A decent burial must respect the person who has died. It must reflect his or her beliefs about life and death. We have all heard about Joan Rivers’ funeral with all the fanfare of a Hollywood event. For her, that was a perfect and decent burial. Through my work in the cemetery and meeting people through our events with the Midwest Green Burial Society, I know that each one of us has a specific idea about our final wishes. Some of them are very interesting. Some people really do not want their bodies to go back to the earth and are afraid of the elements reaching their bodies. For me, I do not ever want to be put in a mausoleum because I don’t know how I would get out. I realize that just does not make much sense, but there you have it.
Maybe the question is: What is a bad burial? Maybe a bad burial is one that takes place without much forethought. Maybe it is one where afterwards the family realizes they have spent too much money on what they did not want to or need to have for a beautiful and meaningful event. Maybe a bad burial is one that does not reflect the person’s ideals or way of life. Maybe a bad burial is one where families fight over little things because they do not realize how their grief has affected them.
Perhaps the question should be: What is a shameful burial? Are they burials that take place because the family does not have the money to bury? I don’t think so. I think a shameful burial is one where the system fails, when laws do not allow families to fill out forms for burial because they do not have an education to embalm, or when there are not affordable options open to them. The shame is on our society, not the families. How can we allow our fellow citizens the difficult task to bury their loved ones by crowd sourcing the bill? How did we get to a place where an average funeral is $10,000.00 before cemetery costs? I think this has everything to do with our fear of death and our fear of talking about death. Since death is such a difficult topic for so many of us, we are willing to stand by while the price of a conventional burial rises so far out of reach. It seems too ridiculous to me that the average cost is so high, and I wonder who can really afford to die these days, and why are there not more accessible means available for us?
When I think of the many funerals and burials I have been to, I know that they have all received decent burials surrounded by those who loved them. We all gathered, prayed with those who pray, listened to poetry with those who did not. In the end, we all told stories, wept and remembered the person who had died. To me, a decent burial is one where people gather and love each other in their grief. What is it that they want when they want a decent burial? Ultimately, I think this can only be answered on a personal level. The trouble comes in when our ideas clash with the conventional death care industry and our pocketbooks. I would like to see more variety for families making plans so that they do not have to go into debt simply because someone they love has died. I would like to see more support within faith communities, and social communities to help support their members in grief. It might be asking too much for a revolution in the hearts of our society to turn and face the fact of death and help those around us to make simple and decent choices. I hope not. I hope we can mature enough to break free from our fear and love those in need. In the end, a decent burial is what you decide to think of as a decent burial; it does not have to be what convention dictates to us.