Death Related Spiritual Practice
It will be five years this February since my Grandfather died. I think that the manner in which my family dealt with his passing was fairly common for a modern American family. However there were, I think, a few things that set us apart from most modern funerals.
Since my grandmother’s passing in 1992 my grandfather became a bit estranged from his children and grandchildren. Never an outright religious man for most of his life, he became extremely involved in Catholicism and distanced himself from his non-religious family. While he still resided in Reading Pennsylvania, the town where he raised his family, his children had long since moved all around the world, and he lived more or less alone in a duplex apartment.
His health had been wavering for several years; he had been experiencing problems with his heart and cholesterol. When he was hospitalized in early February after sustaining two minor heart attacks in his home, the family braced for what they knew was coming. Even though he had been fairly detached from the family in his later years, all of his children and grandchildren made the journey back to Pennsylvania when he died. They came from Michigan, New York, California, Texas, and Puerto Rico.
Rather than a traditional open casket funeral, my family instead chose to hold a memorial service. The family gathered in a rented hall in downtown reading to honor the memory of my grandfather. There was no casket (his wish was to be cremated and buried, and his remains were kept at the funeral home awaiting our pickup) and it was a very informal event. There were pictures up all around of both my grandparents and a continuous slideshow playing showcasing events in my grandfather’s life. The mood was happy and cheerful at some times, and teary at others. Emotions were shown openly and without restraint. It wasn’t an environment that seemed to encourage the guest to be sad, however those that cried were allowed to, and weren’t hurried off into another room.
Though the doctrines of my grandfather’s religion stated that even cremated remains of the departed must be interred within the earth, it was his wish to have his ashes scattered in a park where he used to take his children when they were growing up. There was no big procession. It was my father, his siblings, and my brother and I that went out the following morning to say our final goodbyes. We walked the streets of Reading where my father was once a child and we talked about the kind of man my grandfather was. And when we reached the location of the scattering, no gloves were used. Each of us took our turn.