24 December 2008

Memorials: Death & Living

Okay, some will not think this is a Christmas topic, but ya know, death happens.

Loss is keenly felt at Christmas and some people would rather ignore the whole festive thing and focus on things that matter to them personally. I know of a few people who are either dealing with a recent loss or anticipating one any day now.

Kathy, Ian, Gillian, Andy, Owen . . . so many others . . .

Sometimes it is interesting to understand why we do what we do in the various rites of passage. Being keenly interested in culture and spirituality, I found the following to be informative.

Memorilisation Practice

In the last ten thousand years, our deceased antecedents are thought to number over one hundred billion (see Davies, 1994). Not much has been recorded about them, unless they were famous, rich or fortunate enough to have been catapulted into the memory of others. It was therefore up to the general public to ‘individualise’ the deaths of the rest through mortuary ritual, an accomplishment to which archaeologists and our cemeteries can attest today. Individualisation via memorialisation has become a way for past and current societies to commemorate life on the event of a death. To that end, memorialisation provides one of a group of artefacts used by historians, genealogists and the like to document history and family links.

[The] memorialisation of departed loved ones seems to be an integral part of human nature that can be traced back to the dawn of civilization. Throughout prehistoric times and into recorded history, there is a common thread of honouring the dead … as early as 35,000 BC, Cro-Magnon man practiced ritual funerals. (Tippy, 2002)

Memorialisation as a death ritual has been practiced as early as 35,000 BC. An evolutionary analysis of physical memorial form by Hallam and Hockey (2001) suggests that in recent times memorials are increasingly used by the living to maintain a role with the deceased. Before the eleventh century in England, memorials were only erected for those of wealth and means. However the eleventh century was also a turning point for everyday society, in that the graves of the ‘ordinary’ were recovered from anonymity in a desire to commemorate everyday people. Three centuries later, memorials contained items such as name, date of death, words of praise, profession (and indirectly, rank and status), and prayers to God for the soul. Later, text linking family members to the deceased was included and, by the seventeenth century, biographical accounts featured, therefore making the memorial as real as possible to the deceased and the living.

As a form of meaningful and personal communication, memorialisation helps those who experience the death of a loved one to fight through the stages of the grieving process, providing a means to express deeply felt emotion and to honour the deceased. Memorials provide a permanent place for those left behind to connect emotionally and spiritually with their loss. They also provide an opportunity to honour and pay tribute to a person and make a statement about the impact that person had on his or her family, community, or even the world. Moreover, Ruby (1995) explains that mourners are confronted by two very contradictory needs when someone dies: to keep the memory of the deceased alive, and, at the same time, accept the reality of death and loss. Therefore as Salisbury (2002) suggests, the act of erecting some kind of memorial to the deceased is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the grieving process.

In the recent past, memorialisation is largely practised via granite, marble or bronze memorials in cemeteries, requiring physical visits that can be impeded by distance or physical ability. In a society that is increasingly fragmented - where families and friends, often separated by significant distances, cannot actively participate in memorialising their deceased – an alternate space (is cyberspace). Read more . . . or just ruminate on losses you've known and how you memorialised them.


Sonia said...

Informative that it is - PLUS perspective!! And I can only speak for myself - Keeping the memory of a loved one that has passed away...hmmm as this happened in my late teens, the death of my brother a sudden accident, being the youngest of three siblings. And now in my thirties shall I say NOW it’s when I am starting to acknowledge and embrace what I can. The thoughts and feelings are around but not till now I want to know – trying to remember, wanting to know more, what happened, who was around at the time, as for me, I have no memory of that day, months or years after. The parts I don’t remember, and there are many, I have to rely on a true friend, bless her heart, she has been patient with me! And the journey continues... the precious thoughts, the memories I have of the times we spent together - the big brother looking out for the younger sister - that is what I hold onto and will forever!! And you know what, death does happen, even when we least expect it..... who would of known my brother would of died when we had made plans to do things the following day. Today I treat each day as a blessing, thanking my family and true friends who are around me! Thanks Jill for adding this to the conversation.

Jill said...

So how to memoralise your bother? What thing, place, activity or way of respecting and continuing his memory?