Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mathieu Lehanneur: The Age of the World

art death ritual
Artist and Designer Mathieu Lehanneur has created a series of urns that map out the demographics of age in various countries of the world. Each urn is made up of 100 ceramic layers representing the current population levels from ages 0 to 100, and is finished in black enamel.

death art
A comparison of the demographics of three different countries
The result is more than a resting place for a statistician's remains. It is a vivid reminder our own mortality as we find our own place in the stack and see what the future holds for us and our contemporaries. The urns also show the disparities in life expectancy and mortality rates between the first, second and third worlds. Look at Egypt, with all the weight on the bottom, a nation of youths without much hope to live into middle age, let alone reach 100. Look at Japan; here is an urn without a steady base as fewer children are born to support the heavy load on top.
death art urn

As beautiful and visually striking as they are thought provoking, these urns say perhaps more about the universal condition that anything about the individual who may at some point rest within. Perhaps that is the point. Part of accepting the reality of death and our own eventual demise requires this realization;

Each of us is just bit of data in the big picture, and every other bit of data represents a unique individual with hopes and dreams just like our own.

cremation art urn
The urn that maps age distribution and life expectancy in Japan during production

The Age Of The World containers are 60 cm high x 60 cm wide and are made of enameled ceramic at Vallauris by Claude Aiello.

 -from Mocoloco

art urn cremation

Finished Japan Urn

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ask the Undertaker: Catholics and Cremation

Catholic Cremation
St. Joseph of Arithmea, Patron Saint of Undertakers

Dear Pat,

My wife and I are planning on being cremated when we die. We are Catholic, but haven’t really been to church for years. My brother was cremated and buried in a Catholic Cemetery, so it must be OK with the church to be cremated. What are our options?

Harvey Creaster

Davenport, Iowa

catholic cremation ritual

Dear Harvey,

The Catholic Church has some rules and guidelines that they encourage funeral directors to share with their Catholic families. I have been mistaken for a priest on a few occasions since I’m Irish and wear a lot of black, but I have not been called or ordained, so I would suggest that you have a discussion with your local parish priest for a fuller understanding of the reasons behind these rules.

Yes, cremation is allowed now for Catholics, as long as the cremation is not done in defiance or contradiction of the beliefs and tenets of the faith. The church would prefer, if cremation is chosen, that it take place after the mass, and that the body of the deceased be present at the service. They will allow the cremated remains at the mass, as long as they are treated with the same ritual and respect as the body would normally be given.

The church would prefer that cremated remains are buried or interred within a Catholic cemetery. Failing that, they prefer that interment take place within a Catholic section of a public cemetery. The Church will accept burial in a non denominational section of a cemetery but the preference is that a person is buried within a ‘community of the faithful’ to await resurrection together. The Church does not allow cremated remains to be kept at home indefinitely. They must be interred.

catholic cremation memorial

The church does not allow portioning or scattering. They do allow donation of the body for a legitimate scientific purpose, but funeral rites must precede the donation and burial of the remains must follow it.

I encourage you to explore your options, discuss your choices with family and clergy and plan out your services. In addition, I hope that it is a long, long time before those wishes need to be carried out.

Best Regards,
Pat McNally

You may email your questions for the Undertaker to:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ashes and Sea

Here is a story shared by a reader, recounting her experience of burying her mother and sister at sea. The story reminds me of how important ritual can be. Whether it is a traditional religious rite, or something the family creates on their own, ritual marks the passing of a loved one, and helps us to accept it so that we can move forward with our lives. I hope that everyone will find the comfort of ritual when a loved one dies. While I encourage families to plan their services right away, this story shows that it is never too late to benefit from a meaningful ceremony.

ashes ocean sea
Sea scattering service from Sea Burials LLC

I lost my mother from cancer 24 yrs ago and I lost my sister from cancer 4 yrs ago. My sister had kept my mother's ashes under her bed till she passed away. So when it was time to bury my sister we knew they had to be buried together. They both wanted to be buried at sea, so we charted a boat through a funeral home in Redondo Beach, Ca.
I was able to watch the undertaker empty my mother’s ashes into a basket that we had filled with flowers. Being that she was cremated 20 years prior, her remains were ash and chunks of bone. When he emptied my sister's ashes, they where all ash. My sister was in one basket and my mother was in another. They tied ropes to each basket and let them float about 40 feet away and pulled the ropes, which dumped the ashes and flowers into the water.

ashes sea ashes ocean
'Shell' Sea Burial Urn from Lots Design, Sweden
This is a visual that is burned into my brain. As the baskets were dumped, the flowers floated on the surface of the water, and as the ashes sank in the water they started to swirl around each other and moved off slowly swirling around each other as if they where becoming one. I wondered if the weight of my mothers bones where pulling the ashes inward as they swirled together. But what was noticed by everyone was that they moved sideways through the water instead of straight down. After we could know longer see the ashes and the flowers had scattered we went back to shore. It was an amazing experience. It was very symbolic to see the ashes embrace each other; my sister had grieved for my mother for 20 years!

For another moving story of burial at sea, visit the October post on the HMS Royal Oak

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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.