Archive for Sunday, October 28, 2001

Saying goodbye around the world

October 28, 2001

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"For many tribes of the plains, it was customary to expose the corpse on a platform above ground or to place it in the limbs of a tree. This form of burial not only hastened the decomposition of the body, it also helped spread the soul's journey to the spirit world. Later, the sun-bleached skeleton would be retrieved for burial in sacred grounds. As Old Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce lay dying, he told his son, 'Never forget my dying words. This country holds your father's body. Never sell the bones of your father and mother."'

From "Native American Traditions" in "The Last Dance Encountering Death and Dying" by Lynne Ann DeSpelder and Albert Lee Strickland.





Historian Steve Jansen will present a program on 19th-century attitudes toward death, dying and bereavement, focusing on practices in the Lawrence area.The program is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass. The program is free and open to the public.Here are some Web sites and books pertaining to end-of-life care:
  • National Public Radio's series "Exploring Death in America" is an exceptionally wide-ranging and well-balanced collection of "voices" and resources, including bibliographies, interviews, sample chapters from important texts and personal stories; website
  • Last Acts is a national outreach program for end-of-life issues, including hospice care, public policy debates, and funding issues. A comprehensive site, it is a wonderful resource for individuals and communities seeking better care for the dying and bereaved; website
  • "Funerals: A Consumer's Guide" is published by the Federal Trade Commission; website
  • The National Funeral Directors Assn. Web site has useful consumer guidelines, demographic information and helpful links to other national and international organizations; website
  • Billing itself as the "source for spirituality, religion and morality," Beliefnet is an online community that offers comprehensive information on death, grief, bereavement and funerals. Especially worthy are this site's comparative religion features; website
  • The American Association for Death Education is a professional organization dedicated to promoting excellence in death education, bereavement counseling and care of the dying; website
  • The Funeral Consumers Alliance is the watchdog agency of record; website
  • "On Our Own Terms Moyers on Dying." This groundbreaking PBS series, first aired in the fall of 2000, spurred an ongoing program of community outreach; websiteBooks
  • "Fatherloss: How Sons of All Ages Come to Terms With the Deaths of Their Dads," by Neil Chethik (Hyperion, 2001; $14)
  • "Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss" by Hope Edelman (Delta, 1995; $11.96)
  • "At Journey's End: The Complete Guide to Funerals and Funeral Planning," by Abdullah Fatteh, Naaz Fatteh and David R. Pearson (Health Information Pr.; $14.95)
  • "A Child's Book About Funerals and Cemeteries," by Earl Grollman (Centering Corp., 2000; $4.95)
  • "The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade," by Thomas Lynch (W.W. Norton & Co., 1997; $18.40)
  • "The Perfect Stranger's Guide to Funerals and Grieving Practices: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People's Religious Ceremonies," by Stuart M. Matlins (Skylight Paths Pub; $16.95)
  • "The Eternal Pity: Reflections on Dying (The Ethics of Everyday Life)," edited by Richard John Neuhaus (University of Notre Dame Press, 2000; $15)
  • "Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America," by Stephen R. Prothero (University of California Press 2000; $22)
  • "Remembering Well: Rituals for Celebrating Life and Mourning Death," by Sarah York (John Wiley & Sons, 2000; $16)

"The Muslim view of death, as of life, is uncompromisingly earthy and concrete, allowing for no evasion of the reality of what is experienced as real. Angelic interventions and other impositions on reality notwithstanding, the facts of death and putrefaction are accorded great respect. Cremation of the body is unthinkable, and medical students can only study anatomy using cadavers of non-Muslims, who are already damned in any case."

From the introduction to "The Eternal Pity Reflections on Dying" by Richard John Neuhaus.

"Most rabbis gently try to dissuade mourners from leaving before the coffin is lowered, for both religious and psychological reasons. The idea of leaving the mitzvah of burial entirely in the hands of paid strangers deprives the family of its last act of kevod ha-met, respect for the dead. Even more important, helping to fill the grave means you have left nothing undone. After you have emptied a shovel onto a loved one's casket, there is no denying death which makes it possible for healing to begin.

From "Saying Kaddish How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead and Mourn As a Jew," by Anita Diamant.

"The body is dressed in fresh clothes, and verses are chanted reminding the dead person to give up the old clothes and remember good deeds that were done. The hair, beard and nails are trimmed, and the thumbs are tied together and bound to the funeral bed. Then the body must be carried to the cremation ground. Ancient ritual prescribed a cart drawn by two bulls, but in modern times blood relations carry the body on the funeral bier themselves, with the eldest son in the lead carrying a torch lit from the home fire. The cremation is understood as a sacrifice to the gods, and mantras invoke the blessings of heaven. The god Pushan is asked to accept the sacrifice and guide the soul of the dead, and the god of fire, Agni, is asked to consume the physical body but create its essence again in heaven. The funeral party then proceeds home, extinguishes the old family fire, kindles a new one and celebrates the end of the period of impurity with a funerary feast."

From "Funeral Customs, Hindu" in "Death and the Afterlife A Cultural Encyclopedia" by Richard P. Taylor.

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