Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Can't Afford to Die

Lately there's an increasing number of people who tell us that they cannot afford the death of their loved one. So lately, there have been "mini services" at the hospital for the person and then they are taken to the funeral home for cremation, and/or burial. Then there are other issues related to death.
Once again this relates to a "morgue viewing". The family had arranged for a viewing of their loved one here at the hospital as many were from out of town. My colleagues were facilitating this process. This morning, the phone rang and my co-worker turns to me and laughs in disbelief.
"We have a viewing this morning, but no body."
"I'm sorry? What? No body?"
" Yeh, the funeral home picked it up last night."
"Oh man. and you have a viewing today?"
"Yes and a service."
"A service? In the viewing room."
"Well yes. They can't afford to use the funeral home, so they asked us to do a service here. Just the family I guess."
(In the end, the funeral home was called and the body was returned so that the family could have the viewing here.)
Normally, we advise people to wait for a viewing at the funeral home instead of the hospital, as the funeral services will do their hair, makeup, etc and the person will look less pale, etc. But this is getting to be an issue more frequently. Funerals cost a lot of money. I remember a tour of a funeral home in Nova Scotia, during the years of my seminary training. The room with caskets mounted on the wall was quite small. Big enough for a single file line to pass. The urns were pretty, but then I saw a price tag. $4895!! For the "vase", you're kidding me. The price, of course, referred to the services that go with the cremation. The cost for the chapel, for the personnel, the limo, the caterer, the newspaper notice and the list goes on and on. Extra expenses seem to come up. Maybe that is a part of why I told my mother when I was 13 or 14, that I wanted to be cremated. or put in a pine box. Too much expense for the "wood" of the casket, (or steel or whatever) and the satin lining, and tombstone, etc.
Of course this leads to a different issue as well. What people think about the dying process? What do we believe about life after death? what happens to us when we die? How do we relate to the person that once was, but now is a lifeless body? What do we think about the soul? In the end, the question about the relation of soul and body determine one's approach to a funeral I think. We want to honor the person, and need to say our goodbyes. The body being the way that we have related to the individual while they were living, is the final way that we relate to them even in their death. But we also know that this is a "shell", the container for the soul/spirit of the person that we knew. They are no longer with us physically and so we try to transition to a new/different way of relating to them, as we are no longer able to converse face-to-face.

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