Driving past a cemetery last night I was startled to notice lights among the tombstones. At first I thought they were just reflections from some of the polished markers, but I looked a little closer look and saw that they were actually lights. Some were solar lights pushed into the ground and others seemed to be glow in the dark lights attached to headstones. Some of the lights appeared to be angels and crosses. A few of them changed colors.
Judging by the sheer number of these light-up memorials, I assume this is a new trend in funeral customs. Kind of like a high tech version of the eternal flame? Or are they night lights for the dearly departed? Those were the only options I could think of, because I don’t know many people who go walking in a graveyard at night. A quick search on amazon for solar powered memorials yielded a dozen or so light-up items. And I found a few funeral homes offering memorial lights as well. Guess they have to bump up their bottom line, too. People are living longer so business can be slow for them at times. But where does this trend stop? Will there be programmable electronic headstones with a video tributes next? Chaser lights? Fireworks? When the cemetery looks like a carnival, will some inner sense of decency change this custom back to something a bit more dignified? Or should the grieving be allowed to just let it all hang out no matter how strange it looks?
The lights I saw were pretty tame. And at least they were in a cemetery where it made sense. I’ve always thought the roadside memorials piled with flowers and toys and mementos were pretty tacky. I guess it boils down to what people believe about the dead.
Thanks to Hollywood, horror movies, and shows like The Walking Dead (ugh, don’t let me get started on that garbage) the myth is perpetuated that people have immortal souls that live on “somewhere” after they die. That doesn’t make sense to me. If people “go to their reward” at death then decorating their grave or memorial is a pointless thing at best. If they’ve gone “to heaven” then they aren’t there in the grave. (I feel sure if I went to heaven, I would hardly be interested in coming back to check out my grave site!) If you get your reward immediately after death, there’s no need for a judgment day or a resurrection at the end of time. If you’re fine for hundreds or thousands of years living as a disembodied spirit in “heaven” you don’t NEED a body so there’s no need to come back and get the one you had down here.
If, as I believe, you are unconscious and “sleep” until the resurrection, you have no knowledge of what is going on in the world around you and what happens to your grave or your body is of no consequence. I’ve heard the same preacher at the beginning of a funeral tell the attendees that their loved one was now in heaven (regardless of how they lived their lives) and at the end of that funeral, say that the loved one is sleeping until the resurrection morning. Talk about confusion!!
So all the funeral customs are largely based upon myth and superstition. And money. Dying is big business. The average traditional funeral is a minimum of $6000, most are much more than that. Some customs hearken back to superstition that the dead would come back to haunt the living if they didn’t get a good farewell funeral. But mostly it’s about emotion, guilt, and loss. Emotion is very raw and powerful, but it rarely pays the bills that come after it.
Back to the roadside memorials. Do people think their loved one’s spirit hovers around the place where they met their untimely end and those memorials somehow let them know they are not forgotten by the living? Why would they? And let’s not forget, it’s a ROAD, with traffic passing by and blowing dirt and rain and what have you on those memorials. They are also a bit of a distraction for drivers. My personal opinion is that losing someone doesn’t entitle you to push that tragedy into the faces of passing strangers. Yes, the roads can be dangerous, and traffic accidents that claim lives are devastating. But memorials that can cause future accidents seem to risk perpetuating the tragedy rather than preventing future ones. And who decides when to take them down and remove the dead flowers and dirty items? Just wondering.
I’ve lost many loved ones, some very tragically. I know how much the loss hurts and how deep the pain is. How you want to do something, anything, to make sense of the incomprehensible absence of someone. All things considered, I think it’s better to honor the dead by being a living tribute to them; living a better life because of their example is far better than costly flowers and statues that glow in the dark.