Friday, August 29, 2008

Back to theEarth part 2

As mentioned in Back to the Earth part 1, the idea of returning to the earth is a powerful one. Often during committal services, the sign of the cross is traced in sand on the casket, and a powerful ritual in the Jewish faith involves sprinkling dirt into the grave of a loved one. I have seen and facilitated wonderful variants on these rituals. When an elderly woman in my town passed away, her family wanted some of the earth from the family farm to accompany her into her grave. It was important for them to know that she was resting in the same earth that had been such an integral part of her life and family history. They brought a pail of that soil to the committal service, and when it was over, I invited first the family, and then friends to sprinkle some of it on her casket. The family started, some a little shy about it, but after a few people participated, everyone wanted to be a part of this ritual. I'm grateful that the family brought enough for every one to sprinkle in a handful. The lesson I learned from this was just how moving the acknowledgement and engagement of her connection to her earth was, and how healing participation can be for family and for friends.

Tragically, little more than a year later, the woman's son passed away. When I suggested sprinkling the earth on his casket, the family said that he didn't have the same connection to the family farm. The powerful connection this man had was to the local baseball field. He had grown up across the street from it, played there, watched games there, and coached his sons and students in baseball there. We processed out of the church the day of his funeral singing 'Take me out to the ball game' and out into the churchyard where family and friends will always remember that they sprinkled sand from the baseball field into his grave.

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.


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