Long-time reader Servetus graced my latest burst of blog posts with some thoughtful comments, always welcome. I have a bad habit of always taking the last word, so I’ll refrain from replying to most of them. But there were some I wanted to respond to, and I thought I’d keep them visible by responding in the form of a roundup.
re: the specific question of a traditional funeral in the church sense in your situation — iirc you guys stopped going to church regularly or aren’t members of a congregation any more? [source]
Correct, we haven’t attended a church as a family in seven years. I’m done with it, and none of the kids have shown any interest in returning. Jerry asked me last week why we had stopped going. I replied with too many reasons, but my main reason was that I had lost the point of it well before we stopped, inertia was all that was left for many years. Finally I was in the middle of rethinking (once again) what we were doing and why, thought about church, recognized that going would never stop unless I took the initiative, suggested that we stop (at a good moment, the church was about to change pastors and we didn’t like the new guy), and got agreement. I had no interest in finding a new church, neither did anyone else.
there were upwards of 300 people at my mother’s funeral; she was a pillar of the congregation, her death was perceived to be unjust and “too soon” and she had a forty+ year history in that congregation including heavy participation in the Ladies’ Aid which took care of all the post-funeral meals (a standard around here). It would have seemed weird not to have a church funeral for her. [source]
My mom’s funeral in 2012 was similar, for similar reasons (except the “too soon” part, she was 84 and had had severe Alzheimer’s for the last two years). My dad’s funeral in 2017 — same church, same pillar status — was disturbingly different, in ways that suggested to me that the church was running out of gas. The form was there, but much of the substance had been hollowed out, people seemed to be going through the motions. The most telling part was that what one of them referred to as the “church fairies”, the ladies who assembled out of nowhere to make church events run smoothly, didn’t turn out.
There was a meal after the church service, maybe a couple of hundred people there. I was talking to various well-wishers, of course, and didn’t get into the line for food until near the end. When I got to the head of the line I saw there was almost no food, just one portion of enchiladas, no beans, the dregs of a couple of other sides — and the enchilada portion was only there because the woman serving, a family member, had deliberately saved it for me.
Later I found out that the only food available had been brought by members of my dad’s side of the family, an extended Mexican family who still knew what you did at a time like this. And the rest of the event was only as organized as it was due to last-second efforts by staff and core church members who had arrived only to find that the church fairies hadn’t shown up this time.
I think as I read your comments on this ongoing over several posts, I noticed some slippage between the ideas of “ritual,” “traditional funeral,” and “visitation / funeral home.” [source]
Slippage is probably due to my reluctance to speak bluntly about my personal lack of respect for the traditions, both religious and cultural, that have grown up around death, together with a recognition that within our family not everyone’s views are as settled or extreme as mine. The miracle to me was that, even though I was willing to completely defer to the others in how we handled things, the handling ended up very much in line with how I would have approached it on my own.
The only concession, which was not really a concession, was using the burial rite from the Book of Common Prayer. The matter needed to be addressed, I proposed it not because it held meaning for me but because it was a thing to do and doing nothing would be too jarring to the rest. I officiated, and looking back it the ritual itself meant nothing to me (I can’t speak for the others). But I did appreciate the fact that we had gathered as a family to do something to commemorate Debbie’s passing. There may be other, more satisfactory ways we could have handled it, but I haven’t yet thought of any and don’t expect to be called on again in such a way. (My own “wishes” are known, but also that they aren’t true wishes, just opinions, and that I want my loved ones to handle my passing — or any other life event, for that matter — as they see fit at the time. My approval of how things are actually handled shouldn’t be considered, since I won’t be around to express it.)
Thinking about this some more, I also wonder again about the context of the bureaucracy where you are, i.e., do more people there diverge from the “usual” practice involving a funeral home? […] So: the issue for us was mostly about asking the hospital to do “extra” things as opposed to things that were not in the norm. [source]
Burying someone on family land is apparently not unusual. Cutting the funeral home out of the process is close to unheard of. From the hospital’s point of view, all they were concerned about was that they were releasing the body to someone legally entitled to receive it. The provisional death certificate designates the recipient, but it asks which funeral home will be picking up the body (or which designated agent will be transporting it to a funeral home elsewhere). Other recipients are rare enough that no one at the morgue had ever dealt with one and a supervisor needed to be called in to assure everyone it was OK (fortunately we had called ahead several times to let them know what we planned, so she was prepared).
