if i believe
in death be sure
because you have loved me,
moon and sunset
stars and flowers
gold creshendo and silver muting
i trusted not,
when in my fingers
drooped your shining body
when my heart
sang between your perfect
darkness and beauty of stars
was on my mouth petals danced
against my eyes
the singing reaches of
i knew thee death.
i have offered up each fragrant
night,when all my days
shall have before a certain
from the ashes
thou wilt rise and thou
wilt come to her and brush
the mischief from her eyes and fold
mouth the new
wings,where dwells the breath
of all persisting stars
The Industrial Revolution and Information Ages have aided in extending and enhancing our lives in many ways. In fact, the mortality rate in London for children younger than age five decreased from 75% in 1730 - 1749 to 32% in 1810 - 1829.
Yet, during the time when early deaths were more prevalent, death-related rituals were often less austere and forbidding. Western institutionalization has gradually swallowed death into it's economy with ritualization evolving into part of the orchestrated establishment of the funerary (and other) industry and where mourning practices are often strictly proscribed. In addition, today's funeral, on average, costs around $7000.00.
In many places, including the Cook Islands and Samoa, the dead are cared for in the homes by family members and then they are buried in the front yards of the family homeland. The homeland is never sold; rather, it is passed down from one generation to the next. Many of the tombs are above ground and family death is integrated into life in a way very different from Western culture.
Interestingly, the home funeral movement is emerging in the United States; a sort of grassroots time machine to the distant past. Death doulas are being trained to assist those seeking home funerals for their loved ones- including babies and children who die. Beth Knox knew intuitively that it was what she wanted when her seven-year-old, beautiful daughter, Alison Sanders, died in 1995.
Knox speaks of her experience and says,
"We're required by law to care for our children," she said. "But at the last hour, we're told that their body doesn't belong to us anymore. That makes no sense."
Knox found a funeral director willing to bring Alison's body home, where family members, friends and neighbors joined in a three-day vigil. By the time the funeral director returned to take Alison's body to her funeral and then to the crematory, Knox was, she said, ready to let her go.
Having imagined, as most parents do, that she could never endure the catastrophe of a child's death, Knox found that "when it actually happened, my senses were so highly attuned to the sense of love, I had a very precise presence of mind, very clear sense of direction." There is, she said, "a lot of comfort in being able to perform acts of love in these unbearable situations."
In most states, 45 to be precise, it is legal to care for one's own dead in the home. Oddly, many do not think to ask if they are permitted by the State to take their beloved one home; rather, it is assumed that the funeral home will whisk away the dead. So the men in gray suits are summoned and the 'body' is cleanly lifted off, out of sight, to a sterile room of foreign mortar and unfamiliar melodies harkening back three decades. And then the 'body', now recently unfamiliar to us, is taken to a cemetery two or twenty miles from home. It just feels so detached from the reality of death- and natural loving instinct. So many still do not understand their own rights with regard to their dead - the very dead to whom they still belong.
I wish I would have thought to ask 'permission' for a home funeral when Chey died. I wish I had my own piece of family land where I could bury her sacred remains. I believe I'd have chosen this if I had supportive others - like death midwives- guiding me. It is certainly not something that all would choose; but still the choice should be offered for this uniquely antediluvian ritualization of the dead.
If only time machines really did exist...