I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our society’s conventional approaches to death. I’m not talking about the variety of religious rites that we engage in, but specifically the dichotomy between cremation and embalming. On one hand we wish to preserve a body for as long as we can and on the other hand we seek to break it down into ash and smoke as quickly as possible. I find that fascinating. Why is it that we choose one extreme or the other? On both sides, we have built up romantic ideas of death. Cremation is the ultimate letting go of the physical world while the other – embalming- preserves the body “as if asleep”. One speeds up the breaking down of a body, where the other seems almost a denial of the death of the physical body. We seem to be bound to these opposing ideas, and I am left wondering why we need to go to such extremes to care for the body after death. Why don’t we want to simply clean the body and place the body in the earth- perhaps wrapped in a shroud? By doing this, the body returns to the earth naturally and provides nourishment for nature. Perhaps we do not wish to look directly at the reality of death – the tragic, horrible reality of death. One day we will die and our bodies will begin to decay. We cannot stop that process. Some are beginning to turn from the corporate death care industry and choose alternatives such as death doulas and green burial. Maybe if we can begin let go of these elaborate means of dealing with the body after death and deal more with the truth of death, we can begin to make changes in the industry as a whole.
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