Nor speak of me with tears…
And talk of me
As though I were beside you.
I loved you so…
T ‘was heaven here with you”
The above quote is from my Dad’s mass card dated August 30, 2009. For many years, I often wondered when I went to a funeral, what people did with all those mass cards. I found out this evening as I was cleaning off the altar that I have set up in my home to remember and honor friends, family, ancestors and guides. It made me smile when I read it and in spite of the conflicts and disagreements that my Dad and I navigated through, during the time he was here, we has resolved it all prior to his transition. I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with him before he died and he was open and willing to talk with me about some of “our challenges.” To say that we were at opposite ends of the spectrum in beliefs, viewpoints and lifestyles would not be a stretch. I sat pondering if these mementos of our “dearly beloved,” would continue on in the same way or be replaced perhaps by digital ones or something else that has not evolved completely yet. Maybe we will send them telepathically and no words will even need to be spoken. Everything is changing so rapidly and we have more and more options at the end of life as we evolve both spiritually and environmentally. I lit a candle, and some of my favorite nag champa incense. I poured two glasses of Seagram’s 7 American blended whiskey seven crown for my two ancestral guides who had requested it. I greeted and thanked them for their unconditional love, service and unwavering guidance and set the bottle back under the altar. “The more things change the more things stay the same,” I said aloud as the two bulging brown eyes at my feet watched my every move and bobbed his head up and down.
In case you are unaware, there is a rise in what is now formally known as “The Death Positive Movement,” in this country and around the globe, “as we speak”. This includes the likes of Death Café’s, home funerals, green burials, shrouds versus coffins, use of a loved one’s ashes to make jewelry, diamonds, pottery and art glass among other things. Your loved one can now become a memorialized tree, shot into space or even have a star named after them. All very lovely thoughts and tributes to celebrate the time that a Soul has spent here. Everything old is new again! The Victorians used to carry braided hair of their dearly departed in beautiful, intricate and sometimes, quite elaborate designs in a locket, worn around the neck, to keep them near. People are finally starting to be open to dialogue about what they want when their time comes around and their loved ones. Not everyone mind you, and that is ok.
Once upon a time, funerals were held in “the parlor” of the home. When this practice ceased to exist, the deceased were transported to funeral homes and mortuaries where the rituals of washing the body, viewing the body and celebrating the deceased’s life took place. The parlor then became known as the “living room.” This was a shift in attitudes and lifestyles, and a cultural decision. This is what people preferred. Some found it quite difficult and preferred the neater, cleaner version. Death became very sanitized and corpses were/are embalmed and made up to look like something out of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum- just my opinion here. They often are “curated” like one of Rodin’s flawless master pieces -naked, marble torso’s laid out in their finest (and sometimes questionable) outfits. (raise eyebrow here) This empty soul-less sarcophagus that was once so funny, happy, loud, shy, dependable, honorable, regal, loyal - fill in the adjective, became nothing more than a place holder for our memories, guilts, anger, resentments, love, turmoil and/or, all, of the above. The Soul that once inhabited this “ abandoned, road-side vehicle” is long gone by this time and already adjusting to their new-found joy and freedom. Meanwhile, back on earth, based on both observation and experience, families and relationships splinter. Fractures in the foundation and structures, that had occurred long ago or more recently that had never been addressed, snap and become clean breaks. Emotional wounds that have been festering and neglected, ooze and burst with disdain. The breakdown of the family and once close ties, begin to decay long before the body does and grief takes up residence and makes itself right at home before the actual departure.
As a young boy, I used to think that perhaps we were like the hermit crab that inhabited some random shell. I would spend hours, days, weeks and summers on end tracking and mesmerized by hermit crabs and finding abandoned shells, leaving me to ponder whether there was a poor naked hermit crab roaming the sandy floor of the Long Island Sound hoping no one would spy it before it found a more suitable sized shell, just a bit more elegant than the last. Or maybe, as it made a mad dash for a shimmering shell lingering and swaying to the bays current’s, it became a meal for one of the fluke or flounder that shared that same sandy bottom with the naked hermit crab. Inevitably it would lead me down the “what if” path. What if we catch that fluke or flounder that ate that hermit crab on the next fishing expedition that my Dad and I would take and then brought it home and we ate it for dinner? After all, we fished these same exact coastal waters aboard our 20 ft Cobia, “The Peggy II,” my Mom’s namesake. The thought was just too horrible to even entertain. I would dismiss it immediately.
It seems to me that the more “advanced” and “civilized” we have become, the harder it seems to be for people to deal with the emotions of “real life.” That of course, includes death and its side dish, grief. I look at Death holistically, in the sense that it is a part of the life cycle. It is not a failure, as sometimes the Healthcare System views it or more appropriately, we as a culture see it. We collectively, are the ones (myself excluded) who want to “stay young and live forever.” We all need to look at and examine if keeping people alive at any cost is healthy emotionally for ALL involved. We are all entitled to our beliefs. Certainly, we get into some murky waters when religion and spirituality are waiting on the sidelines, ready to be engaged in the next upbeat dance tempo. All the drama of dysfunctional families across the world begin to build like an emotional tsunami or unfurl like a new weed in a beautiful, well-tended, manicured garden. Relationships crumble like an old brick wall, sides start to form and eventually turn into teams- Us versus Them. Communications cease to exist for some real or imagined offense that one has committed against another, with the perpetrator never knowing what betrayal has taken place, since large grey elephants sitting in the former parlor aren’t discussed. From the outside, they become as gripping as ones favorite daytime soap opera or Harlequin Romance Novel. Often this is due to caregiver burnout, resentments, judgements, greed, old worn out stories that we have told ourselves over the years, misunderstandings but mostly words left unspoken. Emotions and logic live very separate lives and never the two shall meet. What does all this have to do with the end of a loved one’s life, you ask? Absolutely nothing dear reader and THAT is exactly my point.
When my 1st partner Ali died of AIDS, I was asked to dress the body along with several other women from the family in the tradition of his country of origin, Tonga. I was honored on some level because it is generally done by the spouse and this was long before gay marriage and to make things even more complicated, he was raised Mormon and not OUT to his family, as a gay man. There was a clash of cultures here, not to mention the judgement on the disease, the deceased and myself. His body was decomposing rapidly and “melting” so he was inserted carefully into a sort of plastic hazmat suit due to the fact that his body was so full of fluid (both natural and embalming) which was leaking out through all of his pores. Then his white polyester tuxedo was placed over his hazmat suit. He was so bloated that I had to cut the back of the jacket and pants and make them look like they were worn. His family wanted an open casket and videotaped the funeral in their grass mat skirts, belted around the waist and finished with a simple black tee shirt- sometimes logos included. I remember someone wearing a Betty Boop Tee shirt and the white tux my partner wore strangely returned me to my 1975 High School Prom. It was all very surreal but one thing that was for sure, he was dead. It wasn’t very pretty but it was real. These are the kind of complications of modern life. Ex’s, (he was married before and had a son from that marriage) In-laws, spouses, Ex In-laws, partners, Ex partners, baby mama’s, baby daddy’s, cultural judgements, religious views etc. are brought into the situation and create one more level of complication. The return to Home Death Care is an attempt, to return to a simpler time, a more loving celebration of the deceased. If only we could simplify the family drama, strain on relationships and learn to communicate straight from the heart to one another and not from a place of wounded ego or judgement. If only…
What does all this have to do with the end of a loved one’s life, you ask?
Absolutely nothing dear reader and THAT, is exactly my point.