Funeral for a Cracker

american, back view, burialMy family had a funeral to attend recently, and it was a Catholic one. My husband, who was not much of a churchgoer growing up, expressed surprise at how much of the funeral mass was–well, mass. The nonstop Jesus talk, the same repetitive prayers, the call and response, the sit-stand-kneel, then a homily and prayers that had more to do with the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist (holy communion) than anything else. The deceased was barely mentioned, except to talk about Catholic teaching on heaven, hell, and salvation. This was not in any way meant to memorialize the person, only to send them off to heaven.

We found ourselves wondering, is this how we’ll be commemorated when we die? We hope not. The opportunities for true morning and community, for remembering the deceased, were constantly interrupted to instruct on church doctrine regarding death.

The most personal moments that we found the most touching occurred at the wake, where relatives shared photos of the deceased and talked about their memories of his life. This was a somewhat estranged relative in his later years, so we also talked about how that estrangement occurred, and together we came to terms with it.

But my uncle, who did the funerary arrangements, also made sure we had a priest come and do some speaking and ceremonious prayers at the wake, and that cut the personal commemorations short. Suddenly we were being preached to. Preached at, even. I know the salvation talk is comforting to religious people, but to me it was downright jarring. I wanted to hear more about what little we knew about this relative’s childhood and earlier life. This relative fought in World War II. What was that like?

After the prayers, my aunt mentioned she hasn’t been to church in a while but wanted to start going again. Death does that to people, and the church makes sure to be very present during these moments when we’re reminded of our mortality because it claims to offer a way to live forever. I’ve talked about this before: belief in an afterlife is a coping mechanism. I don’t think it’s a healthy way to do it, but it is one way humans deal with their mortality.

The way we morn is also extremely unnatural. We prep the body to make it look better, and to preserve it long enough for relatives to stare at it for a couple of days. My relative had cancer and was very thin in his final days, but the embalmer had done something to make his body look healthier. We spend so much money on viewing a body. So much energy. As human beings, we’re very bad at facing the realities of what death means. We don’t like to imagine our relatives decomposing. This got very morbid but it’s true. I think there’s got to be a better way for us to come to terms with the end of someone’s life.

Do you have experiences with death and mourning in a religious or nonreligious setting? Were there any traditions that you thought helped the families especially?

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome, just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!




10 thoughts on “Funeral for a Cracker

  1. I’m Catholic and I don’t want my funeral to be about my life. I want it to be about Jesus and the Resurrection. Catholic Theology believe that the mass is a participation in the same sacrifice of Christ’s crucifixion, in a manner of speech; it’s a view of the Liturgy of Heaven—a perfect Christian sense of leisure. My life is in service to the body of Christ; a journey of sanctification hopefully to my Lord.

    And as St Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians, If Jesus did not rise from the dead than our hope is in vain.


    • That makes sense since you’re a person of faith. But who are funerals for? Are they for the person who passed? Or are they to help the families move on? Because I don’t believe in afterlife, I see them more as a ritual for the people they’ve left behind.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Since you’re non-theist, as I gather, it makes sense for you to view it in such away. I think though, if we were family on a human side, I’d try to honor your last wishes all the same. I know that can open a can of worms, but I think there is value in morning for doing one last thing for those we love.


  2. One of the worst funerals I’ve been to in recent years was, surprisingly, Methodist. Too much of the service was about god and Jesus, when it should have been about my deceased friend. But his wife was one of the pastors at the church, so there wasn’t any real way to object. And I had to sing in the chorus for it (it’s complicated) so there I was right up front, having to pretend that I went along with all of that nonsense. I came home feeling much crappier than if I hadn’t gone.

    One of the best funerals I’ve been to was a Jewish funeral. The service itself was mostly talking about the person who died, with talks from her husband and kids about how great she was. Then we all went to the graveyard. The coffin was just a simple wooden box, and there was a pile of dirt and a couple of shovels waiting for us. The coffin was lowered, a few words were said, and then everybody there took turns with the shovels filling in as much dirt as we wanted to. None of this little handful of dirt stuff, we really put our backs into it. Apparently this is considered a good deed, you are doing one last thing for the deceased that they cannot do for themselves. And it was really a better way of saying goodbye than the sterile religion-filled christian burial services.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment, Ubi! I didn’t know anything about the Jewish burial traditions. That sounds like quite an experience. That act of putting dirt on the coffin sounds like it would feel very final–maybe in a good way. It was strange, at the Catholic burial, to toss a flower in a ditch in front of the casket, and then leave.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. While as a deconverted catholic I want nothing to do with a mass, I have to say I prefer the impersonal funerals the catholic church puts on. I have attended many modern funerals where various people were expected to speak and share, and this doesn’t always go well. Some were very close to the deceased but felt obligated to publically speak at a time of extreme grief…it ended up being a pile of sobs while standing at a podium with a microphone amplifying their cries. I’ve also run into the problem where there wasn’t a lot of good things to be said of the deceased, and that makes for a very awkward situation indeed. I’ve seen picture boards where they put up photos of the deceased having done exciting things or going on fancy trips, but not everyone gets a chance to do things like that. Some people don’t have a great life or a high quality of life (perhaps due to illness or disability), and it’s just difficult for everyone to try and make it look like a satisfying life was lived.

    My instructions to my husband are to cremate me and skip the service entirely. He can throw my ashes in the garden and spend the day doing whatever he wants…maybe talking to my relatives, maybe hiking alone on my favorite prairie, maybe eating cake (my favorite food). I want no forced social rituals at the end of my life, be it mass, a modern funeral, or a “living” funeral. Yuk to all. I don’t understand why we pay $10,000+ to do funerals at all, but I guess some people find it comforting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Violet! I see your point about how the more personal funerals could go wrong. And these things are absolutely grueling in addition to being sad affairs. Seeing how long some relatives were there between the wake, casket closing, funeral, and burial, that’s a long time during a difficult time in your life to be talking to people and making arrangements. It’s a bit crazy to me that we expect so much of the people in mourning. Maybe no ceremony of any kind would be better.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your comment about the relative with cancer reminded me of when a friend of mine died when I was young. He’d been in a terrible accident and died from head trauma, but the family went through the expense of having him fixed up so there was an open casket. Perhaps it has to do with the Christian idea that our bodies will be perfected in heaven? Not sure. I would rather have just remembered him as he was.


    • That’s an interesting thought. It might be. The funeral industry is also a pretty predatory one and thinking back I’ve only ever been to one funeral that wasn’t an open casket so I wonder if it’s common for families to feel obligated to make it happen if it’s at all possible/doesn’t conflict with the wishes of the deceased.

      Liked by 1 person

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