“I want to remember Grandma as she was when she was living,” we say, to justify not looking at her dead. There, I said it. Dead. “Grandma has passed away,” we say. “Passed,” we also say, even less to speak about “it.” What a relief not to see it, hear it, speak it!
When I pastored my first church every funeral, and there were many, contained a body. Not only among my members, but every friend’s or relative contained a body. When my father, mother and sister died, they were present for the service, some of which I conducted.
Since I moved to Oregon, I’ve never attended a funeral, just memorial services. I say “just.” Memorial services can be very meaningful. I recently attended a memorial service of a fellow believer with touching revelations about his great spiritual leadership of his children and grandchildren. Today we want to celebrate a life well lived, with pictures, slide presentations, mementos of achievements, and hobbies displayed. I like most of that. (You can skip the slides at mine)
But no dead body, please. As I recall that memorial service, no one mentioned “dead,” or “death.” I know some, perhaps many, will disagree. We’re used to cremation for the practical (hard to get family together in time), clean (quick disposal of the body), and cheap(er- no embalming) convenience.
Recently, my reading of The Undertaking: Life Studies from The Dismal Trade (1997) by Thomas Lynch, an undertaker–and a poet, revived my desire to speak out. “The presence and participation of the dead human body at its funeral is, as my father told it, every bit as important as the bride’s being at her wedding, and the baby at its baptism,” he says (p. 24).
What are your thoughts? How will you participate at your funeral/memorial service?