I realize this is a very delicate subject for most of us. We all lost someone close to us, or we know someone affected by the loss of someone dear to them. After getting a bit older, witnessing more and more funeral rituals becomes part of everyone’s life. For me, a few questions came to my mind, and as the last hours spent with the deceased are so important for the last goodbye and their ‘journey’ to eternity, leaving those without an answer seems very much wrong.
After my family was affected, a few weeks ago, by the loss of a relative, a whole war started in the family about what needs to be done in order for the soul of the dead person to reach heaven or wherever it’s supposed to go. Sure, everyone has an opinion, and apparently if you don’t follow theirs, something bad will happen to your deceased loved one (something bad kind of already happened, by the way).
Considering that the practice varies from country to country, and even worse, from one area of the country to the other, I can’t help but wonder: WHO got it right? If what we do after their moment of death, matters so much, and we are going to influence in a negative or positive way their journey to eternity, then what is the right thing to do? What if a different culture got it right and we didn’t? What if the funeral practices from one area of the country are right, the rest are wrong, and only the souls of those people will reach eternity, leaving the rest of us out? Oops …
I’ll give you a closer look to a few such rules which need to be followed in Romania, that I am aware of (many more are out there, but I’ll point only to a few), which are meant to guarantee a spot on the best possible cloud in the sky.
So … someone dies. For me, that’s it. Game over. Sorry, but whatever you do afterwards won’t change a thing for the one who sadly past away. However, most will disagree with me. And this is why, when someone dies, you have to cover the mirrors in the house, kick the pets out as they are not allowed to go under the table, give away food (to feed the soul up to 7 years after their death), plates, cups, clothes (to wear on the other side), cutlery, money (they need to pay some sort of bridge tax to cross to heaven), towels, cloths, shoes, pay priests to say prayers (the prayer is more like a reminder that the person died – yes I can see that myself), light candles (they don’t have any light unless you do this – is heaven in the basement or something?), place certain objects in the coffin, for the journey to the after life (if they don’t have those objects, they can’t cross into eternity), and also cook a specific type of food and bread, which are also extremely important for some reason I can’t recall right now.
Even more, you have to do the ‘give away’ ceremony every other 3 days after their death, until the 40th day, from where you start counting every 3 months or so, not including holidays like ‘the day of the death’ when you have to give food again to the ‘dead’ unless you want them to wait at the gates of heaven and starve, while other souls eat. These mind games played so well by the church and the elderly of the society puts the family of the deceased in a lot of financial and emotional distress, for the next 7 years after the death of the relative. And you just have to do it, unless … consequences!
Now, let’s pretend I believe all this. But, from what it’s known, isn’t heaven that place where you let go of your body presence, and you become a beautiful bright light, shining gorgeously while sitting next to god? And all the pain and sorrow goes away, and you spend a beautiful eternity in your best shape possible? Then why all the rituals above? How are you going to use plates and cups, and eat the food, if you have no hands or stomach? Also, use the clothes to dress … which body?
Basically, from what I can tell, you only get to heaven if you have relatives to take care of everything for you. What if they don’t? What if you have no one left alive to do this for you? What if they can’t find your body anymore, like it often happens after a natural catastrophe? What if you die in the war? What if you simply can’t afford it ( a real problem for most people in my country)??? And the ‘what if’ list goes on and on. You know in what all of this is translates? MONEY. Yes, the rich ones go to heaven, the rest … oh well, bad luck. Maybe next time. Not even the after life isn’t fair, huh?
Now, that we clarified how the situation looks like in Romania, let’s take a look at a few more cultures from around the world, and see what they believe is to be done right, when a love one dies:
Malagasy people of Madagascar practice Famadihana (turning of the bones), a ceremony which consists in digging the bodies of their ancestors from the family crypts, rewrap them in fresh cloth, than dance with the corpses around the tomb to live music, as a way to remember their dead loved ones. After a short ‘fun’ trip around the village, they bury them again, until next time.
The Benguet blindfold their dead while the Tinguian dress the bodies in their best clothes, and place them next to the main entrance of the house with a lit cigarette in their lips. The Caviteño, bury their dead in a hollowed-out tree trunk and the Apayo, bury their dead under the kitchen.
Or dissection, is a funerary practice in the Chinese provinces of Tibet, Qinghai, and Inner Mongolia. The human corpse is cut into small pieces and placed on a mountaintop, exposed to animals, especially predatory birds, which help dispose the remains. They believed that there is no need to preserve the empty body so they allow nature to use what it can take.
A lamp is placed by the head of the body, rice balls are placed in the coffin, and a necklace and garlands of flowers are placed around the person’s neck, before cremation, as it is believed that this will help their soul to escape quickly from the body. Afterwards, the ashes of the deceased are sprinkled on water of Ganges. If the deceased one is a child or pregnant women, they just throw the body in the water, and let it flow into eternity, as they are pure.
This ancient ritual involved the displaying of coffins on high cliffs, believing that coffins need to be close to the sky so that the dead can be closer to heaven, leaving ghosts and spirits free to roam around the hills and rocks.
The funeral ceremony taking place in the South Pacific Island of Fiji, based on the ancient ritual of Sati, involves killing of the dear ones of the deceased as they should not be left alone in the other world, making the process of death less painful.
Again, these are only a few examples of other rituals which need to be followed in order for the dead one to reach eternity. The question of who got it right is still out there.
What makes us think, as a society united by the phenomena of death, that we are better than other societies and our actions taken after someone’s death will guarantee OUR dead loved one a spot in heaven, while others will be left out? What about the other cultures from all around the world? What if dancing with the death or hanging the coffins on a mountain top is what does the trick, and we’re doing it wrong?
The priests love to make us believe their way is the way. If you don’t pass the ‘church inspection’ on the way to heaven, you can’t get there (and yes, you only have to pay your way out of the land of the living). And we pay … And we do what we’re being told. In the end, the church is the most booming business in Romania. In a society where the elderly hold on with their teeth to religion, in order to get to eternity, how can it not be a good business? Tax on pain is quite high, and if people are trained to follow blindly what they say, why not?
Personally, I believe the rituals have little to no influence at all on the journey to eternity. We don’t do them for the one who passed away, but for the people left behind by the deceased. We do them all for ourselves, in order to bring peace to our hearts and fill the empty space left by the death of someone we love.
For the deceased, it makes no difference if you give them food and clothes, dance with them, or feed them to the birds, while they are not with us anymore. It seems like we are holding on to their death, by buying things as they would still be alive, in order to keep their presence in our lives. But what we miss seeing is that no ceremony will ever bring them back, and no ritual will matter, if the generosity and love wasn’t shown when our relative/friend was still alive.
A person we love will always be with us, in our hearts and minds, no further ceremonies needed. We don’t simply forget someone who was an important part of our lives; we just continue our lives, and take them with us everywhere, in our memories and hearts.