Friday, October 26, 2007

Funerals, etc.

The United States of America, for better or worse, has so many funeral traditions it isn't funny, plus people are always coming up with innovations, also for better or for worse. Recently, for instance, we had a funeral around here for which people were told to show up wearing cammo clothing because the deceased was an avid hunter. Even the minister was in cammo, he told me the other day. Ummm. I tend to appreciate a bit more formality than that, speaking strictly for myself. Let us say I have mixed feelings about such innovations, and leave it at that.

The memorial service for one of my relatives - who had died in midwinter, weeks before the memorial gathering - was an April Fool's Day get-together at a community theater, which the invitation stressed would feature multi-media presentations. Ummm. I hope it brought comfort to his widow and children, etc., who planned the affair. And, no, he wasn't an actor. He was a lawyer. Ummm. Let's leave that at that. Well, no, let me say that although I hadn't been a big fan of April Fool's Day, this didn't make things better. It does make the date easy to remember, but... would you really want your family to remember you every April 1, specifically? (And, yes, he was a 'liberal.' Why do you ask?) I don't wish to sound harsh, here. For all I know, the date had significance for that family. I hope it did. I don't want to think that they meant it as some kind of joke. Perhaps that was the only day available at that theater, and that theater was dear to his heart? I've been afraid to ask, to be honest with you. I prefer to think that his immediate family got pushed into a corner, and did the best they could under the circumstances.

When my maternal grandfather died, I somehow managed to scrape together enough money to travel more than halfway across the country to Tennessee in hopes of finally getting to meet some of his friends from his days before he moved to Florida. To my surprise and dismay, my aunt had already announced in the newspaper that it was to be a family-only affair. We few who had come stood in a small cluster in a graveyard, with an urn of ashes, which we stuck in a pre-dug hole in the ground, and the aunt asked if anybody wanted to say anything. Nobody having been told this would happen, nobody had much to say - and pretty much the whole assembly being atheists or agnostics (at that time, at least), there really wasn't much to say, at least as far as the big picture went. Very sad, that was. Pathetic, really. On the plus side, it was so family-only that not even anybody from the funeral home was with us, to see us being inept, alone, embarrassed, and mumbly.

My paternal grandmother's memorial service, on the other hand, was so big I'm not sure everyone who wanted in could get in the church, and it was a big church. People lined up to give tributes: long, friendly, loving, glowing, lively tributes, as I remember. She had lifted us up in life, and she did so in death, too. It was wonderful to get together in her name, and to meet others who loved her.

All in all, funerals do seem to be all across the board, don't they? (That's when there is a funeral. Off and on we seem to have mini-runs of deaths without gatherings. I tend to wonder, on the non-funeral deaths, whether at least sometimes it's because there's a fear of no one showing up?)

The subject comes up because this week I was talking with a friend, and somehow it came out that he was related to a young woman who was murdered recently, not around here. It appears the young lady had gone to someone's apartment to use the phone, and so just happened to be there when a drug dealer showed up to mow down someone he thought had crossed him. She was, my friend said, not into drugs, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and got killed in the crossfire. She had a three-year-old daughter (I think he said the daughter was three - she was quite young, at any rate), and the family decided for the little girl's sake to have an all-white casket on which people at the funeral could leave colored handprints.

I hadn't heard of that before, and I'm still not altogether sure what I think about it, to be honest with you, but today, out of the blue, I couldn't help wondering what archaeologists of the future are going to make out of what we're leaving behind us now.

Not that I think anything was funny or ridiculous about the handprints on the casket idea, because I don't - and I applaud their wish to reduce the trauma of a funeral for a toddler who has lost her mama - but when I try to guess what archaeologists down the line might come up with to explain a white casket with handprints of all sizes on it, I had to chuckle. I wouldn't be surprised if it were along the lines of Here, my dear Dr. Jones, is evidence of a society which placed its faith in the magic of handprints, able to carry the dear departed into the next world, which, of course, was thought to be ruled by an eight-armed goddess, as you can clearly see from the arrangement of the prints on the casket, and this squiggly smudge over here, which Jenkins, et al, identified in 2084 (i.e. 117 BCE) as indicative of a female deity believed to have some control over global climate... The scientists would be wrong, of course. In this case, it was a Christian who died, and it was a Christian funeral, and the handprints were merely there out of love for a little girl too young to understand what was happening in her ripped-apart world.

But, then, I suspect that some archaeological theories/conclusions about past societies are sometimes as far off the mark as that, based as they are on such often-random and always-incomplete findings as they seem to be, and seen as they are through the prism of the scientists' own experiences, education and worldview. But I could be wrong about that, of course.

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