Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reflections on Death

Recent events have me thinking about my own death, or more rightly about the ceremony and social norms surrounding death, and I've discovered I don't much care for them.

Watching a good friend be buried and watching the dynamic of two families each grieving in their own way and witnessing the inevitable conflict created by such raw emotions, and of contrasting traditions, ideals, beliefs and perceptions has brought me to a solitary salient point.  I will not die without leaving specific and exacting instructions as to how I am to be laid to rest.

These instructions (which I will later formalize and place with my final Will and Testament) will be my final act of rational selfishness.  I will design the service and procedures not only with absolute adherence to my beliefs and ideals, but also with an eye to lessening the suffering of those closest to me.

The friend we buried this week was the wife of my best friend, and I watched him go through the hell made up of our societies standard rituals of death and burial for five days.  There was the viewing and the funeral, the burial and a reception, and from start to end a long procession of people showing up on his doorstep to offer their sympathies to "see how he was doing". 

The entire process seemed to me to be a tortuous pouring of salt in a fresh wound.  It demanded all his strength and all his attention, so that he might (perversely) stand straight and tall while people reminded him that he was hurting and that half of his life had been taken from him.

With this in mind I would save my loved ones such a drawn out process. 

I would disallow any sort of visitation.  I will not make my wife or children sit in the same room as my dead corpse while people wander past to do little more than convince themselves that I'm dead, or worse yet to satisfy a morbid fascination of seeing me so.

I would eliminate the funeral service.  The useful parts of it will be handled during the burial and I see absolutely no reason to have someone who doesn't know me lead my friends and family in remembrances of my life.

At the funeral I will act (in absentia) as the one leading the ceremony though a chosen voice, most likely a close friend who will read my final statements.  People will be asked to form a procession and say their goodbyes at this point over my grave and then the entire funeral party will retire to a selected location for a reception party where I, through my eulogizer would encourage everyone to really, truly and irreverently celebrate my life/what I meant to them.

They say funerals are for the living, but from what I have seen they are certainly not for the dearly departed's closest survivors, but more for those people on the periphery.  A death and all that surrounds it should, in my view, be a short, sharp, shock that will bring all the emotion to the surface, yet be over and done with as soon as practical.

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