Death and Ritual - Holy and Mundane
April 23, 2022
Death and Taxes!
We all face both.
I have stood at the head of a casket and declared, more than once, "We have been here before and we will be here again."
I have waxed eloquent on our common search for life's meaning, on the comfort of love, on the peace that passes understanding, and the shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept."
I have much to say about death, dying, and grieving having observed and participated in the process for decades. It would not be hard to stop writing about the insights, questions, and observations. More likely, it would be like opening a floodgate and would be difficult to stop.
Until I have time for that, I will share some passing thoughts from time to time.
Better still, I will let others, like Elizabeth Kubler Ross, from a phycological point of view, and a few of my favorite pastoral theologians carry the ball.
Beyond that, funeral directors have been among my teachers in the process, especially those who are very ethical and willing to meet families where they are. I am a big fan of Caitlin, but this is some of her best work.
Caitlin Doughty is an author, advocate, and funeral director as well as founder of "The Order of the Good Death."
The New Yorker says that she, "Chronicles death practices with tenderheartedness, a technician’s fascination, and an unsentimental respect for grief."
I discovered her on her YouTube channel, "Ask a Mortician," and have watched all her videos.
Her mini-documentary on the funeral and grief issues around the death of President John F. Kennedy brings many of the issues we deal with in death and dying and the practice of ritual mourning to the surface.
I am sharing it with you here as well as the comments I made.
You have outdone yourself with this work of scholarship and storytelling. This may be one of the best narratives of any element of the Kennedy assassination I have seen in terms of thorough, fair, and interesting reporting in a concise manner. I cannot imagine how much time you had to invest in this. Well done, Caitlin. I love all your work, but this really excels.
One more thing: I love the way you honored Jackie, one of the most graceful and dignified women America has known. She was such an icon in the 60s that even Republican women sought to dress like her.
People of my generation were deeply impacted by JFK's death. We all remember the moments when we heard. I, for one, cannot be reminded of the time without a deeply emotional response. When I finally went to Dallas for a convention in the 70s, my pilgrimage to that site was a profoundly moving experience and your last scene captures my emotion of that time.""
Keep up the good work you do. As a pastor for over 45 years with over 3000 funerals I have officiated, I offer you my fullest support. Your thoughts resonate with mine.
My faith teaches that death does not get the last word. It also teaches that death is our last enemy and shall be destroyed. Because scripture presents paradoxical realities in expressing the breadth and depth of human and divine experience, it also calls death, "previous."
If death is a precious enemy, there must be something holy about the experience while it is also both mundane and natural. The meaning is in the balances. Leaning into the experience, we fear no evil in the valley of shadows as we realize that we are shepherded by God and accompanied by fellow travelers.