Last Monday I had the honor of presiding at a service for my Uncle Robert. Uncle Bob died over a year ago, and this interment of his ashes was something he and my Aunt Stella had planned a number of years before either died. Aunt Stella died in 2007, and Uncle Bob followed in 2009 (just short of 100 years).
So far this is very much common life experience. A few things were different, for me anyway. They both wanted their ashes placed near each other at Bay View’s Memorial Garden. Memorial Garden seem to be a rapidly increasing option for such events. It is not a columbarium or cemetery. It is a public garden (a scattering garden) which includes the remains of some people.
Bay View’s Memorial Garden is an excellently planned and executed extensive garden area with a spectacular view of Little Traverse Bay near Petoskey, Michigan. I confess that it is an excellent site for a final resting place. There are no markers indicating who and where anyone is placed. As it happened, the lady from the committee who had the duty with our group remembered where Aunt Stella’s remains had been placed, so Uncle Bob’s ashes were in fact placed nearby. There is no formal record kept, however, and this set me to reflecting on our burial habits.
I have done may funerals in my ministry. Most were traditional services from the church or funeral home to a cemetery final resting place. A few were cremations which had no specific resting place after the service.
American funeral practices have been much written about, and often berated for some of their practices and costs. This is not about recommending either burial or cremation. Your choice. Some church bodies have strong beliefs in favor of one (mostly burial) or cremation. In some countries, such as England which is short on space, one needs to be cremated for that practical reason. In my ministry I have never run in an atheist or agnostic who demanded cremation as a statement that there was no God. That view was in the 19th century especially, sometimes cited by Christians as the reason burial was right for Believers. Again, this is not my main purpose for this post.
A SPOT TO GATHER AND RETURN, OR DEPENDENCE ON MEMORY ONLY. Two different approaches to funerals.
Many people have been brought up with the belief that the physical grave site gives reason for relatives and loved ones to return at later dates. Often local relatives would care for the site and keep it attractive. Memorial Day is a favorite time. My son-in-law has faithfully done so for many years and placed fresh flowers.
Other folks, my parents included, decided that after the service their remains be cremated. My mother wished for my father’s ashes to be placed near a deer blind he had loved. My mother wished to be scattered in a peaceful scenic spot of our choice. It fell to me to perform both tasks.
They had mentioned over the years as to how grave sites were becoming less and less tended, and were often difficult for others to visit due to relocation or health. Much of this is due to the current cultural trends which see much, and often distant relocations and job changes. This practice has also lessened as church memberships and beliefs change with increasing rapidity. American religious practices also have been increasingly challenged.
All in all, the American funeral has indeed changed over the years. Just in my lifetime emphases and custom has altered, often greatly. At base there seems to be the division between individual portable remembrance beginning to replace collective shared experience and place continuity. Since I believe neither is inherently superior, our personal preferences is just that, preferences. Both have strengths and weaknesses. Usually we favor the one with which we grew up .
One challenge to our Church life is how to adapt either to our body life. It can be done.
Not all Bay site scattering gardens are as attractive and scenic as Bay View’s Memorial Garden. (Scattering Garden at Dunedin, Anderson’s Bay..)