April 10, 2005

Going the Distance

Thomas Lynch, a funeral director for 40 years has an amazing op ed piece in Sunday's New York Times, Our Near Death Experience.

For many bereaved Americans, the "celebration of life" involves a guest list open to everyone except the actual corpse, which is often dismissed, disappeared without rubric or witness, buried or burned, out of sight, out of mind, by paid functionaries like me. So the visible presence of the pope's body at the pope's wake and funeral strikes many as an oddity, a quaint relic.

[O]urs is a species that down the millenniums has learned to deal with death (the idea of the thing) by dealing with the dead (the thing itself) in all the flesh and frailty of the human condition. We process grief by processing the objects of our grief, the bodies of the dead, from one place to the next. .... We commit and commend them into the nothingness or somethingness, into the presence of God or God's absence. Whatever afterlife there is or isn't, human beings have marked their ceasing to be by going to the tomb or the fire or the grave, the holy tree or deep sea, whatever sacred space of oblivion to which we consign our dead. Humans have been doing this for 40,000 years.

I've been doing funerals for almost 40.
Late in the last century more homegrown doxologies became more popular. We boomers, vexed by the elder metaphors of grief and death, wanted to create our own. Everyone was into the available "choices."
For many Americans, however, that wheel is not just broken but off track or in need of reinvention. The loosened ties of faith and family, of religious and ethnic identity, have left them ritually adrift, bereft of custom, symbol, metaphor and meaningful liturgy or language. ...
Many Americans are now spiritual tourists without home places or core beliefs to return to.

INSTEAD of dead Methodists or Muslims, we are now dead golfers or gardeners, bikers or bowlers. The bereaved are not so much family and friends or fellow believers as like-minded hobbyists or enthusiasts. And I have become less the funeral director and more the memorial caddy of sorts, getting the dead out of the way and the living assembled for a memorial "event" that is neither sacred nor secular but increasingly absurd - a triumph of accessories over essentials, stuff over substance, theme over theology. The genuine dead are downsized or disappeared or turned into knickknacks in a kind of funereal karaoke - bodiless obsequies where the finger food is good, the music transcendent, the talk determinedly "life affirming," the accouterments all purposefully cheering and inclusive and where someone can be counted on to declare "closure" just before the merlot runs out. We leave these events with the increasing sense that something is missing.

Something is.

Just as he showed us something about suffering and sickness and dying in his last days alive, in death Pope John Paul II showed us something about grieving and taking our leave. The good death, good grief, good funerals come from keeping the vigils, from bearing our burdens honorably, from honest witness and remembrance. They come from going the distance with the ones we love.

I think as boomers age, there's going to be a great new Awakening in this country. For all the narcissism and materialism of the 80s and 90s, the foundational experience of the generation was spiritual.  By the time you hit your fifties, you're not so interested in the cutting edge, but the shape of the knife, then all the uses to which it can put, finally, its purpose.  There's an enormous appetite for purpose and meaning.  Boomers have spent countless hundreds of hours, in their college years and later,  sitting stoned, talking about love and  meaning.  From middle-age, you don't care about bold and shocking, you want deep.  I think there's going to be an extraordinary efflorescence of personal creativity, as boomers resort to digital tools to tell the stories of their lives.   

Ronni Bennett calls them Stories for the Infinite Future in a must-read post how we ordinary people can create what only kings and queens could afford in the past.

I have left with the other papers my friend will need, a final blog to be posted. Yes, it begins with, “If you’re reading this, I am dead,” though I intend to update it every six months or so and I may be able, in time, to get more creative than that. 

I’ve also left instructions to set aside money to pay my blog host for at least a year after I die, along with other instructions for downloading my blog onto CDs (or whatever storage medium has evolved by then) to give to anyone who cares to have it. 

Imagine if you had such a record from your grandparents, great grandparents and even further back what a gift that would be. Now it can be so into an infinite future.

Putting your digital assets in a form that can be used and enjoyed into the future not only benefits you in their creation by adding in a deeper way your meaning, your purpose but your descendants into the infinite future.  That's what the Protected E-Vault is all about.  It's because Legacy Matters.

Posted by Jill Fallon at April 10, 2005 7:16 AM | Permalink