Today I went to a funeral for one of my uncles. He was 86 when he died, a veteran, Connecticut resident, and businessman.
I come from a fairly large family which has — as so many families tend to do — fractured into disparate shards due to distance, growing apart, or foolish feuds from men and women locked into perpetual emotional adolescence. Large families tend to die off in batches, and consequently, I have lost many, many aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.
As a result, I’ve attended lots of funerals. And I despise the way they’re handled.
American funerals are, for the most part, a dehumanizing bleach of the dearly departed. They are a two-hour commercial for religion. They are a mindless chant, a tribal murmur, an oddly primitive ritual of gongs, songs, and meaningless Bible passages. They reduce the dead into a great big nothing.
What would I prefer?
How about a circle of family and friends sharing episodes of the deceased person’s life? I knew my uncle in the nephew-uncle dynamic. I would like to hear stories about what he was like as a brother, a husband, a young soldier, a pool player, a dancer, and an employer. I would like to know (from those who can tell) what he was like as a teenager, a college student, a young entrepreneur, and a wizened old man. I have no idea what his favorite movie was, favorite color, choice meal, cherished vacation spot, political persuasion and what time of year brought the biggest smile to his face.
These are the things that SHOULD be discussed in place of a generic sales-pitch from the local priest. These are the items which best allow a family to bond, reflect, remember, and celebrate one’s life. Instead, we are herded into a charnel house in which we hear soulless platitudes of how the dearly departed was a “good Christian man” and how he was seen “in church every Sunday” and how he “grew up in Waterbury.” None of that describes a life; rather, it is a cardboard sketch of a notion or demographic.
I dislike death and will always — have always — been irritated by the short time human beings have on this planet. We deserve the lifespans of turtles and bristlecone pines. We could do more with such a span of centuries than a cold-blooded reptile or a damn plant. I have little doubt that we will address this injustice sooner or later.
But in the meantime… funerals. It would be nice if they could be taken back from the priests and returned to the people. They should be a time for speaking of someone’s life — their dreams, hopes, likes, dislikes, high points, disappointments, loves, fears, notes, photos, and everything else that defined a life.
We don’t have that now. Today’s funerals are a shamelessly proselytizing edit.