Today we attended a conventional church funeral of a greatly loved cousin-in-law of Much Better Half.  MBH had been bridesmaid to her cousin (who died in her sleep relatively young many years ago) in the same church over fifty years ago.

During the service and at the graveside, I found myself questioning the conventions which bring us to want a place to identify for ‘visiting’ the deceased.  Surely once life has departed, the body is simply a group of elements of no greater significance than a pile of compost, so why all the elaborate ceremony?

It is a morbid and unpleasant thought that a spirit would remain in the vicinity of the body. Ghost stories are often based on the fact that this is, indeed, what happens – but if true, then surely those are only the most lost and troubled spirits. Or is the rationale to give the spirit an ‘anchor’ to a place where the living can still communicate with them?

As one who loves gardening, a fancy which quite appeals to me is where a cemetery has only the simplest headstones or plaques, and where all of it is given up to nature, whether wild or tended as a garden. Thus the place would act as a reminder that one form of life feeds and becomes others, and it would be valid to say that some elements of the loved one were still there.

Cremation defeats that object, of course.  The scattering of ashes can never be more than a symbolical gesture. Most of the body has been dissipated as gases. One way or another some portion of those will also, in due course, be involved in one or another form of life cycle – but not where one can identify it as happening.

As far as I’m concerned, though, there should be no ceremony involving the body itself.  The corpse should quietly be disposed of in the most convenient manner, while any remembrance friends or family want to show should be centred round places or things which were the favourites of the departed.  Is there any remotely logical reason to attach importance to the remains?  Other, perhaps, than that doing so provides a stage in ‘letting go’ and accepting that the person is no longer here?

 © October 2012 Colonialist (WordPress)

About colonialist

Active septic geranium who plays with words writing fantasy novels and professionally editing, with notes writing classical music, and with riding a mountain bike, horses and dinghies. Recently Indie Publishing has been added to this list.
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32 Responses to DUST TO DUST

  1. johnell74 says:

    I found your blog through your comments on mine!
    I thoroughly agree with you, and certainly for many people finding remembrance has more to do with memories and prayers. But for many who have no real link with any after life, the instinct is to go to where the last remains are. God Bless them.


  2. colonialist says:

    Thanks: it is.
    Why is that, I wonder?
    Good way of looking at it, methinks.


  3. Nicola says:

    Sorry to hear of your loss and best wishes to MBH and your family. They do natural burials over here with no headstones.


  4. Gobetween says:

    When my father was buried the old town cemetry had reached its limits and he was buried in the “new” cemetry. There was nothing, not a blade of grass, not a tree, absolutely nothing. Imagine leaving someone you love in a place like that. I think it is the perfect resting place for my father, he was a bully and a mean man,


  5. The thing I love about old cemeteries is the special atmosphere. So many sentiments and feelings have soaked into those old stones that they’re almost palpable. Or it might be my overactive imagination.
    A graveyard is not for the deceased, it is a memorial place for kin. But that could be any other place too. A photo table. A special tree.
    My sympathy for you and your Much Better Half. Treasure the memories x


  6. The Asian says:

    Sorry to hear about your loss Col.
    I personally would like my body to be donated to medical science, at least it would then be useful in a way


  7. Lisaman says:

    I found some great grand parents graves in Barkly east and was so glad something remained..of those I can’t find..It was sad because no one actually knows where they were buried!! In France the graveyards are beautifully kept with flowers everywhere!!


  8. Sorry for your loss Col.
    Its so sad to say goodbye.


  9. So sorry to hear about your cousin in law. Such a sad time. I am in full agreement with regards to not having to be anywhere near the body. However, I do feel that it assists, for a lot of people, with closure. Funerals are for those left behind. Hopefully, the person who has gone, is in a far better place, where there is no such pain. Human nature needs to go through the grieving process and the funeral is a large part of that. Even the Elephants mourn around the body of the diseased.


  10. nrhatch says:

    Good thoughts, Col. I concur. We are either “everywhere” or “nowhere” when we die . . . we are certainly NOT six feet under.


  11. Pingback: When We Are Gone « Spirit Lights The Way

  12. kragenhai says:

    Now, I could write a long tome about this!

    The human body renews all or nearly all its cells every seven years so physically you are today not who you were seven years ago.

    When the spirit that occupies that body shrugs off the old body, like one takes off an old coat, that body is worthless dead meat. What happens to it after the spirit has departed is not of any importance. Whether it is turned directly into compost (as they can do in Norway), put underground to be food for worms and so fertilize the soil, burnt or cut up in pieces and fed to sharks and lions really makes no difference.

    The spirit, however, lives on in a different dimension and may return to this dimension, either being and growing in another person, to guide and help other spirits being in people, or just as an actual spirit guide.

    I should make a separate post of this.

    PS. Col. I have found the problem with being directed to a deleted blog. There Is another blog Kragenha.com which WP sometimes uses as my addy. I’ll make sure it uses the correct one in future.


    • colonialist says:

      Interesting points indeed, which would warrant several posts! If you are resigned to the fact that numbers of people are going to be sceptical.
      Glad that is sorted – it was causing me great confusion!


  13. Sous Chef says:

    Sympathy on the loss of your cousin. I agree with you, we want to be cremated and our friends to have a party/wake, neither of us wants a ceremony. If Himself could, he’d be cremated in a cardboard box!


  14. 68ghia says:

    I’ve only been back tom y father’s grave maybe twice in the 11 years since his death – he’s not there.
    However, I cherish the dustbin and the old night buckets and ammo crates that he planted things in – that’s where he lives on in my mind. In the day lillies and nerinas
    As for the garden, I’ve often thought a memorial garden would be a nice thing. Well laid out with walkways and fountains, if people want to bury ashes there, they can buy a rose or a tree to plant on it – nothing formal, just a place of tranquility where you can sit with nature around you, and just be quiet…


  15. Pussycat44 says:

    I want to be cremated and the ashed scattered anywhere my children choose.
    As a child I was taken to the graves of the departed grandparents every Sunday and didn’t see the point in doing that. The body may be gone, but the spirit lives on in our memories of that person.


  16. newsferret says:

    Sympathy with the loss in the family. I mostly agree with your views.


  17. Barb says:

    My condolences to your family. You bring up questions, posed for years, but yes, in my humble opinion, there is a sacredness to a resting place. Ken Burns recently did a documentary about the remains of soldiers left scattered and rotting after Civil War battles. There was an unimaginable, massive effort, spearheaded by Clara Barton, to identify each remain and give it an appropriate resting place. I’m not sure if Andersonville or Gettysburg affects each person, but the solemnity echoes through many who visit. I find the same sense of eternity rests in cemeteries. Not as something ghoulish, but a reminder that many went before with trials and troubles, and many will follow. A number of people visit cemeteries looking for peace.
    I suppose we all carry our own meanings to the death ritual, but I know even along the Oregon Trail where 12 grave sites appear to each mile in some sections, those resting places were protected from wolves and humans. Often families returned (after successfully making the journey), so they could mark the site more permanently. Years later, people in near-by settlements put up markers for the emmigrants they didn’t know. There is something about death that speaks to the living.


  18. adinparadise says:

    It’s always sad to lose a loved one, but I agree with you that after death, the human remains are of no importance whatsoever. I’m sure many people will disagree though.


  19. susielindau says:

    I am sorry to hear about your cousin. It is always sad to say goodbye.
    I have thought about how we in America don’t really talk much about death so we have a harder time dealing with it than in other cultures.
    Personally I want to be cremated and want the rest of the decisions left to my family since they will be they ones still around.
    Timely subject with All Saints Day coming up.


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