Funeral Choices

Original painting of a fish with a quote about going with the flowI think I just realized that funeral choices are all about our beliefs about death.  Duh?

Larry and I have been talking about his funeral.  Not that it’s imminent, mind you, but we have to tell hospice who to call.  It hasn’t been the maudlin, sad discussion you might imagine.

It’s been an argument.  Well, if I am brutally honest, not really an argument – more me trying to talk him out of his wishes.  Sounds mean, doesn’t it?  What can I say?  We feel very differently!!!  I want a balance between what we want, and he wants it his way.  Of course he does …. it is his funeral, isn’t it?

I’ve never given funeral choices much thought. I am working to get a perspective to help myself feel more comfortable with his choices, so I am trying to contemplate how we differ in our views of life, God, and what might or might not come after.

I’ve also looked further afield (more Google research) at how others resolve funeral choice differences. Often it comes up as children disagreeing with one another about their parent’s funeral.  I also read about one couple where the husband wanted to be cremated but the wife was a post-Holocaust Jew and the idea of cremation was horrific to her, as you can easily understand.

Strangely, what was particularly helpful to me was reading about how different cultures treat death and funerals.  Like the eastern Indonesians that save up years for a lavish funeral and in the meantime keep their dead loved one in their home, symbolically feeding them.  Or the Malagasy people of Madagascar who dig their loved one’s bones up every 5 or so years to visit with them and get their blessings.  Even colors of death are different – sometimes black, but also white, or even green(in South America).

I particularly liked the idea of some Vajrayana Buddhists who believe that in death the soul moves on while the body becomes just an empty vessel, so they chop it up and put it on a mountaintop for the elements (including vultures).  It’s called a Sky Burial and apparently the majority of Tibetans still choose it.  While it may sound a little ghoulish to some, think of how ecologically sound it is – there are no chemicals used, no land to set aside for cemeteries.  In South Korea, because of dwindling graveyard space, you have to dig up a loved one’s grave after 60 years.

I don’t believe in the classic God figure, heaven, or an afterlife.  I kinda wish I could because it would be very comforting, but you can’t make yourself believe in something.  I believe in universal energy and when I die I just go back to being part of that energy.  So when I’m dead, I’m gone and there is no longer any separate me.

Therefore, the funeral isn’t for me – it’s for the living , whatever they want and need.  Have a New Orleans Jazz Funeral, throw my ashes in the sea, put my body on a mountaintop, or turn me into compressed beads, like some South Koreans who don’t want to have to dig up their loved one in 60 years.  Okay, I do hope they don’t keep my body in their living room for years, even though in our family I remember my mother talking about her grandfather being “layed out” in the living room.

My brother-in-law, Jimmy, who is staying with us for a few weeks to help with Larry, hates the idea of no burial location, no gravestone.  He wants ensuing generations to have an actual place to go to see their ancestors and loves old cemeteries.

I have a friend who wants a Green Burial.

Reading and thinking about such extreme differences in beliefs and in funeral choices actually makes the distance between Larry’s view and my view become so much smaller.  He believes in a traditional God, Heaven, and an afterlife.  He wants to preserve his body for that, say goodbye to his son and friends in the location he spent most of his life in, and be buried alongside his family in the family plot in York, Maine where he was born.  That makes sense to me now, given his beliefs.  I can go with it.

I’ve just realized the funeral has become a brief moment of time that is a concrete location for my angst to fall. The cost brings up my irrational but lifelong “bag lady syndrome” fears about money, and the thought of sitting by his open coffin  brings up my porcupine-like prickly way of protecting myself from pain.

I remember being pregnant with my first child and concerned that so much focus of the pre-natal courses we were taking were about labor and delivery.  After all, no matter how painful the birth was, it was likely going to be over in 4-48 hours.  Creating a new life with this new infant was really going to be the hard work.   How would I manage?

No matter how painful the funeral, it will be over in 4-48 hours.  It’s creating a new life without Larry that will be the excrutiatingly painful hard work.  That’s really what I want to protect myself from.  How will I manage?