Funerary Customs vs. Funeral Industry

Image by Brent Connelly from Pixabay

I ’ve interacted with more than my fair share of dead people over the years, some of them are the holy dead people that we call saints, such as St. Mary Magdalene, or St. Francis, or any number of others. I’ve also talked to many that would never be considered holy. The dead have their own needs, and I pray for those who have died.

In her book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, Caitlin Doughty, a funeral director, speaks of her frustrations with how we deal with death in America and she tells of some customs around the world.

She tells of funeral pyres, of those who keep their dead with them in their homes with great respect, of those who want their bodies to be left in a living cemetary, and many other things.

Paul Koudounaris in his beautiful book Memento Mori: the Dead Among Us, which is full of photographs of death customs in history around the world, argues that we have lost direction on our beliefs and actions surrounding death.

He advocates for more connection and respect for those who have died. The book is an exquisite masterpiece. He talks of Christian thoughts about death, that the early Christians were far more in tune with death being a gateway to a transformation.

The concept of purgatory and praying for the dead was a comfort, a way to keep connected with the dead. The living prayed for the dead, and the dead prayed for the living.

But of course power and money in the form of indulgences ruined that also, and thus began theological bickering that split Western Christianity.

Ideas about death have changed over the millenia of human history. Many cultures even today show much care, reverence, and respect for their dead, while here in America and have a funeral industry that takes care of our dead. We have turned death into a sanitized, clinical thing devoid of ritual or respect.

Prayers such as the Hail Mary, show different, more spiritual thoughts about death. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.

Christians, along with other people around the world, held a more sacred and holy view of death in history. Many cultures are still in tune with the sacredness of death.

I speak in the context of Christianity because that is my own relgious tradition. Sr. Theresa Alethia Noble, FSP, wrote a Lenten devotional called Remember Your Death: Memento Mori about meditating on death daily.

Lent tends to be the time that Christians talk about death, but it’s something that needs to be talked about the rest of the year also.

We need to treat our dead and our dying with dignity and respect, and recognize that death is not an industry to capitalize on. We pay big bucks to conform to industry standard procedures that go against our very nature as human beings.

Instead of lovingly preparing the body of our loved one for a funeral pyre where the entire community of people who loved them can participate, we hold a “visitation” in a cold, institutional funeral home.

The fact that we have a funeral industry really sheds a light on what is wrong with our country. As I read, write, and think more about death, as I interact with more of the dead, I realize that yet again, our quest for money and power steals humanity and dignity from people.

Capitalism is inhumane, and I’ve decided to stop trying to hard to conform to the ideals of capitalism.

Instead of respecting everyone, we have the US Extreme Court denying the basic humanity of women and other people who can get pregnant. They have made it clear that they will not stop here, they will come for gay marriage, the rights of transgender people, and anything else that gets in the way of their absolute control.

Capitalism is a structure that protects the financial interests of a small group of people who will keep grasping for more and more power.

For me, the very ideals that capitalism holds dear go against my baptismal vows, and they go against the ideals of God’s kingdom, and as someone that is a follower of Jesus, I can’t support it.

I no longer have any desire to conform my life to follow along with a structure that denies the humanity of all God’s people (which is everyone).

I will stop apologizing for my inablity to compete with others in a career just because society assumes that disabled people should just suck it up and get on with it. When I do that, I deny my own dignity and worth.

As a Christian, Jesus has asked me to repent, to be baptized, and to believe the Gospel. I’m to live the values of his kingdom and his revolutionary principles.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed…

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MaryClare StFrancis

MaryClare StFrancis

My friends assure me that I am never boring, so hopefully you won’t be bored either.