On burial again

Recently in a fit of writing whatever came to my mind (I’m good at that) I asked my readers what they’re likely to be buried in. I was mostly just being lighthearted about me and my Mennonite clothes and how I’ll probably live and die in them.

Most of the responses came on Facebook comments. Some said white, some said anything but black, some said floral, some said they didn’t want to think about it.

Somehow that discussion has made me think about viewings and funerals. Our children haven’t been at a lot of funerals that they remember and they just don’t understand why anyone would want to view a deceased person. I’m kind of with them on that sentiment.

I haven’t been at a lot of funerals either, but nothing is a harder experience for me than being in those long lines of people heading up to the front of a church or hall to view a body. To me it almost feels sacrilegious.

But I know that is not at all how many people see it and I want to be understanding. For many people, viewing a body brings closure and healing.

Dan’s roots are with the Wissler Mennonites in Indiana and you haven’t really been to a viewing if you haven’t been to one of theirs. Death is sacred and shared with many in this culture. Long, long lines of friends and relatives wait their turn to view the body and greet the family of the deceased. Viewings last for hours and hours. There will often be an open casket at the funeral as well. I can’t imagine the exhaustion of grieving people having to stand and meet people offering their condolences for that long. But there must be a reason for it. Perhaps being surrounded by so many people who care brings healing in a way I know nothing about.

Another culture that views death in a similar way is the Russian Mennonite community. It is not uncommon for them to take pictures of the deceased and treasure them. And funerals and viewings seem to hold a similar preeminence.

I tell my kids that if they lose someone very close to them, they may feel differently about viewings. They remain unconvinced.

I kind of grew up thinking cremation was wrong. I had a vague sense, whether taught or just imagined, that people chose it because they didn’t want their bodies to rise to eternal life or damnation.

I hope it’s not indecent to say that it now seems like a good option and sacred in its own way. I have no doubt that God could put my body back together when He so wills.

A person named Jenn commented on my previous blog post and said she’d like to be buried in an old pine box under a tree or wrapped in a cozy quilt. I loved the quilt idea. Why do we dress dead bodies austerely? Why not in something comfortable and soft?

I don’t know much at all, really. I don’t know how I’d feel about dressing my child or my husband for burial should they pass before me. I think that death is a deeply personal matter and we all grieve differently and have our ways of bringing closure and healing. Is there a right or wrong way to do this? I think not.

I’d love a discussion on this topic. What is your personal experience with viewing and burial?

If it’s not weird of me…

23 thoughts on “On burial again

  1. I want a white coffin with limelight hydrangeas in a bower above it. I also have money set aside for a catered meal. Of smoked chicken 🐓 baked beans ,cheese potatoes and slaw. No red jello melting into the funeral potatoes. 😩 I always was different…😆

  2. I think the most important thing to remember is (like you said) everyone is so very different and you never know how it will feel when you are in those shoes. My mom died very unexpectedly in her sleep at the age of 70. I remember how an acquaintance of mine dealt with the sudden death of her husband, telling her children, “Surround yourself with people!” I felt about as opposite of that as possible — the less people around the better! However, as the long line of people kept coming at the viewing, and my feet were numb from standing, I do have to say I felt an overwhelming feeling of love and care that all these people took the time to show up in that way. Two of my sisters helped to dress mom and comb her hair and found it very meaningful; my other sister and I had no desire to be a part of that. I do think if I had not been able to view mom’s body at all, it may have affected my feelings of closure and saying goodbye, but I would say that experience is probably more beneficial to some, than others. When it comes to my own death and funeral, I usually say that people can do whatever they like — at that point I won’t care anyway!! 😄

    1. I like this. With my personality, I’d probably enjoy all the people too. And I didn’t realize your mom’s death was sudden. That carries an ache of its own, I’m sure.

  3. I find your views interesting. I’m part of Weaverland Conference, a sister Conference to the Wislers, with the same practices, but maybe a little difference in how we orchestrate them.

    We’re nearing the 1 year mark of my father’s death. (Results from injuries in an accident.) His shroud was of a soft, so-white-it- almost-appeared- to- glow fabric, made in the pattern of a Sunday shirt.

