The King is Dead! Long Live the King! — a guest post by David Pascoe

The King is Dead! Long Live the King!– a guest post by David Pascoe

This isn’t political. Or at least, not overtly. You see, we buried my grandfather recently. He’d lived a good, long life. He served aboard ships in the Pacific in WWII. My grandmother gave me his dog tags (me being the only other in two generations to serve in the military), and I found an old silver bracelet of his with his name on the front and his serial number on the reverse. It’s around my wrist as I type this.

There were a lot of tears on that overcast Friday afternoon, as we put Mor Far’s (Swedish for “mother’s father”; he had four daughters, so all his grandspawn could call him that) mortal remains in the sandy soil of the Nevada hills, in that little national cemetery. My father spoke at the graveside. Probably some of the best words he’s spoken in a long career as a counselor and pastor, and I’m proud of him.

My grandfather was very patriotic, and not a little conservative. I joked that his casket was haze gray (and underway *rimshot*), and Fallon NAS sent a couple of young ratings to fold his flag and present it to my grandmother. That Mrs. Dave and I had to refold it between the party afterward and the after-party is no comment on them. Those guys were fantastic; folding a flag you’ve never folded before can be dodgy, and they didn’t have time to test it. Even better were the veteran volunteer group who provided the color guard and fired the salute. I’m pretty sure that had the weather been the least bit more hospitable, they’d have shown up on the backs of a mess of motorcycles. Which would have been fun. After, the speechifying and the ceremonying, Mor Far’s five grandsons (and one great-grand, for parity) escorted the casket to the waiting backhoe thingy. We wore his favorite garb: denim and plaid flannel. In addition, I wore a hat, because I’m stylin’ that way.

Once the dust was returned to the dust, we went back to one of the several abodes available, and spent several hours telling stories about Mor Far. His daughters spoke of growing up with him. His sons-in-law remembered to us what it was like to try to work their way into the family. The younger generations told of his jokes, puns and games. I think he taught us all how to play Cribbage, though I don’t know that many of us ever beat him. A running thread was of his support for literacy. He’d spent many years as a library administrator. Most of the gifts I received from my grandparents were books, often signed by the authors and illustrators. This trend continued, with Mor Far frequently making books suggestions that I wish I’d paid more attention to. He did introduce me to Louis L’Amour, to my enrichment.

After the party (and the flag refolding) many of us repaired to my parents’ home for the after-party, where we continued to talk to each other about life and our patriarch for several hours until everybody disappeared into the night. The next day we had the memorial service. Then the after-party, where we had more of the same. And lots of food. Several of us ended up outside around a fire-pit singing songs. After that, back to my parents’ where I mixed several Old Fashioneds and Gin/Tonics. My cousins and I talked about guns. We hashed over some of our frustrations with American and global society. We imbibed. I took to call it SnowCon, as the entire weekend felt like one big party. (There was hardly any snow; Snow is my grandfather’s surname.)

I’m not fishing for sympathy, or trying to talk up a man none of you knew. Part of this is my working out of my own grief, and I beg your indulgence for it. Our society doesn’t handle death and grief well, and this is – in my not terribly humble opinion – one of the better representations of how to do it I’ve run across. The clan gathered, honored the dead, and had a great time. Tears were wept, guffaws were laughed, and we celebrated the life of our patriarch. There isn’t really anything terribly tragic about an 88-year-old dying from old age, but the very immediacy of it gives an impact out of all proportion to Mor Far’s general lack of notoriety.

Death is part of our world, and we – as a society – have tried to limit our exposure to it. To our own detriment, I expect. (Just give it time.) We worship youth and the beauty of it. We’re constantly trying to lose weight, get stronger, get fitter, look younger, have better hair, etc. Our celebrities look decades younger than they should, and that breeds imitation. For goodness sake, almost the entire plastic surgery industry is based on the idea that you can use a knife to stay young-looking!

