Friday, February 26, 2010

make an ash out of yourself

Since Ash Wednesday occurred just last week, the phrase taken from Genesis 3:19 should be fresh in your mind: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”.

Broadly interpreted, it’s a reminder that we all came from humble beginnings, and all that we accomplish in life is meaningless unless we prepare properly for the next stage of our existence.

The T-shirt saying above is actually a bit conservative, since we actually share 50% of our DNA with a banana, and 98% of our genes with a chimpanzee.
When Al Capone’s rival, Dion O'Banion, was gunned down in his flower shop across the street from Holy Name Cathedral on November 10, 1924, his family spared no expense in laying him to rest. His casket cost $10,000, and the funeral procession to Mount Carmel Cemetery was a mile long, with 26 cars and trucks just to carry the flowers. The procession and burial included 15,000 mourners.

Ironically, O’Banion is buried in Mt. Carmel, just a short distance from Capone’s grave, and both men are just a short walk from the final resting place of a number of the former Archbishops of the Diocese of Chicago.

At some point in time, I came to the realization that having a “traditional” burial makes about as much sense as O’Banion’s lavish funeral did in 1924. In today’s dollars, his casket would have cost $127,000, more than I paid for my last house in 1986.

Both of my parents, and my father-in-law, are buried at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery in St. Paul. Although I now live about 400 miles from the cemetery, the times that I’ve been there have been comforting, since it gave me a chance to “talk” with my parents and father-in-law again. After my dad died, my mother actually drove to the cemetery to consult with him about a car purchase that she was considering.

I’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery twice in my life, and will admit that the place does produce a feeling of both awe and gratitude. I recently learned that the property was originally stolen from the crippled wife of an Army general, which doesn’t diminish its importance as a national cemetery.

The problem that I see with traditional burials is the trips to the cemetery are normally very infrequent, which makes it more difficult to “keep in contact” with the departed.

I’ve long considered having a VERY traditional Irish wake (Bushmills and all), and may still somehow manage to carry it off when I go to my reward in about 40 years. What I’m opposed to, though, is putting my old Irish body in a box and planting it in the ground somewhere.

Cremation has been practiced since the time of the Ancient Greeks.

Cremation rates vary widely from country to country. In India, cremation is nearly universal due to the high number of Hindus and Buddhists, but the rate is also surprisingly high (71%) in England and Denmark. The percentage drops dramatically in countries that have a high percentage of Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic adherents.

In 2010, the average cost of a funeral in America is $7000, but prices can vary widely by region. Most of the funerals that I’ve attended in the Midwest were considerably more expensive.

In contrast, the Cremation Society of Illinois charges $1295 for a cremation. Although the containers available from the society are elegant and tasteful, anyone whose ancestors came from Ireland should at least consider the products that are available from a company called The Irish Wake.

Although I plan to be around for a few more decades, it’s not too soon to start thinking about the “proper disposal of my remains” when I go to that great bicycle trail in the sky.

Since I’ve already lived “three score and two” years, I feel that I’ve URNed the right to decide what the Tom Brennan of the future will become.

1 comment:

  1. Baha'is do not practice cremation, but sometimes it happens when relatives unhappy with the departed's choice of religion get involved with the funeral. "Get over it!" is good advice in that case.

    You have access to the Baha'i Law (Kitab-i-Aqdas), so there is no question about interpretation of scripture. There are more resources to read in Baha'i Scriptures about life after death, and our spiritual awareness of this physical world.

    The fundamental, as I understand it, is that we are spiritually aware of our separation from the physical body after death. Those moments and days immediately following death can be a distraction, but the worst of it is attachment to things we can do nothing about, like caring for the grieving loved ones, and concern about material wealth. One's spiritual being in those moments should be directed to the Lord. That's what Baha'i Prayers for the Departed do. The tradition is as old as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to immediately pray for the departed to turn that spiritual being away from all attachment to the physical life.