For this reason I have decided to breach the subject of DEATH in two or even three installments.
"The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens and nothing is esxpected of you."
I recently attended the funeral of my wife’s aunt. It is not the first funeral I have attended, but the first commercial funeral I have attended in a long time. That funeral and my approaching birthday (no. 72) have me rethinking about death; and how death is handled by different cultures and how it is perceived by different individuals. As I have said before: Death is the final debt we owe to nature for our time alive on this earth – but that’s bull shit. I don’t question so much why I must die; but the real question seems to be why have I lived?
The only answer I can surmise seems to be that at some random point in time, one of the millions of sperms in one of my fathers random ejaculations (who ever the hell he was) happened to connect with a random egg passing through my mothers uterus. The whole thing seems perfectly random: I am here via the butterfly effect described in the Chaos Theory. I am a random male, that had a random birth, that has made random choices in life, that has led me to be a random old man, expecting a random death at sometime in the random future.
Without getting any more metaphysical than that, in the following post I will write about how death is handled in our culture, and how it differs from the death rituals I experienced while living in the Indian and Eskimo villages of Alaska.
But first a little background.
From the earliest times death has been feared and misunderstood by man. Early humans left their dead for the animals and the environment to consume, as evident by early archeological finds. Early man was fearful of the unknown, fearful of death and fearful of the dead; and somewhere along his cognitive development the idea of gods and ghost and an afterlife evolved.
Early Neanderthal burial vaults have been discovered that contained weapons and personal artifacts, evidence of a belief in an afterlife. Pharoses of Egypt were entombed with riches, personal belongings and even slaves. Michael Crichton describes a Viking funeral pyre in his book Eaters of the Dead in which all preparations were made for the Viking chief’s journey to Valhalla. (Though fiction, Crichton researched his material thoroughly.)
Now we have the advent of major religions and their drive to take control of death
Ars Moriendi (The art of dying), a Latin text dating about 1415, contains woodblock prints presenting the Christians’ dilemma at the time of death.
(Side note: even today the Catholic Church is one of the biggest individual owners of funeral homes in the city of New York – again profiting from death.)
Notice the early church was all about men going to heaven – the Christian church has never be overly concerned about women, other then to pose them as wanton, temptresses, debasers of men and the cause of original sin.
The dead in our culture are feared and considered an unnatural macabre spectacle to be endured, avoided and dispensed with as fast as possible. Death is a damn profitable business, and the major recruiting tool for religions of the world.