Having grown up with the music and many styles of David Bowie I was admittedly moved when I learned about his sudden death (at least to me). His battle with a host of medical problems finally over, in a flash he was gone, at least physically. I started looking for the funeral plans of this pop genius, sure that they would attract some of the most famous people in the world (and maybe Mars, too!) only to find out that upon death Bowie had been immediately cremated, in what funerary terminology is “direct cremation” defined by the NY health department as “the disposition of human remains by cremation without a formal viewing, visitation, or ceremony.” I guess this was Bowie’s wish: to go without a fuss and let the legendary music eulogize him. That’s understandable, but it’s also sad because proper memory and burial of the dead is very helpful not only to the deceased but especially to the living.
In this Jubilee of Mercy I have been thinking a lot about “Burial of the Dead” which is a corporal work of mercy in Catholic teaching. How we hope to be remembered and buried upon our deaths is an important, maybe the most important, contribution we really make to understanding our lives. I don’t advocate arranging every detail of our funerals. That’s weird. However, allowing ourselves to be remembered, albeit briefly and sincerely, is an act of sharing the most important elements of our lives: our inner-most beliefs and actions with those wishing us well and looking to us for good example. Death is a very life-giving moment.
I mention these things because I recently helped do some “shopping” for burial sites in my city, which might indeed be the place of final rest for me (give it a few years, I hope). Talk about an interesting consumer activity! The Catholic cemetery being considered is certainly a beautiful one (pictured above: Calvary Cemetery, Pittsburgh). Instead of being a sad occasion, it actually gave me a kind of joy to look at possible grave locations, especially when considering how others might enjoy their visits to my grave: the view, the climb, the peacefulness, the distances, and yes, the neighbors too. Though it’s true that we pass into eternity (Deo gratias!) it’s not presumptive to look after the living after we are dead. We do that financially through wills and trusts; why not spiritually through generously allowing ourselves to be loved and remembered after we have left this “vale of tears”? Even death (especially death) in that way, “isn’t about us”. I, for one, still remember David Bowie in my prayers and even at Mass. I actually owe him a lot, and I look forward to meeting him one long day…
Please enjoy Bowie’s later-year rendition of Ziggy Stardust. I especially like his blessing at the end!