Ashes to Ashes
Unfortunately, the only rites of passage that we elders know much more about are funerals. We attend them too frequently. If humor’s a part of these essays, what’s so funny about death? Of course, we are depressed, unless we are just attending to be seen. Or because we have to, not wish to.
Many of us are not regular church or temple goers save for a few special holidays. The latest facts show more Americans commingling their religions in their marriages and man finding their faith in a secular humanism. Quite often, we really don’t know our Reverends and they do not know us. They stand before the gathered flock reading parts of the old or New Testament, offering a formal solace we buy into or not, we sing a hymn or two, and then they try to say something special about a departed they hardly, if ever, knew.
Now that’s the deadly part. It is obvious that he or she cannot make up words about somebody neither knew. Maybe a relative or friend has told them about the departed. But the comments are stilted, too formal, to placing our loved lost ones in an ethereal goodness far from their true lives. We fidget in a pew, maybe look at our spouse in despair.
And, of course, there is no mention of a formal or unique or funny incident. Our friend is placed in the firmament on high as stable and solid and unreal as an inlaid casket. There’s a famous joke of Patty and Mike at the open casket funeral of their friend O’Malley. As the priest gave special praise to the dear departed, Patty said, “Mike, you better go up and take a look, it can’t be O’Malley.”
Harry Reasoner, the TV newscaster, on the death of Dwight D Eisenhower, said it best, and I quote a few of his comments.
“Very few of us are satisfied with funerals. We are often offended by the rhetoric of praise from those who knew our friend less well than we… It irritates us that someone thinks it necessary to prevent pretend our friend was faultless one faultlessness was not what we loved him for… We would often preferred to grieve and lonely silence and conduct our own ceremony and probably contemplation… Funerals are for the living and not the dead and perhaps they are necessary. When they are over, you dry your tears and return to your work, and if there were no funerals there would never be a time to stop crying.”
A dear friend died too early in his 30s. He was Episcopalian, his wife Catholic, and she had going to help in Selma during the riots with a congregational minister. All three pretty lights were to speak. His children were young, and one went up front with flowers pick from their garden. That brought out all the handkerchiefs until the priest who did not know Pete commented on his gravitas. Pete had no gravitas and, if he even knew its meaning, would have abolished it. But good for the good Father. The absurdity brought tears of quiet laughter throughout. It was cathartic.
And remember. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. If the Camels don’t get you, the Fatimas must.”
Amen to that.
Reprinted with permission
“Life Begins at 70”
by Gerald G. Hotchkiss
c. 2015 Sunstone Press
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