“Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead. I will measure exactly the sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.”
-Attributed to Sir William Gladstone
Honoring the Sacred
We live in a culture of fast food and instant gratification. We fill our minds with a constant barrage of entertainment and distract ourselves with our devices. In such an environment, a moment of silence is increasingly rare, and may even feel uncomfortable. Honoring the sacred space of mourning feels foreign and inconvenient. We resist the idea of slowing down because if we slow down, we risk thinking about the all-too-human issue of our own mortality, a topic that our culture is especially averse to.
When Loss Enters In…
When loss hits close to home, we sometimes try to find creative ways to get around it. The funeral ceremony, which is supposed to help us face our emotions, is sometimes skipped entirely in the name of efficiency. More and more, we turn away from funerals and traditional ceremonies in favor of casual get-togethers or parties. Well-meaning relatives say that they don’t want “a big fuss” when they die, and families decide to pass on the funeral service in favor of a simple celebration or a casual toast.
As people look for the most convenient possible way to deal with death, cremations rates have steadily risen. This is not to say that cremation is inherently wrong. Cremation is a good and appropriate choice for many families in a variety of circumstances. But if the motivating factor for choosing cremation is a desire for convenience, and if no time is taken to honor and reflect on the life that was lived, then something of great value is lost. For some people, the decision to not bury the body is accompanied by the decision to start burying their honest emotions.
Facing our Emotions
No matter how much we want to hide from it, avoid it, or try to get around it, death isn’t convenient. It’s painful. It forces us to consider the transience of life. It forces us to face our emotions. Dealing with death and loss is not supposed to be convenient or efficient. Not to say that the ceremony must be extravagant or exhausting. But we should think about the importance of having ceremonies and the necessity of taking time to reflect. After all, if we lose our reverence for honoring those who go before us, don’t we risk losing our respect for the living? With every life that is honored in passing, we reaffirm the beauty and sanctity of life and the living.
Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later
If grief is not able to be expressed at a time of loss, it has a way of coming back around later, sometimes with a vengeance. In some cases, unexpressed or “delayed grief” can lead to intense sadness or depression, numbness, substance abuse, sleep disturbances, inability to enjoy life, lack of purpose and meaning in life, even physical aches and pains, chronic illness, or disease. As one author notes, “Ignoring grief is like a leak in our roof. We can take care of it now or we can wait as it seeps through the ceiling, gets into the walls, and warps the floors.” When grief is allowed to be expressed in its proper time, complications tend to be reduced or alleviated.
The funeral ceremony is an opportunity to express our emotions of grief, even as we respect the dignity of human life and treat those who mourn with compassion. Engaging in these rituals is a special way to honor the legacy of our lost loved ones and to support the living. The respect that this requires of us makes us stronger people. At the funeral, we mourn. We come together and remember our loved ones. In many ways, we forget our differences and heal old wounds. We honor sacred space and time, and we grow as individuals and as a society.