Bring out your dead

By | 2013/06/10

Should we allow backyard funeral pyres?

In Mourners traumatised after corpse explodes, we’re told:

In the late heat of January, a corpse exploded in a crypt at Preston mausoleum in Melbourne’s north, oozing fluids through an inadequate seal and down the granite faces of the vaults below.

Royce Millar, The Age, June 9, 2013.

Death and grief are tricky things to write about, particularly since so many of our death rituals are based around various religious and cultural beliefs. I’ll readily admit that I baulk at cemeteries, and find the notion of mausoleums entirely repellent.

I have no certainty about what happens after death, though I personally believe that it’s most likely to be simply utter finality, the end of self, of consciousness, of ‘soul’. To me, this is our one and only shot at being alive, and we should concentrate on being alive now, rather than wishing to be alive in a different form later. With that finality comes a lack of interest in what happens to me after I die – I won’t be around to care, and so it doesn’t matter. In fact, put it in the garbage to be collected on bin day for all I care. Me will be gone.

So many of the ways we deal with dead bodies seems to be a wasteful thing. Cemeteries consume sometimes vast amounts of space that could be more gainfully used for farming, housing or parklands. Mausoleums magnify this even more, and seem a fantastic waste of resources too.

I respect that families and friends need to grieve, and I respect that many cultures have specific ways of handling that grief process – but I equally believe the process of dealing with dead bodies must inevitably evolve.

Must is wrong – it’s evolving already. Funeral pyres existed in many cultures, but you don’t see funeral pyres in backyards in a city like Melbourne. You don’t see funeral boats drifting ablaze down the Yarra River. Society has already changed how dead bodies are dealt with, and governments have already legislated to control the extent to which cultural burial and/or disposal practices can be followed.

Ongoing population growth, more stringent health standards and an increasing number of people who flag themselves as ‘non-religious’ must inevitably lead to a discussion about how we deal with the dead. The sooner that discussion starts, the more humanely the issue can be dealt with.

One thought on “Bring out your dead

  1. Darren W

    “Preston mausoleum in Melbourne?” Really, how could you possibly let that one pass?
    “Bring out your dead!” [Bell clangs.] “But really, son, I’m not dead yet [Smiles].” [Son knocks father unconscious, slips cart puller a tip.] Cart puller: “Oh, alright then [smiles, continues].”

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