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I’ve Seen Dead People January 18, 2007

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in death, Family, Fear, Flatulence, Funerals, life, Love, Parenting/Children, Theology.
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The other day, Tiffany blogged about returning from the funeral of her husband’s grandfather (I can’t decide if “grandfather-in-law” makes any sense as a familial designation). As someone who wrote a blog entry titled “Putting the ‘Fun’ in Funeral,” I most likely have a different perspective. Instead of hijacking her blog (as I’ve done before) with a really long comment, I decided to link to it instead.

sixth_sense

I’ve seen a few dead people in my life.

Life and Death
At the outset, I should state that I’ve been to lots of funerals; some were Christian, and some where there was no clear indication of any faith experience from the family. I’ve heard jokes made about Baptists (by a famous, non-Baptist minister), and felt so much annoyance that I wanted to get up and walk out. I’ve heard sermons that I knew would have caused the deceased to want to bolt upright in the open casket and say “Oh give me a break!” I’ve also been there at the moment of death for several people, whether it’s at a hospital bed or on the floor of a restaurant bathroom. I’ve had to be the bearer of the heartbreaking news of death on more than one occassion.

Death is rarely like what you see on TV or movies. It’s frequently not pretty. Announcing it to family members and loved ones is, if anything, even worse. You rarely know how people will react to the death of someone they love.

Shaving, Taxes, and Hunting Crocs
Last week, I was watching Terri Irwin (Steve Irwin’s widow) talking about his life and death on “The Tonight Show.” In a very emotional moment, she mentioned that one of their children had seen her crying one day and said “Mom, why are you crying? Daddy’s still with us.”

Ignoring questions of theology, it’s emotionally healthy for all of us to recognize that, short of some kind of supernatural event (ala Enoch, Elijah, or the Second Coming… not the introduction of the iPhone), death goes hand-in-hand with life. Going to funerals and seeing the body reminds me that it is just that… a body.

Is it unhealthy for Steve Irwin’s children to have been exposed to the “circle of life” in the zoo, where they see animals born and die every day? I don’t think so. Should we intentionally expose our children to the process of death (with some of the details left for an appropriate age), in the same way we so gladly introduce them to the process of life (with details again left for an appropriate age)?

Death in Moderation
I think it’s appropriate to thoughtfully expose my children to life and death, even though I respect those who choose to shield their children from these realities. Yes, bodies rotting in the ground and decomposing slowly is a bit gross. (For more on how this happens to a non-embalmed body, I recommend “Stiff,” by Mary Roach.) Yes, watching a baby emerge from a woman’s vagina is unsettling and (in some ways) horrifying. (More on how this happens is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Now, keep in mind, wanting to expose my children to the reality of birth doesn’t necessarily mean putting them in the delivery room at age 5 (which they might confuse with death, based on the screams coming from the expectant mother), just as wanting to expose them to death doesn’t have to mean showing them the details of the embalming process. At the same time, we can do our children a favor by removing some of the mystery of death, and not by suggesting “she’s just asleep.”

A dead body is nothing more (or less) than where this person lived. It’s a vessel. Regardless of whether you choose to believe that the person’s soul continues to exist in some form or fashion postmortem, it’s hard for me to argue (as a Christian) that the shell has any value, other than possible organ donations.

I will admit, this perspective is one that I picked up from my parents, and specifically, from my Dad. After Mom died, my sister, my father and I went into the emergency room where she was officially pronounced dead (her heart had stopped beating 30 minutes before, in the restaurant). My Dad reached up from his wheelchair, touched Mom’s hand, shed a tear, and said “It’s time to go. My wife’s gone. This is just the body she lived in.”

Going Home
In this regard, I view going by the cemetery as somewhat akin to driving through my old neighborhood. If my parents had chosen cremation instead of burial, I would have been just as frustrated as if they had insisted that they tear down our old house as soon as they moved out. By tossing their remains into a casket and putting it into the ground (conveniently located near the expressway, I should add), I can periodically “drive by the old neighborhood.”

Just because they aren’t home doesn’t mean I don’t want to still drive by, smile at the memories, and jokingly say “Hey guys!” Afterwards, I can stop by at the Long John Silvers across from the cemetery and enjoy some of that greasy fish that Mom loved so much. 😀

P.S. The “Flatulence” tag for this post is not accidental. Read Mary Roach’s book for more detail. 😀

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Comments»

1. tiffanytaylor - January 18, 2007

I was with my dad about half an hour before he died. Then I went home (next door); the friend who was with my mom called to see that he was gone. I then experienced a prolonged mental struggle over whether to “say goodbye” to the body of my father. Maybe I should have thought it out long before; but it hadn’t occurred to me. In the end, I didn’t choose to see him when he was dead. I already have a huge store of horrific memories from the months when he was dying; I didn’t need to add one more. (Actually, I got one anyway: I was downstairs in the house, and heard the men carry him out — it was overwhelmingly devastating.)

I expect that I’m severely lacking in a healthy mental ability to deal with death. Heck, I can’t even deal with the dead squirrels my dogs regularly deliver to the door. Maybe as I get older I’ll develop a better coping mechanism.

2. Rose - January 19, 2007

I remember my parents taking me to the funeral home at a very young age..mainly for visitation of church members who were far removed from me. I just associated going to OD White & Sons as a place where they still have 5 cent cokes, of which I asked for every time we went. 🙂 But, I do remember seeing the bodies in the casket and having my Mom explain it all to me.

Some people may feel like that’s not a place for a young tender child to go, but I will say, when I had to say good-bye to my Mom when she passed from this world to her Heavenly home, it was still not something I wanted to face, but she sure had prepared me to face it.

3. rootless - January 30, 2007

Lovely essay. My mom loves fried fish, too.

And thanks for dropping by my blog and commenting.


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