Friday, February 13, 2004

bell doesn't ring anymore for you and me

Watching the Civil War movie yesterday, I thought about 19th Century attitudes about death and dying.

Victorian era folk were as florid about death as they were everything else. I am sure most of us have seen examples of funeral art from that time, ranging from sculptured tombstones to embroidered images of angels weeping over the grave of a lost child.

It took the 20th century to remove death from us. Before, folk died at home. Now we go away to die, in a strange place, separated from family and friends. Before, bodies were laid out on the dining room table. There was an article in the New York Times this week about how funeral homes have seen a decline in funeral attendance and how they have been encouraging new forms of services to replace former religious practices, ranging from videos about the deceased to the release of white doves.

I grew up in a world with open casket funerals, and I am not a big fan of them, but there is at least some honesty in dealing with the fact that people die. We all will die. Perhaps our protracted stages of death and dying result less from denial than from an emotional and physical removal.

In our parish choir, I've sang for a few funerals, and I must say that I am always moved by the experience in unexpected ways, particularly in the funerals of people that I don't know. Part of it is witnessing the loss of the surviving family and friends. Part of it is in acknowledging my own mortality as well as that of my loved ones and friends as well as in sharing in the hope of the resurrection.

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