We collected term sheets from several local funeral homes, which all said that if they were involved at all there would be a base charge of $2500-3000, even before the cost of actual services such as embalming, visitation, casket, transportation, or whatever. I’ll bet that folks who regularly hold traditional services not involving funeral homes have some sort of side arrangement with a funeral home to get the body transported at a reasonable cost, but it’s not something that’s talked about publicly.
In retrospect, although it doesn’t paint me in a good light, while I didn’t enjoy the suffering my parents experienced as they died, I definitely appreciated not having to make any decisions, only reaction to situations. I know you disagree with me about decision fatigue being a thing, but I felt like in the acute phases I was excused from certain kinds of executive responsibility. [source]
If I can ever get to it, my reading about pragmatism has changed my understanding of things like decisions, reactions, responses, and executive responsibility. For now I can only offer that teaser!
(when I touched on how Debbie and I divided up home/family responsibilities)
So this post falls in the category of “things I’ve learned that I’d like my posterity to know about”? (One of your earlier blogging goals, to work on some of that stuff.) [source]
Correct. Probably what prompts me most often to write (certainly, to think about writing) is when I’m pondering something where I have fairly settled beliefs and some part of me challenge me to explain myself. Happens all the time! And I usually rise to the bait, but then find myself discouraged when I try to do that in written words. mostly because of the second-order effects those words can have — I might be misunderstood, or not be clear enough to avoid unnecessary offense, or say things that turn out to be indefensible. I’m trying to clear away some of those concerns by writing for posterity — for just the few folks who might want to hear what I have to say because they know me well and love me, who are also the folks for I’m willing to risk the downsides of writing because I love them, think they might understand me, and I want them to benefit from any wisdom I might have to pass on. Others are welcome to listen in as they see fit, but I need to trust that they will move on or otherwise disregard what I write if it isn’t to their taste.
This was a thing that I never understood (admittedly, as an outsider to the whole thing) about the Christian circles I observed so avidly 20-ish years ago now: the focus on extreme gender-based authority / obedience (I found it interesting that you raised that topic a few posts down). I felt like people could have a complementarian marriage without having to resort to female subordination. [source]
Debbie and I first encountered that sort of thinking in the Bristol community we joined in 2001, but by then we’d been married sixteen years and had long settled on our own authority dynamic — roughly, we operated by consensus, neither had authority over the other, “authority” was strictly a matter of one placing their trust in the other to perform competently and lovingly and considerately in a given responsibility. Is it strange that we didn’t see any conflict between that and the patriachal teachings of our church? I guess we only saw extreme male authority as one option for running your household — a stupid one in many cases we observed — but not a requirement, maybe at most a tie-breaker, i.e. if you can’t resolve things by consensus then the man gets the vote, but we never found ourselves in such a situation, partly because I valued peace much more highly than getting my own way.
And for the record, I don’t think the man should get his way, and that any church teaching that is just plain wrong. Did I think differently in Bristol? I don’t think so, I think that I just didn’t think about it at all, it wasn’t a live issue in our family life.
So of course establishing meaning is an act of power that is carried out by institutions. It’s a problem when churches or other institutional bodies try to establish this as more certain than it is, because if you insist that you are bearing the true, literal meaning of the text and you can’t admit how uncertain the text is, you are asking people to fall away when they start to look at that edifice more closely.
A concise statement of where I eventually found myself. Since this is something I’ll probably write about a lot if and when I get around to writing about my journey through Christendom, I’ll say no more for now.
As I’m in danger of running out of words for today, I’ll say more about this tomorrow but this also jives with what Burkeman had to say in his email this week. [source]
I love Oliver Burkeman, and so I’m looking forward to what you have to say. Highlights from Four Thousand Weeks show up frequently in my inbox, but they just make me want to re-read it.
At one point I was getting ready to put up a personal website, and one thing I wanted on the front page was a battery gauge icon which did a real-time countdown of my four thousand weeks. By my count I’ve now been around for 3593 weeks, with 407 to go — just over 10% juice remaining.