Archive for Sunday, October 28, 2001

Saying goodbye around the world

October 28, 2001


"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.

"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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