Andrew Critch reflects on funerals, and whether our way of burying our dead is as much about honoring their bodies as honoring their memory. Specifically, Andrew suggests buying “biographies instead of expensive burials:”
Cemeteries and funerals are beautiful, because they tell a story of the past that we care about. They’re also somewhat expensive: families routinely spend on the order of $10k on funeral and burial rites for their families. There are people whose entire jobs are the preparation of bodies for funeral rites. Can we tell the story of the past better, but for the same cost?
I believe we can. If your loved one is close to death or has recently died, instead of planning for an expensive burial funeral, you might consider instead planning for the cheapest possible disposal of their earthly remains, and use the excess money to hire a biographer. The biographer can talk to your loved one’s family, and even your loved one directly if they haven’t yet passed, and write down people’s most treasured or meaningful memories about them. Your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren could have much more than a tombstone to remember them by.
If more people adopted this tradition, cemeteries could become libraries where we keep tomes of stories about our lost loved ones, both bitter and sweet. When we bring flowers to the cemetery, we could leave them next to a book containing their life story. We could re-read their memories, and perhaps even take some time to read through the memories of other people we don’t know, and develop a feeling of what it was like to be them. Probably some people would take an interest in reading the stories even of strangers. Perhaps these “cemetery historians” would even bond when they meet at the cemetery, and recommend their favorite stories to each other. Together, we’d have a culture more capable of preserving and cherishing the memories of the people we’ve lost.
I don’t see this as being in competition with a proper funeral or burial at all, but as a natural part of the planning process that funeral homes or others could adopt as part of their service to respect the bodies of the dead and honor their memory.