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Deep Thoughts on Death and Dying

by Elizabeth Ryan 

Tags: Spirituality, Death and dying, Ritual, Orion, Elizabeth Ryan,


“Letting go of our parents, or anyone we love, is the hardest thing we do. Paying a professional to handle the dead doesn’t make goodbyes any easier,” writes Hank Lentfer in a recent issue of Orion, in which he ruminates on death and dying, what we do with our bodies afterward, and what purpose our rituals serve.

Lentfer is no stranger to the conversation; he’s been having it with scores of friends and family members—all with varying requests for their remains. His parents want to rest beneath an old birch tree, a friend wants her ashes “tossed someplace where they will quickly enter something alive—a salmon stream, meadow, or old forest,” and another person wants to be dipped in chocolate, rolled in sprinkles, and launched to sea. The directives continue, and Lentfer comes to a profound conclusion:

All these endless options seem like a desperate antidote to the optionless end. We want to believe that, in death, we can get to heaven or back to our spouse; that we can fulfill the dream of that perfect union with nature. Still, no matter how much mythology, religion, or ritual we toss off the cliff, the void remains. Perhaps all the primping, chanting, incense burning, bone crunching, and poison pumping are mere distractions; something to keep the living from having to site quietly on the dark edge of uncertainty.  

Source: Orion (article not available online)

Congratulations to Orion, a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for environmental coverage and general excellence.

Image by Muffet, licensed under Creative Commons.