    There were 6 hours of visitation, with a break between for supper. A strong 1500+ people were through that line. We, as a family, deeply appreciated every one of them! Even though we all were deeply exhausted in the following days ( daze ) & trauma from the previous days, the people’s prayers carried us, giving strength where humanly impossible to keep on going. If I would have been asked to guess how long we sat, for those visitation hours, I may have said ” about 2″….perception of time had ceased.

    My Mom said she always thought, that if Dad would die, she doesn’t think she could face the visitation & all the people. In spite of having been injured in the accident herself, she did, except for a breakdown ( needing to have eaten sooner) after the first session, & not feeling physically able to be present for the last hour in the second session.

    5 weeks later, we sat in another family spot, at my 37 yr old brother in laws funeral, following his battle with covid. Their practice is to use whatever clothes the family wishes, and he was dressed in his usual Sunday attire. This time we knew the toll of a funeral. Again we were carried. Again the length of time wasn’t given a second thought.

    That wasn’t the end of the succession of funerals in the last year, but I’ll stop there. I just wanted to share, that what may seem beyond our scope of coping, may be the thing that carries us through our valley. I realize not everyone is the same….but o the poverty of having ” no one” to pray you through & mourn with you!

    Blessings on your day, Lorraine

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone Get Outlook for Androidhttps://aka.ms/ghei36

  4. I think viewings are important. Especially for the one who has lost the loved one. When my husband died I loved hearing about him from his friends and co-workers. I appreciated all the encouragement. It was a very hard time but comforting. Just my thoughts.

    1. I’m sorry for the loss of your husband and so glad you felt supported and cared for at his death. And I agree-sharing about the deceased is always so meaningful to family. Blessings to you.

  5. I completely understand your thoughts on funerals and visitation. I especially found the funeral supper very mystifying. Why would the grieving family want to sit around eating and visiting with a whole bunch of people, right after burying a loved one?
    I lost my mother to cancer a short 3 months ago. I expected to hate every aspect of the visitation and funeral. Instead I found it all strangely comforting. The memories people shared, the tributes from the family, the feeling of being completely surrounded at the graveside and yes…even the mystifying supper was good. Not that it was not hard. It was…
    I also wanted to bury my mom in some cozy pajamas. But did not want to horrify anyone. 😁

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss.💗
      I totally agree that there is comfort in being surrounded by friends and hearing their stories and eating together. My feelings may have a lot to do with not being used to such huge crowds of people.

  6. Years ago my mom and dad made arrangements to donate their bodies for medical research when they die. When dad passed away at home in 2019, we had him with us until the evening when the funeral directors on behalf McMaster University took his body away. I remember standing around his bed and knowing I’d never see him again. We had visitation without his body. I learned the value of sharing in grief. His funeral service felt like a grand finale for a life well lived in service to the King! There was no dread of a final goodbye at the end.
    Just this spring his body (ashes), were returned to us for burial and we remembered his life again, and how we have changed since his death because of his influence.
    I must confess that I have a hard time viewing bodies now and I find it especially odd listening to comments on the appearance of the preserved and painted.
    Our practice is tradition, and a very costly one at that. I know mom was nervous about what others would think. Some of dad’s family is very conservative and she didn’t want to offend anyone. Everyone was most gracious and no negative feedback came back around to us. In the end, I don’t think we would have cared because the entire experience was more positive then we could have imagined.
    I would highly recommend donation for medical research. They called it teaching. Dad was teaching for 2 years after his death.

  7. Good question! Yes, please, let’s talk about this. If I die 2morrow, bury me in my white dress with my choral sweater. Make sure I’m wearing one of my white veils with lace trim. Put some stuffies in my coffin to represent my life as an elementary teacher.

    And for the record, I’ve already written my own obituary. 🙂 Yes, it was an assignment at Faith Builders. By the way, do it if you haven’t already. It’s a way to “Begin with the end in mind” (from Stephen Covey’s book). The document is on my computer. Retrieve it and change the details to reality. 🙂

    DO NOT wear black or dark colors to my viewing/funeral. Please wear white or pastels or brights. DO NOT sing horrible songs like “We Are Going Down The Valley” or “How Beauriful Heaven Must Be”. Find the praise section of the hymnal and choose songs about God’s goodness, Creation…and PRAISE!

