It was hard to miss. Over the last week the value, purpose and benefit of the funeral ritual was definitely hard to miss. The beauty and majesty of the funeral was witnessed by millions, and as we have said it was hard to miss.
The inherent presence of ancient funeral wisdom was ever present, from beginning to end, in the rich and symbolic funeral ceremonies for Senator John McCain, and Miss Aretha Franklin.
The messages concerning the dignity of life was unmistakable in each funeral ritual.
Both funeral funerals ritual spoke volumes in both word and action about basic and descent human freedom about human love and the importance of expressing that God given emotion. Both funeral rituals were steeped in the precious blessings of family and community.
The powerful themes of decency, freedom, love, free expression, community and family were so interwoven in both funeral rituals that the value, purpose and benefit of funerals were soaked into the souls of millions who were glued to their media sources, watching the instantly recognizable symbols of death being used for the very purposes they were developed for over the past thousands of years – these two funeral rituals gave thousands of people meaning when mere words would certainly have failed at that task. The meaning of any funeral rituals depends on the merging of word and action. One with without the other dilutes the full potential impact that all funeral rituals possess.
Millions of global citizen’s experienced two priceless benefits that go to the core of all funeral rituals: People feel that they were doing and have done the right thing, and it gives countless people a priceless gift: Peace of mind.
Both funerals were highly visible, thousands of human beings were involved, there were processionals, and recessionals, and there were hundreds of children also learning the wisdom of the funeral ritual as they stood silently on the streets watching as the impressive funeral corteges passed by. It seemed that many parents were, at these funerals, NOT asking the question, “Should we let little Johnny go to the funeral?”
It is appropriate to explore six notable ingredients that these once in a lifetime funeral experiences possessed.
FIRST, THERE WAS THE EVENT OF DEATH
Two significant human beings, who had changed the culture in which they lived had died. The deaths became the source of conversation, analysis, debate, and eulogies. Praise and criticism went hand in hand, as they do with most death ceremonies. The events of the deaths of Senator McCain and Miss Franklin caused the globe to pause, which in this turbulent times is not an easy task.
SECOND, THERE WAS THE NOTIFICATION OF THE EVENT
In short order the death announcements were made world-wide. Electronic and paper obituaries appeared everywhere. The obituary is the time honored cry for help. See, look what happened to me, look what happened to us, slow down, stop and look at what just happened – this is the essence of all obituaries. The obituary was the call to the rest of the world to come, to participate, to experience, and to explore through the funeral rituals just what the lives of these two very divergent human being meant.
THIRD, THERE WAS THE CONFRONTATION WITH THE REALITY OF DEATH
In both funerals the valid confrontation with the reality of both deaths was impossible to avoid, save for turning off the electronic device that millions of people were watching, or by shutting oneself away for what was going on in life.
The validity of these two funeral rituals was established, not simply by the presence of dignitaries, of men and women of wealth and power, but in a very real humble sense the validity of these two funeral rituals was validated by the common ordinary American, or world citizen, who just loved to listen to Aretha Franklin belt out one song after another, or watch John McCain fillet a hapless politician on the floor of the United States Senate.
Without the common people funerals become diluted in their meaning very quickly.
The symbols that people use to establish the reality of death were ever present in both funerals: The funeral coach, funeral floral tributes, casket bearers, music and then more music, eulogies and then more eulogies, lines of people waiting to pay their respects – ah, now there is an interesting idea: Paying respects. What an attractive idea in our present times.
One of the premier golden threads that was present in both funeral ceremonies was the simple yet influential idea of decency and respect. Respect for human beings. Treating people, all people, with compassion and dignity. And once again the funeral ritual held up a mirror to all humanity showing us as President Lincoln said in his first inaugural address “the better angels of our nature.”
FOURTH, THERE WAS GROUP SUPPORT
In times of crisis our social nature tends to reach out to others for group support. With this reach often times comes understanding, love, confirmation and support. Quite simply put, in times of crisis, many of us need human help and we can usually get it from other humans.
This week witnessed the power, for good, of group support. In both deaths, and the subsequent funeral rituals for the Senator and the Queen, the news reports were full of statements such as these, “It is estimated that 15,000 people filed by the casket.” Or “Yesterday, 25,000 people stood in line,” or “The funeral lasted for hours.” Each of these statements indicate the presence of human group support which was made all the more impressive because as with most funerals participation is voluntary.
FIFTH, THERE WAS RELIGIOUS AND PHILOSOPHICAL SUPPORT
Religious thinking is based on two simple ideas: First religions proclaim that life is more than just a biological event, and second religions proclaims that the supernatural exists.
Throughout both funeral rituals there was an ever present awareness of the need to embrace something larger that oneself. Throughout both funerals the idea of isolated privacy was not present. The doors of both churches were opened, and the human race responded. Hymns, religious readings, prayers, and moments of silence permeated both funerals, and it offered the ability for human beings to attempt to express the depth of sorrow and loss.
These two funerals also proclaimed philosophical ideas.
There were several common denominators concerning religious and philosophical ideas that were experienced in both funeral ceremonies:
In both funerals the ethic of Reverence for the Dead was highly visible. In both funerals the wise concept of slowing down, and giving the funeral rituals time to breathe was respected and honored.
Both funeral rituals were instructive. Both fulfilled a teaching role, about dedication, using God given talents for the benefit of humanity, devotion to a cause larger than one’s self, and by exhibiting the common sense values of charity, compassion and love for one another.
Both funeral rituals were an opportunity for freedom of expression, an opportunity for free speech. Both funerals afforded the opportunity to share belief systems.
SIXTH AND FINALLY, THERE WAS THE FINAL FAREWELL
Last, but certainly not least, was the farewell, the leave taking. As Miss Franklin’s sacred remains left the church, and as Senator McCain’s sacred remains left the church there was a finality and completeness about this act of devotion that was both symbolic and essential.
This final completeness is part of what makes us human. As the hearses for both people started on the final journey, the final pilgrimage once again the funeral ritual through the actions of living people brought down the final curtain of life.
The lesson which can be gleaned from participated in the days of activities of the funerals for Senator McCain and Miss Franklin is that funerals are good, for everyone. Funerals are good because the ask people to do things that they need to do, such as slow down, ponder life, embrace others, and offer support.
We live in turbulent times, and funerals reflect this turbulence. The abbreviated funeral or having no funeral rituals at all continue to grow. However there seems to be confusion. The funerals of Senator John McCain and Miss Aretha Franklin was packed with good thinking, good actions, and good results. However probably most of the people reading this work never actually knew John McCain or Aretha Franklin, and yet we all benefited from being participating observers of these two funerals.
Does this not magnify the importance in our own lives when a loved one, who we actually knew dies? Is it not as important, if not more, that we seriously ponder the value, purpose and benefit of funeral wisdom when someone close to us also dies?
John Donne wrote these moving lines centuries ago, and they come to mind as this writing effort is brought to a conclusion.
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Complicated times seem to abound around us. However in the rich and meaning funeral ceremonies that were witnessed this week, it was hard to miss the ancient wisdom inherent in all funeral rituals. Funerals are good for people. The Queen of Soul, Miss Aretha Franklin knew this truth and United States Senator John McCain knew this truth. Funeral are good – for everybody.
Who knows someplace, somewhere, a human being watching these two funeral rituals just might have been motivated to become funeral professional? Who knows?
Todd W. Van Beck