The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #93975   Message #1814763
Posted By: Janie
20-Aug-06 - 09:20 PM
Thread Name: BS: Funerals and Other Boring Stuff
Subject: RE: BS: Funerals and Other Boring Stuff
(Oh dear, Bill, you haven't yet been warned not to encourage me.)

What follows is a more or less academic generalization. I do not imply by my words that there are any 'ought tos' or a right/wrong dichotomy regarding the ways a person's death is marked, (or not) by family or the community.

Rites of passage, of which funerals and memorial services are one example, serve dual purposes. We humans need both individuality and a community to survive as a species. There is always a dialectic between the two poles of individual rights and societal needs. A society's or community's laws, mores, and customs are the vehicles through which these sometimes opposing needs are balanced, and reflect the continuing dialog and constantly shifting balance between the two.

    The psychology of death rites is about how well the rituals serve the needs of the individuals who are most intimately affected by the death of a person. The sociology of death rites is about affirming the link between the individual and the community. In some societies this link is even reinforced by the presence of professional mourners. In American society, large churches will often have 'committees' of individuals whose ministry is to attend funerals even though they may not know the individual at all in order to assure a community presence. In other cultures, these prefessional morurners may be paid. Their main role is a sociological function to reaffirm society's responsibility to the individual. This does not imply that the community met those responsibities while the person still lived. It does, however, serve to reinforce the obligation, regardless of whether the obligation was fulfilled.

    When I go to the funeral of a neighbor who I did not know well, or when I contribute money for flowers to be sent from the neighborhood when some one is hospitalized who I do not really know, I am joining in a communication that says the person is valued as a necessary component of the community on which I depend whether I know that person well or not. I am acknowledging the interdependence of 'community' irrespective of close personal relationships, and also acting to reinforce to both myself and the community the importance of that social contract to my ability to survive as an individual. In short, I am attesting to the validity of the social contract, even though I may have few, if any, psychological needs or responsibilities associated with the death of that person.

    I don't mean to sound so dry and didactic. I just don't know how to express it otherwise.