There are few less happy occasions in life than a funeral. Funerals serve to remind us of the inevitability of our own mortality. All people – our parents, friends, children, heroes, leaders, adversaries, enemies, neighbors – eventually die. Funerals, like weddings, are intended to memorialize the send-off – provide a record – bring some closure to a relationship, which in one case is just beginning and in the other has ended. While weddings can at times be fun, funerals almost never are.
There are a wide variety of memorial services ranging from the prehistoric, open casket, wake and wailing traditional Catholic ordeal, to the sprinkling of ashes in a pretty place and let the party begin. The tenor of the service depends a lot on how you look at life and death. I find that the more people look at life as a means of preparing for a great death, the more morbid and gut wrenching the funeral.
People who celebrate life and accept its finite limits seem more inclined to find reasons to laugh rather than cry. I personally find funerals intolerable, particularly when young children are forced to prematurely come to grips with life's greatest indignity.
Cremation seems like the only rational solution for the body problem. Spending large sums of money for chemical and cosmetic restoration and even more money for a body box in which to decompose, seems patently foolish and unfair to the survivors.
Most people want to remember lost friends as vital lively people, not cadavers. I have instructed my heirs to have me cremated immediately with the ashes sprinkled in St. James Harbor on Beaver Island, Michigan. A substantial sum has been set aside for a world-class oldies-but-goodies party, offering only the best food and drink, and music from the golden age of rock – the 50's and 60's. If at the end, someone wants to say "he wasn't a bad SOB after all", so be it. As long as I live I will be updating the guest list.
It can be argued that while funerals are grisly, graveyards are interesting, beautiful and historically relevant. A Revolutionary War graveyard in Boston's Beacon Hill, or a Civil War Memorial in Gettysburg are all of that and more. Funerals seem to pierce our hearts and graveyards pique our interest. It is easier to be comfortable in a resting place for many unknown souls than to accept the fact that someone near and dear is finally resting.
As there is a genuine need for many to honor a lost life, to create a place to go and remember that person, funerals and graveyards will continue to flourish. Perhaps the only long-term solution is to develop a web based virtual tombstone where we can electronically store everyone's best images and ideas for eternity.