Kenny A. Chaffin
All Rights Reserved © 2013 Kenny A. Chaffin
Burial, what a strange custom. What a strange people we are to put so much of our energy into it. To put our dead in deep dark holes in the ground after their special preparations and ceremonies and then to install inscribed stone tablets to create an altar of sorts; a place to return to and to relive the loss, and the grief. How maladjusted we as a society have become, how out of touch with death -- a normal part of life yet something we take extreme measures with to hide it from ourselves and to pretend it doesn’t exist.
I saw a piece on TV last night about Neanderthals and how the scientists have just discovered that they may have ritually buried their dead some 30,000+ years ago. Digging a shallow grave or covering the body with stones and with perhaps an offering of animal paws, bones or trinkets.
According to statistics from the Cremation Association of North America as of 2010 over 40% are cremated on average with a whopping 68% in the state of Nevada. It seems cost may be a driving factor as the national average for burial is $7,300 (including embalming, casket, vault , etc.), while the national average for a cremation is $1,650. Now this does not account for those who keep their dead mother sitting in her favorite chair watching her favorite TV programs and even though I can identify with that desire to avoid change, they are in very small percentage points.
Now you might think these people who keep grandma around after her demise are strange, but I suspect an alien culture or even some cultures here on our own planet might look at our burial practices and go WTF? I know I do. My feeling is that our beliefs, emotions, and actions with respect to death are what drive things. The first is that we feel and many believe we will live forever, we will go on despite our bodies dying and the second is that we want to keep our loved ones alive, we refuse to admit that they are actually gone forever. Both these things are linked to our being conscious, self-conscious and self-aware. These things too form the basis for many of our human religious beliefs. It is almost impossible to separate death from belief in the supernatural due to these innate human characteristics.
I can’t help but think of the science fiction novel I read long ago – Cemetery World by Clifford D. Simak where the entire Earth has become an expensive, elite graveyard to the galaxy. Sometimes I feel that is how our world is going. Certainly no crisis yet, but I wonder at all the space taken up by cemeteries and I have seen many times in my six decades graveyards expanding, annexing, adding or opening new areas across town in perpetuity. What is perpetuity anyway, humans are so fleeting, we are here for only microseconds, nanoseconds compared to the Earth, the Universe. It’s almost as if we are nothing, not even the blink of an eye on a gnat. Someday the sun will expand and engulf the Earth vaporizing it and rending all atoms on and in it apart and consuming them to be returned to the universe in some 10 billion years. What then of those bodies (long gone) buried today six feet under? I ask myself what kind of sense does this even make as in my mind I watch my mother’s casket slowly lowered into the grave. I wait as everyone leaves -- returning to their homes, their jobs, their lives, I drop a handful of dark clotted soil onto the casket and listen for the echo it makes while the grave diggers stand by to cover her over.
About the Author
Kenny A. Chaffin writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction and has published poems and fiction in Vision Magazine, The Bay Review, Caney River Reader, WritersHood, Star*Line, MiPo, Melange and Ad Astra and has published nonfiction in The Writer, The Electron, Writers Journal and Today’s Family. He grew up in southern Oklahoma and now lives in Denver, CO where he works hard to make enough of a living to support two cats, numerous wild birds and a bevy of squirrels. His poetry collections No Longer Dressed in Black and The Poet of Utah Park and his collection of science essays How do we Know are available at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B007S3SMY8. He may be contacted through his website at http://www.kacweb.com.