Something that has been on my mind lately has been how (to me) people have changed over the last 20 years or so regarding death, funerals, burial and other things like that. I say the last 20 years because the people with the changed opinions (to me) appear to be people in their mid-late-20s and younger. This is my non-scientific observation, purely based on people I have talked to. But here’s my observation: no one wants to be buried anymore.
When I was younger I went to a LOT of funerals. The downside to attending a church with mainly older people is that a lot of them died while I was going there. I probably attended at least 3 funerals a year from the time I was old enough to attend them (I’d guess around 9 years old) until I moved from California when I was 18. That’s a lot of death. Almost all of them were happy funerals because we knew that their pain and suffering were over and there was a certain amount of consolation in the fact that they were in heaven now.
All of them were traditional. They had a “viewing” several days before where people could say goodbye to the body in the casket. There was always a large casket that looks really comfy, lots of flowers everywhere and a big picture of them when they were healthy. The funeral was almost always in a church, or a funeral parlor, with lots of people and a priest or pastor who sometimes hardly knew the person. The people mourn, they go to the grave, they watch the casket get lowered into the ground, they all cry, and then they all go over to someone’s house for a potluck. The potluck part may have just been the pentecostal part of my funerals. And then the person gets a gravestone where people can “visit them” years later, clean the site up and leave some flowers.
My husband Justin wants to be cremated. He wants me to take his ashes and spread them out at a beautiful place he visited often when he was younger called Happy Creek. He doesn’t want a funeral, or a party, or anything like that because he doesn’t want people to spend money flying out to wherever we lived reflecting on his death, he just wants people to (on their own) reflect on his life. Fair enough. Jake, my brother, wants to be cremated and his ashes taken to Ireland. I asked him why Ireland?
“Well,” he tell me, “I didn’t get to go while I was alive so might as well get to go when I am dead. Also that way you guys can take all my insurance money and go on me. Take a vacation.”
Which is nice, but it’s not something I expect my parents will ever say. It’s not something my grandmother put in her will. Over the last however long, attitudes seem to be shifting away from a big grand production of mourning to a simple, cheap way of disposing of the physical body.
This has been on my mind because of my brother Daryl, but also because I don’t know how I want to go out. Do I want to be buried? Do I want a grave site where my family can “visit” me later?
I like that I can visit my grandparents gravestones when I’m back in California. I like that I can sit in the peacefulness of the graveyard and reflect on the life they led, the influence they had on me and their eternal destinations.
I’m not sure how I feel about this new trend no not leaving anything behind on earth. In a sense, it seems more appropriate. There is no part of my grandparents left on this earth, they are merely a memory and their eternal status is elsewhere. Is the grave site necessary for comforting family, or just a spot that keep a part of the dead in the physical world?
All of this raises questions. What are you doing about your death? How do you feel about leaving something behind versus leaving nothing behind? How do you think it affects the family, and does that really matter? Should you burden the family with costs, or go for the cheapest thing?
In the long run it’s just a body. So how much does it matter?