Friday, November 7, 2008

Sunday, October 18th, 2008 (part 1)

Because my mother chose not to be embalmed, the burial had to take place relatively quickly. She was a very organic person, and pragmatic too, so the idea of being pumped full of preservatives and laid to rest in an expensive and otherwise useless container was antithetical to who she was. She had told me about my grandmother's death a couple of times; how she had washed and shrouded Gramma's body, how it was very simple and uncomplicated, not particularly awful or gruesome. And so for my mom, I felt that I could do no less.

I realize that this might be shocking to some, indeed, I think the visceral reaction most people, at least Westerners, have to a dead body is to get away as fast as possible. Certainly not to touch, or even look at, as if the mere sight of a dead person might be deadly. And in these modern times, we have such a sanitized way of dealing with things. The websites I looked up for "When a Loved One Dies" were a little helpful, but there was always a line like, "...and then the funeral director will come for the body." And what if he doesn't?

In the days before modern mortuary services, and in places where those services still don't exist, family and friends took care of dead loved ones. They were cleaned, dressed and laid out in the parlor, the special occasion room, until marketing and science took over, and now we have "living" rooms, and hand our deceased over to qualified strangers. All very clean and sanitized and scientific, and artificial and numbing and unreal. But then, reality is often messy and unpretty, unpleasant to deal with, and so I guess it's easier, although, to my way of thinking, drastically depersonalized.

At least I wasn't alone in my endeavor. Mom was quite popular locally, well known and generally well loved, with a wide circle of devoted friends. Very, very devoted friends, as it turns out. There were logistical things to figure out, things that a funeral home would have handled, like a burial permit, and transporting the body. I had hoped that someone who knew her would have felt moved to build a casket, that was what happened when my little brother died, but not in this case. So a litter was built, and beautiful, purple hemp-blend fabric was offered as a shroud, which my mother would have liked greatly. I found a lovely cloth, again in deep pinks and purples, with a tree of life and ornamental birds on it, maybe intended as a wall hanging or furniture drape, that seemed perfect for covering her.

Since it was Sunday and I hadn't been to church since high school, I attended the Episcopal church my mother had been a member of for decades. (To be continued...)


Lisa said...

I have always had trouble with the idea of embalming. What IS the point of preserving a body and then placing it in a weather-resistant casket?

I think that the high-tech funeral is a bit disrespectful. I know most people feel differently and that's ok.

Susan said...

This is a fascinating and beautiful post and one that made me cry. We are so fucked up in our culture when it comes to dealing with death. My only recent, and adult, experiences of the death of a loved one was that of my much loved family of animals (two dogs and two cats). Ceremony and ritual was such an integral part of my grief, of saying goodbye to their bodies, of holding their souls tight to mine and of honouring them and their far too short lives.

I very much look forward to Part 2.
Much love from Nova Scotia

Sass said...

I love that you have such respect that you are willing to forego all the "shoulds" and "have-to's" to respect your mom's life and her death.

That was a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing so honestly.