Today I facilitated a funeral at a cemetery in Makawao. It was for a member of our community who was a naturopath who has helped many people on the islands and all over the world. He also was very involved with the local, sustainable agriculture communities.
The part of the story I wish to tell here is about the presence of a young boy, who I’ll call Banyon. Having never met Banyon, I checked in with him, said, “Hi.” He nodded back, and I was immediately touched by his innocence and purity. I don’t know if this was his first burial, but those qualities stood out to me in those moments. Doing my best not to embarrass him, I thanked him in front of everyone for being there with us at the graveside. I thanked his mom, who was there with him. Surely, she and maybe Banyon, had a relationship with the dead man laying inside the casket that rested on boards above the grave.
Sometimes people ask me about whether to bring their child to a funeral where a dead body will be in attendance, either for viewing, or inside of a casket. Could it be harmful or somehow damage their child, they ask? To me, this question reveals something about our culture’s dysfunctional relationship with death.
Too many adults have never been around a dead body. That makes it ‘unfamiliar’ and unfamiliar often leads to discomfort and fear.
Discomfort and fear often lead to avoidance, aversion, denial, and resistance. Does that sound like your relationship with your eventual death? It certainly is the cultural norm where we distract ourselves in numerous ways to avoid one of the most known truths.
What could we possibly be protecting our children from?
Yes, of course, sometimes a dead body is in a condition that few need to see. That’s pretty rare and in those cases there are no public viewings, only a ‘closed casket’.
Studying nature is a great place to make friends with death. We can easily see how life and death need each other.
Now I come back to experiencing the innocence and purity still intact in that young child. For me, this is a life affirming sign at a time in the world when innocence and purity are on the run. Its presence at this burial ceremony added to the power of the experience all attendants had at the graveside.
Image Credit: Doorway Into Light