I don't expect to be reincarnated,
so I'll blog about dying and death (with appropriate irreverence) while I'm still alive.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

When death can be productive

Deaths -- at least deaths of good people -- are undeniably sad. Even if the newly deceased suffered greatly, and might have caused suffering to family and friends, the death causes grieving, not just relief.

Despite the grief, some funeral procedures -- such as Irish wakes and New Orleans jazz funerals -- seem downright jubilant.

Many years ago, I attended the funeral of an elderly relative, and it was the first funeral I attended. After the religious service, the "mourners" gathered in a large room in the funeral home, and chatted as if they were at a cocktail party. There was little seriousness, and no tears, and I was shocked.

As I have gotten older, I have had to attend more funerals, and the behavior -- despite differences in religion, ethnicity and location -- has been the same.

A few days ago I attended the funeral of a woman who was about 95 years old. Her time, clearly, was up. She died in her sleep, with no suffering. There was a mass in a Catholic church followed by a service at a cemetery. These sessions, led by priests and with words added by family, were appropriately solemn. But afterwards, we went to a very nice restaurant, and it was PARTY TIME.

The mood was undeniably jovial. There was little "celebration of life" of the deceased, nor looking ahead to Heaven as touted by the priests.

Instead, it was a family reunion, and an occasion for people who were connected by the cadaver but had never met, to get to know each other.

At events like this, there are always comments like "How come we can get together at funerals, but never at happy times?"

That question made me think about a possible "purpose" of death.

Just as decaying flesh and vegetation fertilize the fields to feed a new generation of plants, animals and people, maybe the celebration after a human death leads to a renewal and reinvigoration of the human community, the coming together of friends, relatives and even strangers who would not be in the same place if someone had not died.

Maybe it's important and useful -- not frivolous and wasteful -- for some of the insurance money to pay for food and drink, and not just scholarships and medical research and new clothes, cars and homes.

Party on.


(photo from Thanks.)

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