunity to touch base with a the Contrarian’s brother who drove down from Chicago, home luckily or unluckily for a change. He works now about three months in India and then six weeks in the states. A chance to catch up on family goings on.
And all the while, there is this body lurking in the background. Unaware of all that is transpiring as far as we know. Gone to God we hope, we believe and we trust. This show is all for us, somehow, but if asked, this is not the show I would ask for. Why would anyone?
No, somehow, this is the show that funeral personnel have concocted and convinced us is the way we ought to express our pain. They have it all planned out, and it never varies much. Walk in, sign the book, view the body, small talk with friends and relatives until the time, then the service, such as it is, religious or not. After that, it depends. If you are close, you are expected to go to the cemetery for the internment. If not, you can escape the sordid affair and go about your business.
This one was to be a cremation. Still the unbelievable expense of a casket. One that is going to be burned up, or recycled as the case may be. Some state law no doubt governs all this. Still a casket is required. Nice little scheme wouldn’t you say? Make sure it costs the family. They are vulnerable and will pay up to live up the Jones’s perceived lifestyle.
I wish they had a hill, afar off. Let my family take me there, and plant me like the local natives did, up off the ground. Leave me a few months until the elements have had their way, and then take my bones and then bury them. Keep a finger bone or something as a memento, but let me disintegrate like all dead things and return to the earth. I can’t very well return to dust if you put me in that waterproof box! At least not as conveniently as I can out of doors under the sun and stars.
Do this for me, and leave me my dignity. I don’t want people oohing and ahhing over my makeup and choice of dress. I don’t want the “oh she was much fatter than I remember, ” or worse, “she wasted away to almost nothing!” Let me face the sky and then return from whence I came, upward and downward, world without end, amen.