This past month many on our continent have faced many natural disasters in one form or another. We have seen wild fires, hurricanes and earthquakes. Some of these came with warnings and some did not. We witness a great deal of destruction and great deal of human compassion in the face of tragedy. What I find so fascinating about us humans is that we are at the same time fragile and resilient. In one situation, we can stand in the face of adversity, but in the next breath we just might not be able to endure. We just do not know and we can never know for sure. Sometimes we are caught off guard and our lives are changed forever. Sometimes we can plan everything and our plan goes wrong. I ask that we take a moment and remember those who did not survive this disastrous month of September. Take a moment to think about how fragile our lives are. Take a moment and think about the fact that we are more alike than we are different. What we could change in our world if we just took a moment to remember who we are? What could we do if we just decided to remember what strength we all have within ourselves? Everywhere disasters struck this last month still faces a long uphill battle to restore functioning lives. Take the opportunity to act in any way that presents itself to aid those in need. Remember we are all in this life together.
Halloween time has hit the stores. We are still over a month away, yet when you enter any store you are hit with displays of candy and decorations. I personally love dressing up and carving pumpkins. Our old neighborhood in Hamilton always came together on Halloween night. Houses were decorated and we chatted from porch to porch as trick-or-treaters filed up our walk ways. We could talk about how Halloween helps people deal with the tragedy of death by giving them a chance to make it something easily dealt with by playing with ghosts and skeletons. Perhaps by dressing up and playing with scary things we can learn not to fear death very much. Perhaps this is a good thing. I do not know. But, what has struck me this year is how we seem to embrace death to the point of romanticizing and belittling it. When I see Halloween displays this year, I think that maybe we have lost touch with the deep pain death can cause. By romanticizing death perhaps we have done the same thing as sweeping it under the rug. Maybe going so far one direction by making death fun and entertaining we have still lost touch with the tragedy we face when we lose someone. As our society moves towards a romantic idea of death, we are still so far away from dealing with the reality of death. Maybe while you are hanging your new store bought skeleton this year, take a moment and think about what you are doing.
What a force the conventional death care industry has become! Sometimes looking at the state of the conventional death care industry, we might feel that we can do nothing to change the status quo. Many of us might think that we can do little against such an adversary, but we can make a change. We can all speak to our friends and loved ones about death and our rights, and that is all well and good. However, some of us feel that we can do more and we can. Death Cafes allow local people to meet and discuss all kinds of topics associated with death. You can start your own. Check out their site. They have great resources.
Some might want to work directly with loved ones assisting them with the process of death, preparation of the body and memorials. If this is you, you might be interested in becoming a death doula. It this speaks to you, contact the National Home Funeral Alliance. The internet offers many options for training, but the national office would best direct anyone interested in beginning this work.
Perhaps these two options do not fit what you might feel you want to do. Perhaps you belong to a religious or spiritual community and your traditions fall outside what the conventional death care industry likes to do. For me as an Orthodox Christian living in Illinois where my loved ones must hire a funeral director, I know that having a traditional funeral will be difficult but not impossible. I suggest if you belong to a spiritual community, perhaps you can begin a ministry or task force to help those at the time of death and following. If you are the leader of such a community, I highly suggest you begin looking for people within the community who can do this work.
People every day face the death care industry and have to navigate a way through all the roadblocks set up by the sales people within the industry. Maybe you are not one who can take a step outside the norm and help change the face of death care. Maybe you are. Maybe you have thought about doing something to help change death care in our society. If you are, make a plan and then take small steps forward. You might find that this is the work that fills your heart.
Twenty years ago this week, the world lost two strong and beautiful women – Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. The public memorialization for these two women these last few months strikes me. In no way could I ever fault anyone for having a fascination for Princess Diana. I have found her fascinating since she became engaged to Prince Charles in 1981. For months now however, the media in this country has promoted a wide variety of documentaries about Princess Diana’s life and death. We have been treated to all the glories and tragedies of her life. At the same time, the media falls silent about the other great woman who died twenty years ago this week – Mother Teresa. Where are her documentaries? She took up poverty in order to serve those in poverty. What awesome work she did too! How remarkable I find this conspicuous disparity between two great women. Does this demonstrate our societal interest? Are we more interested in tragic loss of a princess than remembering a great nun? Are we not interested in learning more about the self-sacrificing love of a nun who changed the world? She was not a Princess. She was just a woman who gave her life to loving those who have no one to love them. Do we really not want to look at her life and remember the many wonderful acts of love she committed? Does looking at the life of Mother Teresa make us so uncomfortable? I do not know.