Death is a multi-billion-dollar industry, because the average funeral cost is between 9 and 11 thousand dollars. When someone dies, we “make arrangements” and someone from a funeral home comes to whisk away the body only to be seen again during the funeral service or graveside. On top of the loss, we suffer a huge financial blow if not properly informed. We leave the care of our dead in the hands of the professionals because we assume, they know best. We may mistakenly believe corpses are dangerous or unsanitary and need to be removed immediately. Or maybe, we just feel like we need to give the deceased the sendoff they deserve. Often, we don’t know our options and we’re disconnected from the whole process entirely.
Our current relationship with death is pretty hands off. In our society we pay people to handle our dead and keep them largely out of sight. Nowadays, death takes place in institutions like hospitals and nursing homes more often than in the home. As a result, the final stages of life are distanced from the rest of the living. Back in the day we sat with our deceased loved ones and really let ourselves come to terms with their death. Death, like birth, was a family affair. We once understood that dying is a natural part of life. We spent time with the corpse, sometimes dressing it and having home wakes. We dug the hole. We covered it up. We were actually a part of the ritual.
Jamaican funerary tradition includes a ritual called nine night. On the ninth night after the deceased has died, they have a party in the home to sendoff the spirit or duppy. The party kicks off at 8 p.m. complete with food and dancing and rum. On the 10th day, the deceased is buried. This level of comfort with the dead is what we should get back to instead of being afraid. Do we really need the expensive air tight casket if we’re putting them in the ground? Is embalming and preserving the dead with cancer causing chemicals really necessary? Why are we obsessively trying to stop time and decomposition? We are organic beings. It’s OK to decompose. Its OK to be involved in the care after the death of someone we love. It’s an opportunity to put death back in the hands of families and allows us options to do what we are comfortable with.