Friday, May 25, 2007

Bring Out Your Dead (and other party strategies)

Respect of the dead is a value deeply ingrained in all cultures and religions; it was an issue as rescue workers retrieved bodies from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and when funeral directors were found to be stealing body parts. And it has been as issue that has also been addressed by US courts as early as the 1870's (See Pierce v. Proprietors of Swan Point, 14 Am. Rep.667, 10 RI 227 (1872), where the Rhode Island Supreme Court held the body of deceased beloved was a sort of “quasi-property” ). So, it was rather surprising when I spotted in the NY Times today that cemeteries are seeking breathing clientèle holding daffodil brunchs and first class meals, complete with butler service, in cemetery chapels and mausoleums as a way to raise money for reconstruction and upkeep.

I'm not sure that this is respectful of the dead, in fact, part of me feels that it is downright morbid, even though cemeteries are often beautiful, peaceful places. On the other hand, El Dia De Los Muertos, the three-day Mexican holiday to honor and celebrate loved ones who have passed on, seems respectful enough.

What to do you think?

1 comment:

Kelly Hills said...

I admit, when I read your summary of the article, I was envisioning more modern cemeteries, with the 1970s box architecture funeral buildings common of the area of California I grew up in, not ornate and historic cemeteries.

From the article, it sounds like a wonderful opportunity to come face to face with history, preserve amazing and beautiful architecture, and the gorgeous headstones we no longer see in modern cemeteries. As someone who chased ghost towns while living all over the West Coast, and an avid cemetery walker, I can understand the appeal to having a historic perspective on cemetery grounds. Maybe it's familial - the last time all of us were in Philadelphia, we spent a good couple of hours in the graveyard with Ben Franklin, amongst other people, just reading the headstones. And somewhere around here, I have a great collection of cemetery headstones.

Anyhow, digression! I think that it can easily seem morbid to folks who grow up with traditional Western ideals about cemeteries, but it's not just the Mexicans who have the notion of spending time with dead loved ones - in fact, I would say that the Western/American idea of locking the dead away in perfectly coifed lawns that we might visit once a year is a distinctly minority view of death. Japan, China, Tibet - in fact, anywhere influenced by the Eastern religions - as well as many, if not most, native groups, have a much more holistic and involved notion of the dead and how we should interact with them.

In order to have respect for anything, we have to first understand and accept it. Both history and death are something not understood, or accepted, in Western American culture. It seems like this, if anything, is a step towards opening eyes to both.