… and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. – Ecclesiastes 12:7
Chandelier at the Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
Just as American children are far removed from the connection between slaughtered animals and the food on their plate, they are also unnaturally removed from human life and death. I find both to be sad.
I do not want my children to be afraid of death… or life.
(As a childbirth instructor, I have shown my children videos of birth, and they have a pretty good idea where babies come from. Yes, my oldest is nine.)
Today, and I forget how we arrived at the specific conversation, although life and death are always part of an on-going conversation, we discussed two different burial practices used in places where there is limited amount of space for burial.
These are two of the sites we visited today and discussed as a family:
The Tibetan Sky Burial: In Tibet, where the ground is so rocky that it can only be dug down a few centimeters, burial in the ground would be very difficult. Instead, people are given a ‘sky burial’. The nude body is washed and then wrapped and taken to a ‘burial’ ground. The body is sliced open and incense is lit nearby. The smells of the incense and the blood attract hundreds of vultures who then eat away the flesh and carry the remains into the sky. Because the brain is encased in by the skull, when the birds of prey are done with the rest of the body, the burial practitioner cracks open the skull and the vultures finish their feast. The bones are then scattered down the mountain for open-air decomposition. In a culture that believes in reincarnation, such a burial is considered an honor.
Ossuary (Wikipedia) : Another solution to burial in places with limited space is to store just the remaining bones once the flesh has decomposed. Bodies to decay in temporary graves, sometimes covered with a pile of stones, or even in dirt. They are then washed, labeled, and stored.
Some places get a little creative with the storage of bones, such as the Sedlec Ossuary. Part of a Roman Catholic chapel in the Czech Republic, human remains in this ossuary are used as decoration, including in the form of an elaborate chandelier.
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For what it’s worth, I’ve found that there are very few non-fiction books about death and burial for children outside of studies on ancient Egypt. I could not find a single book for children on modern American burial practices or even a matter-of-fact book on the career of being a mortician. Thankfully, there are many books available on grief.
Why don’t we as a society talk much about death and burial?
If you do talk to your children about such things, what resources to you use?
In what ways would openly talking about death and burial in society as a whole change how we think of and value life?
Do you think toxic embalming chemicals would be used as widely if people weren’t so afraid of the natural decomposition process?
Photo Credit: B10m via Flickr