In my book, Before I Go: The Essential Guide to Creating A Good End of Life Plan, I introduced the idea of the separation of the disposal of the body from the ritual involved in what has traditionally been called a funeral, and which is what we are familiar with.
There is no doubt, funerals, end-of-life celebrations and body disposal is being called into question these days.
Most people, when asked what a funeral is, would describe a service where the cremation or burial of a body is witnessed by family and friends, all participating in a formal acknowledgement of the life lost, and who then attend some kind of gathering immediately afterwards, honouring the name of the deceased. Coronavirus has put paid to this, and the result is a huge shock to many.
Suddenly, without discussion or preparation, mourners are having to contend with not seeing a body (although some choose not to witness a body in a coffin), but sometimes not even seeing the coffin itself.
Others have to settle for viewing the disposal of the body on Zoom, or ‘take part’ in a traditional funeral service via live streaming.
But what if we were to consciously treat the disposal of a body and the ritualistic celebration of a life as separate events?
Many are being forced to do just this.
I suggest that instead of looking at the traditional form of honouring the life of someone who has just died, we rather look at the essence of that life.
When my husband died in 2011, I was at his bedside in the hospital. I witnessed what happens at the moment of death. One moment there was a live person lying there, albeit very ill indeed; the next moment, there was an empty body on the bed, who distinctly resembled my husband, but most certainly was not him.
That experience of ‘no-one there’ was so strong that I had to turn my head to the ceiling to speak to him, being unable to look at this empty bag that was just that – a bag of skin, devoid of whatever it is that makes a body a person.
Perhaps it is time for us in the Western world to view the body for what it actually is
– a vehicle that contains for a short while an expression of life energy. For convenience sake, we give that body a name, and relate to the personality that develops as if it were real, all the time forgetting that it takes a breath, and a continuation of breathing, to bring that body to life.
We spend our lives pretending that we are all separate from each other,
when in reality we are all the same energy, flowing through different physical forms, which will one day wither away, when the breathing mechanism stops.
But what if we were all to consider the idea that perhaps, just perhaps, we are all personifications of an energy that could be called love (but has also been known as spirit, essence, God, the Universe, flow, breath, life itself etc)?
This is currently being demonstrated through the community spirit, the neighbourly caring, and the putting ourselves out for others. Many have discovered that, when the chips are down, they really DO care. Even if they have no relation to that person.
Given these remarkable circumstances we find ourselves in, could we entertain the idea that distinguishing between the disposal of a body (like the recycling of a suit of clothes) and the saying goodbye to the ‘person’ who inhabited that body, is a creative and loving way of addressing the facts of lockdown at the moment?
What do you think about this idea? Post in the comments and let me know.
I personally like the idea of a wake or celebration of a life. For my Mom,who expressly vetoed a church service or minister being present we had friends ,,poetry reading,anyone who wished to adding a memory or address.We had afternoon tea followed by champagne. 4 pm onwards .The last guests left at 9.00pm itcwas awesome.Lots of laughter and chat….and some tears.
I agree our body is not the entirety of us, but see it as a sacred vessel that has been a vital and wise counsel during our life – and which has indeed enabled our soul’s incarnation. Honouring and taking care of someone’s body after they die for me represents and reminds us of our connection to the web of life itself. It hurts me to see people’s bodies being given away “for hygienic treatment” without a thought to their integrity.
Now with Covid restrictions on visiting people who are dying, it is still possible to spend time with loved ones’ bodies after they die, which may in some way help their grieving process. See http://www.pushingupthedaisies.org.uk