Last month I officiated a funeral home service for a young man. Following the service, I drove in the processional of cars to the cemetery. High beams on, hazard lights flashing, like little goslings we obediently followed the white hearse at 40km hour in an 80km zone.
Normally if I did this people might exhibit road rage, hit the gas and blast past… However, because they could see the visible cause of this behavior there was respect, tolerance and understanding.
I could almost hear them say “Ohh, someone has died… people are grieving, let us make way.”
I noticed myself relaxing in a way that surprised me. This visibility made way for death to take up space, to claim its rightful place among the living. I believe if we brought back some of the visible mourning rituals it would ease our journey through grief and loss. If we wore the black armband or pin, then people might say, “Oh, they are mourning let us give them space.” And we as mourners can claim that space and rest in that claiming. We are no longer fragmented people in the grocery store, we are grieving souls.
At the gravesite, we placed prayer filled roses on the casket. I could feel the opportunity for a final release rising with the anticipation of the casket being lowered into the earth. Unfortunately what I discovered was that the casket was only lowered a small portion of the full descent. I was surprised at how jarring this was for me.
I felt cheated of the full expression that was ready to come forward in witnessing this decent and final farewell.
What I learned is that for me, this would have been helpful, it brought to mind two other occasions.
One, where we lowered the urn into the earth, placed roses over and then in silence each person took a turn placing a shovel full of dirt back over the urn.
The other was a Jewish service in which the entire casket was to be covered before leaving the gravesite. Each person took a turn. There is something about action, participation and witnessing of one another that I feel is very helpful to the psyche in processing this final passge.
Upon contacting the cemetery and funeral home, I learned that people do have a choice in these matters. They can range from no lowering of the casket to full descent, some shovelling of earth to none. And of course every culture and tradition has different burial protocols and grief practices.
It is important to know what the choices are, and what your preferences are so that you can make your request for yourself or on behalf of another.
Consider what you might want and don’t be afraid to ask. Consider wearing a black pin or an armband and notice how you feel. This may feel uncomfortable and you may find this small honoring gesture settling.
We don’t necessarily know what we are missing if we have never experienced it. This I believe to be true for myself.
Lisa Marie Walker
Life Cycle Ceremonies — Honoring Life’s Passages.