December 11, 2013

Open-holed, dirt-moving burial was cathartic

John Cuddleback found that a hands-on burial helped him come to terms with the "truth of what happened" in a cathartic release of sorrow

Touching Death: Mourning Physically through Burial

In mid-September of this year my father passed away after a several year decline with dementia. With the help and support of family and friends we were able to give him a very special burial—in that we buried him ourselves: opening the earth, setting him in it, and mounding the earth back. The experience was extraordinary, and one I found to be a gift….

t was all about the earth. Opening it, placing something it, and closing it. Like planting a seed. We started with the assumption that the more we did with our own hands the better. We knew that my father had enough hearty pall-bearers that we could actually carry his casket. With an open casket wake, we knew we could at least put a hand on his breast or hands and feel him dead.
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It was all about the earth. Opening it, placing something it, and closing it. Like planting a seed. We started with the assumption that the more we did with our own hands the better. We knew that my father had enough hearty pall-bearers that we could actually carry his casket. With an open casket wake, we knew we could at least put a hand on his breast or hands and feel him dead.
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It seems fitting to ask: what kind of burial is good for those left behind? After all, though much of what we do after the death of a person is done for the sake of and in memory of the deceased, the needs of those left behind must also be considered. Prominent among these is surely the need for help in coming to terms with the truth of what has happened. We humans are prone to live in denial, especially of truths that make us uncomfortable. The death of a loved one, with all that it implies, is often just such a truth that we do not want to face. Often even if we want to, we find that we just can’t get our minds, or arms, around it.
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The discomfort we spare ourselves now we reap later in unresolved sorrow. The Greek word catharsis refers to the release of an emotion that needs to be released. Loved ones of a deceased person stand in need of the cleansing experience of catharsis, and this especially through the fitting expression of sorrow.
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The common emphasis on ‘celebrating the life’ of the deceased can in practice both invalidate the need and remove the occasions for mourning. We are coached and coaxed to look on the bright side, and then when it is all over we find ourselves ill-prepared to face life without the deceased. We know we need to mourn, but we deprive ourselves of many of the best contexts for mourning. Such as an open-holed, dirt-moving burial.
Posted by Jill Fallon at December 11, 2013 9:28 AM | Permalink