It’s that time of year again; I now have three choices if I want to watch TV: 1- develop lightning fast reflexes to mute and close my eyes, 2- watch only PBS to avoid commercials, 3- just don’t watch it. Even my favorite channel, the Food Network, gets into the blood and gore of the Halloween season, advertising the special programs that make edible treats which ooze and frighten. It seems that the majority of the nation enjoys the horror that leads to death, however when death arrives, what is their reaction?
I happened upon an article, Mortal remains, by an undertaker, Thomas Lynch. The premise is that in America the only person not welcomed at a funeral is the person who has died. He set the stage for his insights by calling to mind the funeral of Pope John Paul II in the very first line of the article. I was wondering where this would go! Apparently the status quo is not to show the body in a coffin, display grief in public, or stand at the graveside to say goodbye. Rather it is to have “celebration of life” parties, where all are welcome to enjoy the company of those who have come. The question becomes, who is the funeral for: the living or the dead?
While the author does his best to remain neutral about religion, he does make a good case for the living to have some sort of send off for those who have perished. Religions have rituals that make it easier to ease the transition for those who remain. It may not be perfect for everyone, but something is better than nothing, as then each person has to find their own way which can be a painful process. I found it a rather interesting read as we start the month of October, when local fright fests pop up all over. People seem to be comfortable with death when they can control it. They enjoy the horror fantasy. When it becomes real life, they turn to undertakers to perform the necessary arrangements, so that the only thing they need to focus on is the party afterwards.
The last funeral I attended was for a popular priest in my area who often said Mass at the church I attended. There was an open casket before the funeral Mass, and it was very helpful to pray before him and then participate in the Mass. It was yet another moment in the Catholic faith where there is a mix of heaven and earth in one location: Jesus present in the sacrifice, welcoming the body of Father Hamilton, while the living send him on his way. The hope that we have in heaven and the resurrection is truly a magnificent gift God gives us. We can appreciate and thank God for this gift by living and doing His will.
Death will come to all those we love as well as to ourselves. Rather than trying to control it, let us participate in the final send off and appreciate the faith that gives us hope in the life to come.