    Have a pastor give a message with good theology.

    Before the final viewing, have an ensemble sing “We Are Not Alone”. Actually the ensemble can do all the music. Include songs like “Shout for Joy”, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”, “Alleluia (the arrangement I sang at a wedding in 2018), “I Am The Lord” (Oasis Chorale), “The Eternal Gates” (also Oasis Chorale) AND “Jesus Shall Reign” (choral arrangement that I sang with FB in 2009.)

    Talk. Laugh. Enjoy food and coffee. Celebrate with me. I have finally met my bridegroom and I am home! Celebrate my life!

    1. This is so fun! And so smart that you have it planned out. I agree! Joyful music. Food and laughter. Pretty colours. That writing your own obituary sounds like such a good assignment.

      1. Thanks! It just kinda came when I started typing. I was in a minor accident recently. No one was seriously hurt, but obviously I’m still alive for a reason. Maybe that’s why the thoughts came so easily tonight.

  8. I’ve been to one viewing where you greeted the family first and the body was last to be viewed and so if you wanted to skip over it you could easily just walk right past or around and it wasn’t noticeable. I think I like that idea

  9. I so agree with your thoughts about viewings and funerals and so do my children. 🙂 When a grandparent passed away, my children and I have never forgotten how it felt at the church to have to view the body outside surrounded on all sides by many, many people dressed in all black just watching us. When another grandparent passed away, before the service family was able to view the body alone in a Sunday School room. That was much better! The body was also dressed in favorite clothing compared to wearing a shroud. Meals afterward were fine for me because they tended to be small compared to the funeral: mostly relatives, some that haven’t been seen in a long time. After experiencing many funerals in another culture where no black was ever worn, body was dressed in normal clothing with a few items in coffin celebrating that person, and decorations, flowers, some favorite items and many pictures of the person were displayed, I found value in that. As Christians, maybe we need to do more celebrating the person’s life, display flowers, wear bright colors, and also sing praise and worship songs to our Saviour as suggested above. I strongly feel each person/family needs to decide what they want, feel free to go outside of what is tradition (cremation, body donated to research, memorial service only, private burial, etc) and everyone else needs to respect that.

  10. This is a hot topic on my mind these days. My dad died last December and we had a traditional conservative Mennonite viewing and funeral. So so many ppl came. He had planned his funeral out to a T. For those who came it was comforting and sweet, maybe not as much to us. 🤪 I watched as my mom comforted hundreds of ppl. Ppl who knew dad years before he got really sick, ppl who didn’t see how difficult he was the last 3 yrs. The viewing was a time of guilt and frustration for me because I didn’t even know the same man as the ppl coming through the line did. For me he had died long before his body did. I didn’t know how to respond when ppl tried to comfort me because all I felt about his passing was relief. My children are small and I found myself just wanting to escape AAAALL the ppl! For hours I was anxious about where my babies were and if they were ok. The whole thing was exhausting and overwhelming for me, and I wished so much that we could skip it 🤦🏻‍♀️ To top it off we all got COVID from it. BUT on the flip side, it was so incredibly sweet to see the whole community come together to support us. Even though in the moment I was overwhelmed, I also recognized the love and compassion that was shown. Dad would have loved his funeral. It all went exactly as he wanted it to and I do feel like Jesus was magnified and received the glory from my dads life.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Dayna. With emotions raw, everything feels so huge, doesn’t it? I’m glad you found some spots of comfort.

  11. You have some interesting questions and observations. Here at our small church, we’ve had a lot of funerals, and our children are well acquainted with them. In the last 3 years, they have lost a Grandma and Grandpa that were very much a part of their young lives. Even though the body that’s left is only their shell, it is comforting to have their bodies treated with dignity and respect.
    We tell our 4 year old that it’s just the body that we bury, the person isn’t here anymore. His little mind was working this around and he told me, “We only buried Wayne’s body, but his big self went to be with Jesus.” 😊

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