Not to Be Morbid

Death is coming. It’s coming for you. Worse, it’s coming for everyone you love. We know this is the natural order of things, but we’ve come to depend on a collective denial in order to keep us in the world of the living.

This denial manifests itself in awkward silences that shadow a person who has lost a loved one or in the decreasing likelihood that we will mention a person’s name if we know they are terminally ill.  But perhaps most of all, it manifests itself in the way we outsource the care of our dead. I am not the sort of person who clings wistfully to bygone times as emblems of all that used to be right but no longer is.  Still I wonder if we lost something very important in life when we stopped caring for the dead.

I have long been made uncomfortable by the idea of chemicals for embalming, concrete vaults for burial, and monoculture cemeteries for remembrance. In search of alternatives, I attended a class on home funerals recently. I went in for reasons of sustainability, but I came away with a changed attitude altogether about dying and bereavement.

Many,  if not most, who sit with a loved one at the moment of death need time to understand that the person is gone.  Even if the illness has been long and we have had a chance to prepare for the person’s eventual absence, we find it nearly impossible to grasp that one minute we are with our mother, father, friend, partner, or child, and the next moment we are with that person’s shell.  That person isn’t residing in the shell anymore. Regardless of beliefs about afterlife, the psyche needs time to adjust. Home funerals allow the family to care for the body and to have alone time with the deceased loved one over the course of a few days until gradually acceptance is gained.

According to the teacher of the class and also to the 2004 documentary A Family Undertaking, the physical care of the body is not as difficult as most people expect, and it is fairly easy to keep the body cool and free from deterioration for a few days. I know that many feel that such tasks are the last thing they would want to do at a time when they may already be exhausted from caring for the dying and reeling from grief, but for some reason I find the notion comforting.

I would be interested in hearing from any of you who may have experience with home funerals, either in modern times, or from your childhood if that was a custom. Please leave a comment telling me and my readers if you found comfort or pain in home funerals and whether the care of the body was difficult. Let me know if you prefer that I not make the comment public.

For those who would like more information, here is a link to resources on the topic.



One Response to “Not to Be Morbid”

  1. Marilyn Penttinen Says:

    Bob and I both want to be cremated, to take up less space, but anything that removes death from consumerism is a good thing.

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