So, are cremation procedures changing with the times? Are funeral services, memorial services and burials keeping pace with societal evolution?
The answer to those questions is paradoxical — yes, the times are changing in deathcare. And no, the basics are still the same.
Let us explain.
Keep in mind we are talking about rites that are essentially time immemorial. These go back to staging final ceremonies that were designed to please the gods as well as providing safe passage to the next world.
The Greeks would place a coin called an obolus in the mouth of the deceased: the notion being that it would be needed to pay the ferryman as the soul was transported across a river to the next world.
Romans wore black, marched in a procession and performed other rituals which are in practice today.
Some burial practices grew out of the belief in ghosts. These practices warded off any dreaded, unwelcome apparitions.
We recently wrote in this space about mummies and how various articles were placed by them to aid in the deceased’s journey. Of course, the embalming procedures used by the Egyptians were so advanced that it has taken centuries to understand them.
In some cultures, mourners walk backward and wear their clothing inside out — an acknowledgement of the belief that in death, everything is opposite that which happens in life.
Cremation also has a history colored by ancient cultural hues.
Vikings placed the dead in boats, set them on fire and sent them off to sea.
There are those who cremated their loved ones and placed them in common burial ground, or burial waters — the Ganges come to mind.
In some cases, it was not uncommon for loved ones to throw themselves upon funeral pyres to be consumed with the departing souls.
It is not surprising that in 2018 we find ourselves with different views about cremations and funerals than ones that previously existed — even ones that existed in the not so distant past.
For example, customized ceremonies have really become customized today.
Services are held where certain phrases (“he’s in a better place”) are forbidden. Emphasis there is put upon a contemporary review of the loved one’s life where afterlife assumptions are private.
Funeral directors who work with Martin Oaks Cemetery (we are located in Lewisville, Texas, the northern quadrant of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex) are quite open to this customization. In fact, they tell us that funerals have never been so individualized – and this has led to some very meaningful final goodbyes for all concerned.
In fact, this is a subjective judgment on our part, but it seems that conversations between family members and those in deathcare have never been so caringly frank.
Clients seem to feel freer to express their wishes, even when those wishes are completely non-traditional.
For instance, hymns and choirs, the norm not so many years ago, now are given a backseat to more current music, especially rock or country ballads.
In terms of cremation, families seem to want to witness the event or at least the precursor events prior to the cremation more frequently than even 10 years ago. Many say that this gives them closure to the end of life cycle.
But even as time alters the ceremonies and new generations step forward with their own particular feelings, the basics of deathcare are same as they were in the days of the Greeks.
We are there for the purpose of saying goodbye, remembering and grieving together.
While the emphasis may be placed in other, different areas, the prime purpose is to lay a loved one to rest. Or to cremate that loved one. Those processes do not change — it is how we go about it that changes.
There’s an old Peter Allen song that sums it up pretty well — “Everything Old is New Again.” New, different, but familiar because the foundation events herein never change.