Exit strategy

Charles 1 Comment

It seems unthinkable that the practice of direct cremation, direct burial – the rapid and unceremonious disposal of the dead – could land on our shores. It’s been preying on my mind. Now I’m not so sure.

Here’s a view from Rabbi Mark S Glickman writing in the Seattle Times about what he calls the “desire to de-emphasize or avoid focusing on death”:

My Aunt Margie died a few weeks ago. And now that she’s gone, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.

I hadn’t seen Aunt Margie very often for the past several years, but we were very close when I was a boy. She had a kind smile, she took genuine interest in our lives, and it was rumored that nations had gone to war just to get a piece of her famous chocolate roll. My brothers and I did, too.

Aunt Margie lived near San Francisco, and as her death approached, I began making plans to go to her funeral. I was attending a conference in Southern California. Maybe I could reroute my return trip through the Bay Area.

The call finally came when I was in Santa Monica, just before lunch. I was enjoying the warmth and the sunshine, but then my mother’s name flashed onto my cellphone screen. Yes, Aunt Margie had died. The end was peaceful. In accordance with her wishes, there would be no burial rites. Her body would be cremated without ceremony.

No funeral? Not even a memorial service? But … but … she had just died! What was I supposed to do? I felt like I needed to do something about her death — to honor her, to memorialize her somehow. Was I supposed to just go on as if nothing had happened?

He concludes:

Judaism teaches that a spark of God burns within every human soul, and that, therefore, when a person dies, a part of God dies, too. The divine presence shrinks with the death of every human being.

In response, after a person dies, Jews recite the Kaddish, our prayer of mourning, in an attempt to restore God’s presence to the world. “Yitgadal v’yitkadash shmei rabbah,” it begins, “May God’s great name be magnified and sanctified.”

I won’t presume to tell you how you should mourn your loved ones’ deaths, or what preparations you should make for your own. I will, however, encourage you to remember that human life is awesome and mysterious; that a person’s death is often sad and always significant; and that we mourn best when our actions reflect these great truths.

My dear Aunt Margie has died. The sun no longer shines quite as brightly as it used to. May God’s great name be magnified and sanctified.

Read the entire piece here.

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[…] seem not to have been wholly persuaded, however, for in March 2010 I wrote: It seems unthinkable that the practice of direct cremation … could land on our […]