Being an Atheist makes funerals with burials especially tedious. There’s an unbelievable amount of mysticism and ritual, and I realized that I don’t think our culture is as emotionally mature as the Pirahã tribe who don’t believe in an afterlife, and just calmly think “Well, death sucks, but it happens.” Their Amazonian tribe buries their dead without any ceremonies, and without a coffins.In our culture we have days of viewings, we beat our chests to show our grief, pray, sing, recite poems, write melancholic speeches called eulogies, and pay priests hundreds of dollars to preach at a funeral and sometimes talk about someone they probably haven’t even met. We make food and take photos, we look at pictures of the dead, put on suits, have pallbearers wear gloves, and drop flowers on the grave, we greet dozens of people and send cards with condolences, and if they’re Catholic or it’s a military funeral there’s even more pomp to keep you from doing anything else on that Sunday. And it’s not even over yet because anyone who pays four times more for burial rather than cremation is going to come back to the grave again.
Anyway, I was asked to recite a death poem at a funeral for Christians. What should I have done? I was seriously tempted to just troll them and quote Euphrates, or use a Japanese death poem:
” Death poems
are mere delusion —
death is death”
” Oh young folk —
if you fear death,
Having died once
you won’t die again”
Seriously the traditional Japanese outlook was much better. I love this stuff:
Instead they asked me to recite a fake as hell poem they selected called “The Broken Chain” that only makes people feel nothing but angst and emptiness. I’d at least rather have done, “Do not stand at my grave and weep,” since it says move on already, except I’ve heard it before and therefore think it’s overused…plus it sounds too Pantheist for me.
I couldn’t get out of it because they printed my name in the schedule with “The Broken Chain”, so it’d stand out if I said no. I’d rather have said nothing, or at least something consoling or about the person. Funeral poetry is mostly used for evoking cheap pathos, though it’s better than being asked to pray. And I’d rather not color anyone’s memories by talking about the person – Pericles made that point when he said at the beginning of the Funeral Oration that we shouldn’t allow the esteem we have for the deceased to rise or fall on the words of an eulogist at a ceremony.
So I tried to look for another poem that wouldn’t allude to God, an afterlife, or someone waiting to see you again someday, and would you believe that it took me a few hours! I didn’t want to recite any proselytization propaganda so I googled “Atheist funeral poetry,” except Atheists don’t seem to care about consoling poems.
I thought about using this one:
“Something Beautiful Remains”
The tide recedes but leaves behind
bright seashells on the sand.
The sun goes down, but gentle
warmth still lingers on the land.
The music stops, and yet it echoes
on in sweet refrains…..
For every joy that passes,
something beautiful remains.
But then I questioned if it was true, and the first image that sprung to mind was of the joy of taking a dump, and how something “beautiful” remains stuck to the side of the toilet bowl even after you flush it. The more you think about poetry the stupider it becomes. So instead I decided to use this one:
“Remember” by Christina Rossetti
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
I personally wouldn’t want any of that ruckus at my funeral, although if I had to, it might be fitting to have a physicist speak at my funeral:
When you die you’re just worm food anyway, and I consider funerals very selfish things. You know my grandmother wanted to be cremated and thrown in the oceans so that no one could come to her grave and be sad. Well guess what? Her selfish Catholic granddaughter kept some of the ashes and planted them in a urn at a cemetery anyway, so she could visit when she wanted. Which she hardly did since she immediately moved to a different state. So yeah, she didn’t honor the last wishes of her mother. Moreover, no one told me about this for years which pisses me off, because had I wanted to visit the urn I wouldn’t have been able to. Funerals are when Christians show how selfish they really are.
You know supposedly I have a plot of land allocated to me anyway, so I can be buried with the family. I don’t want that at all. I want my freedom, and I want to save money, and definitely not have some asshole in robes to preach hell and damnation at my funeral and to say, “He was faithless, so all we can do is pray and hope he got into heaven. Remember, the most important thing in life is to live with faith, so maybe you’ll see your loved ones again.” Unfortunately when you die it’s like you lose all of your rights.
I really should become an organ donor so that maybe a hospital will be motivated to fight for my body when I’m no longer around to fight for myself, and maybe then the selfish people who call themselves caring friends and family won’t be able to override my wishes and do so much superstitious bullshit “for him.” I’m just concerned that if I were an organ donor and I passed into a coma or something, some doctors might be motivated to harvest my organs prematurely while I still had a chance of a recovery.