You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

November 2, 2007

death schmeath (and funeral schmuneral)

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 1:25 pm

[Tres Calaveras from Ladislao Loera]

November 2nd is celebrated as Dia de Los Muertos — the Day of the Dead — in Mexico and throughout the Southwestern United States, while November 1st is Dia de Los Angelitos, a day to remember children who have died (see our prior post on Dias de Los Muertos, from 2005)   Graphic artist Ladislao Loera explains the related rituals:

“Pictures of the deceased are placed on Dia de los Muertos altars with their favorite food and drink. Candles to light their way home, and soap and water to freshen-up after their long trip back are also often placed on altars. Trinkets they were fond of, symbols they would understand, and gifts are left to communicate to them that they are always in the hearts of those they left behind, and that they are still part of the family even though they aren’t physically with us any longer.”

That’s an interesting — and healthy — contrast to the fearful ways in which Euro-centric peoples relate to death. Even when we do remember the dead, it is often with dread, with a fervent need to worry about and pray/bargain for their salvation, or with a bit of self-pity for our own losses associated with their dying. For example, the superficially similar custom of the Celts, described in The Writer’s Almanac‘s mini-history of Halloween (October 31, 2007), had them putting “food and wine on their doorstep for the spirits of family members who had come back to visit the home.” But, the gesture seems to have been more one of appeasement — to avoid mistreatment — rather than welcome.

Day of the Dead –
grandma passes grandpa
the olive platter

…………………………….. by dagosan [Nov. 4, 2005]

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has this description of the spirit of Los Dias de los Muertos:

“Although many cultures see death as a cause for sadness rather than celebration, the cultures that observe Los Dias de Los Muertos do not: Death is not seen as something to be faced with fear but as the doorway to other levels of existence. It is believed that during Los Dias de Los Muertos the souls of the dead return to visit the living – a cause for celebation — just like the welcome given a dear friend or relative who visits after a long time away.

Our fear and/or denial of death has many ramifications in the West. One is the surprisingly-widespread failure to write or update a will, despite a great dislike of governmental intrusion in the distribution of our posthumous estate (see our nudge to write your will at shlep, on Sept. 11, 2006). It also means that very few people give serious thought, and even fewer give definitive voice, to their wishes as to their own funeral or memorial service.

That’s why I applaud Idealawg‘s Stephanie West Allen’s creation of Create a Great Funeral Day, which she celebrates on October 30th. Indeed, I believe it would be a socially useful and psycho-spiritually healthy custom to throw Create a Great Funeral parties for friends and family (or, to call it a seminar or retreat and do it with work colleagues) on October 30th, or around the Days of the Dead.

Stephanie says there are “So many advantages to designing your own funeral or memorial service, regardless or your age or state of health! These advantages and benefits include:”

•A gift to your family and other loved ones •A gift to yourself •An expression of your personality, values and life •A new awareness •Improved long-term choices •Better day-to-day decisions •A fresh perspective

To help you organize and follow-through with creating your great service, Stephanie has developed “a step-by-step guide to walk you through the process of planning — a complete funeral or memorial service designing workshop in a book.” See “Creating Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service: A Workbook” (1998; reviewed at Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog) She and I invite you to click through the preview of the downloadable book at, to learn more about how and why we should each work out a detailed personal Funeral Or Memorial Service [FOMS]. To get you started, here’s a checklist of things to think about:

— Your Trustee, Purpose or Purposes of My FOMS, A Funeral or a Memorial Service?,
— A Final Rite, Your Body, The Role of the Funeral Director, Structure of My FOMS,
— Music, Readings, Eulogy, Passing On Roles, Life Storytelling, Plants and Flowers,

— Ceremony, People of My FOMS, Pallbearers, Order, Program, Dress, FOMS Procession,
— Social Event, When Will My FOMS Be Held?, Physical Location, Geographical Location,
— Guest Book, Memory Display, Altar, Photos or Tapes of My FOMS, Invitations, Difficult Situations,
— Computer Technology, Cost of My FOMS,

This post is meant to be a nag and nudge for myself. If I’m still unmarried (or living alone) at my death, I especially owe it to my family and friends to leave guidance for them. At this point, I’ve done little focused thinking about my FOMS, and mostly know what I do not want:

  • no religious ceremony, and certainly no Catholic/Christian Burial Mass (I have not considered myself a Catholic since circa 1970, and I most certainly do not consider myself to be some spiritually-miserable wretch of a sinner, unworthy to be in the presence of the Creator)
  • no large array of flowers (save the money for your favorite charity, please)
  • no organized prayers (or votive candles) meant to buy my way out of Purgatory or somehow spare me from eternal damnation (a just God does not base such things on how many prayers others say for my poor soul; I’ll take my chances based on the life I’ve led)
  • but– don’t get me wrong — I in no way want to discourage individuals who really want to pray in my memory, or for my immortal soul from doing so, at the times and places of their choosing

Otherwise, I confess that I have not yet thought things through (e.g., where to be laid to rest — which city, much less which cemetery). Except, I surely hope that one or more of my talented friends will sing “excitable boyWarren Zevon‘s farewell song “Keep Me in Your Heart for Awhile” at my service (on dvd). Including these lines:

Sometimes when you’re doing simple things around the house
Maybe you’ll think of me and smile

You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for awhile


Hold me in your thoughts, take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you

What about you? You’ve got some thinkin’ and some ‘splainin’ to do — for your own sake and that of your kith and kin. Yes, you!

“Get ready, get ready diabloLoera
for death!”
cherry blossoms

timing his death
extremely well…
the Buddha

………………………… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

cherry blossoms
the one that falls
on mother’s headstone

an amber crow sits behind
the altar glass

father’s eulogy…
it’s not the first commandment
i’ve shattered

. . . . . …………….. . . by ed markowski diabloLoeraN

home from the funeral
hands in the dishwater suds

black panites–
she lifts one leg,
then an eyebrow

estate auction–
can’t get my hand back out
of the cookie jar

…………….. by Randy Brooks, from School’s Out (Press Here, 1999)

dia de los muertos —
the anorexic looks

…………………………………………………… dagosan

p.s. Matters of Life and Death (almost): Ed at Blawg Review reminds us all to vote for the Best Law Blog in the 2007 weblog poll. While, I want to remind you to spend some time with the newest edition of The Complete Lawyer (Vol. 3 #6, November 2007), with its focus this time on Viewing the Law in 2020. Especially thoughtful (and somewhat related to this post) is “Elder Law Attorneys Can Help Humanize The Future Of Health Care,” by Florida Elder Law attorney Charles F. Robinson. Charlie says there are three ways elder lawyers can help: Take personal financial responsibility; become politically active and be visible. He also explains:

“Elder law attorneys and estate planners must budget long-term care into client estate and financial plans. Once a person makes age 60, she or he has a 60% likelihood of needing long-term care. Instead of planning for death, as we traditionally have, we need to plan for life, taking into account the strong probability that each client will have chronic illness. It is foolish to believe that government benefits will adequately provide for seniors and the disabled by the year 2020.”

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for this article. Others like it are needed! It helped me realize I’d do my children a favor if I go ahead and plan my own funeral as much as possible. They can always change my plans, but at least they would know the kind of service I’d like. Maybe this would give them the guts to actually do it.

    Comment by Mary Newton — November 3, 2007 @ 8:49 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress