The fact of the matter is … we’re all going to die.
And how we deal with death reveals a lot about us, and our culture. Every culture has three things in common relating to the disposition of the dead: 1.) Some type of rite, ritual, or ceremony. 2.) A sacred place for the dead. 3.) Memorialization of the dead. Fake flower arrangements are optional.
In the USA
71% of deaths are casketed. BURIED. And the U.S. Cremation Rate is 36.86%. Except in Nevada, where 73.93% of deaths are cremated. What does that say about Nevada? Hm. I dunno.
Fun fact: I’m sure you’ve heard about the widespread notion in the 17th century that people were afraid of being buried alive so they would instruct their loved ones to attach a string to their finger, connected to a bell above ground. Is that where the popular TV series Saved By The Bell got its name? I dunno. But Lord Chesterfield said, “All I desire for my own burial is not to be buried alive.” And Frederic Chopin’s last words were, “Swear to make them cut me open, so that I won’t be buried alive.” That’s not too much to ask of your loved ones, is it?
Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome, Italy
Speaking of crypts, let me tell you about this time I went into the San Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini crypt.
The details are fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure I walked down some cold stone stairs to the church basement into rooms and rooms completely covered in human bones. The human bones I remember vividly. There was a sculpture made of vertebrae. The doorway was lined with femurs. There were mosaics of little wrist bones and patellas. Bones were everywhere, I’m surprised the floor wasn’t covered in them.
That place changed the way I viewed death. I looked at all those bones of all those people and wondered who they were when they were alive. Were they insecure? Were they hilarious? Were they dumb? Were they an embarrassment to their children? I’m sure those problems really mattered then. It doesn’t matter now, they are dead.
I realized that my life wasn’t going to last very long, even if I live to be 125 like I want to. And unless I’m working for the invisible and immaterial world, everything will dissolve around me after I die and someday a modern artist might make a sculpture out of my remains that symbolizes both the hypocrisy of pop culture and his break up with his boyfriend.
Fire Burial – Thailand
Fire Burial. In Thailand. My poor dad.
You see, when he was 21 yrs old he went to be a missionary in the jungles of northern Thailand, and unfortunately his very first Thai friend died.
The Buddhist monks refused to give the man the honor of a Buddhist ceremony (for befriending the foreigner and converting), so his parents asked my dad (as the only other religious man in the village) if he could do the ceremony. So my dad had to go out into the jungle, and with the help of his two other friends, he had to cremate the body. He said he had so many questions, “how much wood does it take to burn a body?” “How long does it take to burn a body?” “Is this a normal smell for a cremation?” went through his mind, things that his missionary Bible College professors had never prepared him for. He still talks about it with awe and fear and disgust, that night of waiting all night long in a dark jungle beside the burning corpse of your friend’s body. Man, that’d be tough.
(This is actually a Balinese fire burial)
Sky Burial, or, Giving Alms to the Birds
In Tibet, the ground is too rocky and hard to bury remains. Most Tibetans are also Buddhists, who believe in rebirth, thus their body is an “empty vessel” after they’re dead. So the body is cut up into itty bitty pieces, taken to the charnel grounds atop a mountain, and placed there for the birds of prey to eat.
This makes a lot of sense to me. I, too, believe my body will be an empty vessel, aka, I don’t believe I’ll resurrect as a ghost. But I like the fact that even after I’m dead, I could benefit a wee little hawk chick. The Maasai’s Predator Burials and Tibet’s Sky Burials are very similar.
Now let’s talk about some non-dead topics.
First of all, you should check out Amber West’s fantastic post on giving back.
Her post was incredibly right-on-time because on the first of this month, Michael and I decided to go without non-essential beverages (aka, anything but water and coffee) for the whole month and give that extra money to Living Water International, an organization that builds wells for people with no safe drinking water. That means he’s giving up his beloved Dr Pepper and I can no longer grab a hard cider after the kids have gone to bed. There’s no more to it than that. We’re giving away the little that we save.
Are there any burial rites that give you the creeps? Do all of them?
How do you want to be buried?