I began my walk to gratitude when learning of an illness in 2017. In 2023, a recurrence causes even deeper reflection on end of life choice. I continue to claim good health, but it’s time to think about necessary choices. Rather than feeling sad, I experience deep gratitude as I learn about symbolism behind choice. Let me provide a few examples for you to think about for your own future.
It is unfortunate that we do not typically talk about decisions we make near the end of life, or we leave such decisions to our family or friends. As I grow older, my family members are passing, as are my friends and neighbors, and thus it is not uncommon for me to observe choices made. After a death, an early choice is what to do with the body: burial, cremation, donation for science, etc. Individuals have strong feelings/emotions, cultural and religious practices, and family histories with these decisions. Have you reflected on your own choices? On what basis did you/ will you make your decisions?
Towards a deeper understanding of “choice”, I searched the origins of the common phrase: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, and was pleased to learn that Genesis18:27, Job 30:19, and Ecclesiastes 3:20 in the Bible directly refer to “ashes” or “dust”. I thought it wonderful that in the Bible either burial or cremation is supported by Scripture. Family traditions, economic circumstance, location, density of population, etc. also determine choice. In other words, it is up to each of us to choose what we wish for our bodies, after death.
Many people have different opinions and emotions when thinking about where/what will happen to their body after death. Some persons do not like to imagine “fire” , while others do not like to think about a body in the ground for years. The memory of cremation of the Jewish population during the Holocaust is strong and would cause one to prefer burial, but people are changing, The preference for burial in a blanket under an old Oak tree is becoming popular (more natural return to the earth) for some, versus being embalmed, placed in a casket, and then into a vault to be preserved forever. These visual images cause discomfort in many persons, so typically they put off the decision of what to do, choice. Is there a strategy through which we may encourage persons to make necessary choices?
After evaluating my choices, I am satisfied that my body returning to dust (burial) or ashes (cremation) would yield a similar outcome: separating the physical body from energies within the body, the soul (consciousness).
This outcome is directly addressed by most religions. That is, after death the body (vessel) is no longer of importance, rather the “soul” or “spirit” is the emphasis. In Christian religion, the Trinity conception of God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) is often the focus. What happens to one’s “Soul” at death is what matters.
Some religions/persons focus further on the physical body. That is, some religious practices frown upon destroying the physical body which would be an argument against cremation, but religious scholars, priests, and others do believe that God (Catholicism) can resurrect a body, even if cremated. So, again, the choice is up to you.
Personally, during my lifetime I have observed both practices. Each choice seems to make the family and friends very sad during the funeral service. However, in recent years I discovered a practice that makes me joyful, though still sad when a person dies. I discovered the peace and hope that “Doves” create when introduced to family and friends. Thus, I offer introducing doves during end of life services as one strategy to ease the pain of choice.
When we buried my mother, my son requested doves, released at graveside. I will never forget the feeling I had as I released one dove and watched it join the flock of doves, which circled above, and then flew to the Heavens. It was a beautiful, moving memory.
Recently, on the day of cremation, I had the opportunity to again see the release of doves. Rather than experiencing sadness at the thought of the concurrent cremation, persons present experienced peace, hope, and love as the doves escorted the deceased to the Heavens. During that day, I learned the symbolism behind releasing one dove, four doves, 100 doves etc. I was so moved that when I returned home, I read the history of the white dove in religion during funerals, and decided that my choice was to have doves at my end of life.
Doves offer such beautiful moments, and give us joyful memories. The visual images of a flock of doves during a cremation, or graveside burial are everlasting. Doves are symbolic angel escorts guiding our souls to God.
Because I still feel deep gratitude to each little dove I have observed at funerals, I made a video to capture/explain dove symbolism at end of life. Please enjoy. Then consider: What choice will you make someday?