Today’s article may take a little thinking outside the box, but I think that there is some justification to thinking in the model that I will relate. As a funeral director during the time period of 1980 and 2015 I, arguably served in the period that cremation made its upswing in American death culture.
And, like most funeral directors of my generation, we saw this increasing trend, in general, as a movement away from the high costs of earth burial and what it brought with it. . embalming, caskets, vaults, and the like. We didn’t easily recognize that the movement towards cremation probably had much more to it than just cost.
I read a really good article this week from Catholic Culture that you can read here. The article was not on cremation per se, but more or less served as a book review of the book Hope to Die by Scott Hahn. I haven’t read the book and quite frankly only know of it from the review, but in reading the review I realized other points of view that maybe had quite a bit to do with the cremation movement over the past 40 years.
I was raised in the Lutheran faith and still practice my belief in Jesus Christ through that denomination. The author of the review, Dr. Jeff Mirus, points out that the Catholic faith leaders still show a continued preference for traditional burial over cremation.
Mirus opines in his review of Hahn’s book that “In reviewing the history of Judeo-Christian burial. . . each family had its own allotment of land, would bury family members on their own property, thus keeping them close even in death. We have all seen this sort of family burial plot at historically-preserved sites from rural areas or large estates. But of course it is absolutely prohibited almost everywhere today, and this fact couple with our unprecedented occupational and domestic mobility has signaled the loss of any sort of “family property.”
Mirus continues, “Such circumstances deprive us of the particular psychological/spiritual closeness to our deceased loved ones provided by burial. . Therefore, in our times, it is likely that we will remember our beloved dead primarily through more abstract means. . .”
Maybe I’m just different, but I thought that thought process fascinating – remembering through abstract means. Take my family, for instance. Members of my extended family — four generations of them – are buried in a 16 person plot only about two miles from my home. No wonder that I have such a strong psychological pull towards a physical presence with them. I go out and see the grave sites and almost feel them present. I have always thought “place” is really important. . . and a marker marks their place in the cemetery.
Now, with the scattered nature of families in society — and I don’t use that term derogatory — it is just that differing family members may be living in different parts of the world and not see each other very often – family members may “feel” more abstractly connected than physically connected.
When you think of family in those terms, place does not have such a meaning. Maybe just the “thought” of that loved one gives those people living apart the same warm feelings of togetherness that I get when I go to the special place at the cemetery. So, when you think that way, it makes all the sense in the world for people to scatter remains . . . for the survivors have no special place that gives them those memories. . . and the survivors can get that “warm” feeling simply when they think of their loved one and whatever abstract place they picture those remains at.
For what it is worth. . . I believe I continue to grow and understand. . . and this article has given me a little more understanding on why scattering of cremated remains has become so popular. I only know what I know. . . and my experiences have led me to that knowledge. Others know what they know. . .and their experiences are different than mine. It is why those of us funeral directors need to remain non-judgmental. . what we think is appropriate for us. . . . may not be appropriate or even understandable for somebody else.
Have a great weekend.
More from the world of Death Care:
- Zoom masses and funerals: Love, death, and technology in the time of COVID-19. KCET Public Media. Southern California
- Ethical funeral providers seek new ways to say goodbye under lockdown. Thomson Reuters Foundation News. Great Britain.
- Obituary: Albert Rhoden, Akron Beacon Journal (OH)
- Century old memorabilia box opened at Arlington Cemetery. U.S. Army News.
- Hampton funeral home to live stream “Service of Remembrance”. Daily Press (VA)