We do this to our food. Almost nobody slaughters their own animals anymore. I understand that if you want to sell meat, The Law requires you take your animals to a certified abattoir for “processing.” Most Americans have no idea what the blood and shit stink of violent death smells like. (I certainly don’t, though I know several of the Huns do.) We just know that cows eat grass and make more cows and milk and end up on our plate as steak or hamburger. And honestly, most of us are likely just fine with that divorce.

But it’s hurting us.

Perhaps if we knew better what death was, fewer of us would be interested in forcing others to try to solve problems. Maybe a few more people would harp less about suffering, and do more to alleviate it. Y’know, on a personal level. Lord knows, as long as humans are still human, we’re not going to rid our species of pain. And wouldn’t that be a lovely place to live? No wants, all needs fulfilled, and nobody feels pain anymore. Likewise, no innovation, no incentive to work harder (or at all) and – worst of all – no instant accountability. Stupidity should hurt, and when you live a bit closer to the bone, it does. Stop paying your bills, and angry people come looking for the money you owe them. Stop treating your fellow citizens like human beings, worthy of respect in their own right, and you’ll get locked up. Probably beaten silly and possibly killed, in the bargain. (Looks like I strayed into politics. Oops.)

Death is a fact of life. (Yeah, yeah, and taxes. Darn-it. If only I hated roads…) Just as it’s a fact that those in positions of power are most likely to be those who are least connected to the reality we live in. History is replete with examples. Recent history, even. Say, immediate history. *cough* And Death (WHO SPEAKS IN ALL CAPS) always catches up in the end. It just so happens that those with the greatest ability to avoid it in its myriad of faces throughout life are often those who end up bringing it to others in unspeakable numbers. Again, see recent history.

And there’s always another king waiting in the wings.

Yeah, I’m not entirely satisfied with that ending. So what if there’s another would-be-autocrat looking run things according to his (or her, leave us not be sexissss (or hir, as we wouldn’t want to be cis-issss, wait a sec – what are you doing with that carp?)) personal whims? Or those whims he was taught he should have, as a right-thinking person of goodthinky-ness. Look, we of all people know this. Such are a long-standing tradition in scifi and fantasy. Further, it seems like most of them come to ignoble ends, too. (Though let’s not tell the current crop of hopefuls that, shall we?)

What’s our place, then? What for, therefore, is that therefore there for? We keep on as we have been. We know that it’s the magic in our words that changes people for good or ill. Take Marx (please!), or a certain canny Arab from a few centuries back. On the other side of things, take Siddhartha Gautama or that Nazarene guy. And we humble few march in their footsteps, looking to make the world a better place.

Not buying what I’m selling? Look, you, we tell stories. Important stories about people doing people-things, and getting sucked into Great Events. Sometimes they screw up, sometimes they get screwed up (if they’re very, very lucky, they get well screwed in the process). In our stories, they typically come out on top, for a given value of victory. What our world needs from us, we tellers of tales, is stories that grab the imagination and teach us that life is worth living, and to the full.

So who cares which fundament is currently warming the throne. We know that the wizards have the best job. And with so much less heavy lifting, too.

OT Note — this is Sarah — Mike Williamson asked me to share this:

Michael Z Williamson’s first novel, “Freehold,” first released in 2004, is being re-released in a signed, hardcover edition.  This is a one time run, and there will only be about 1000 of them printed.
If you are interested, please order today both to ensure your copy, and to boost the Amazon sales rank.

80 responses to “The King is Dead! Long Live the King! — a guest post by David Pascoe

  1. Condolences, sir. Your death rituals sound a bit like ours- food and family. Remembering life, and the living of it. We’re all sons and daughters and grandkids. The best tribute to a life well lived is the example we set, living our own lives to the fullest.

  2. Grief is best handled with laughter, and it sounds as though your Mor Far gave that last, precious gift to his family. May we all do likewise! My condolences.

  3. You know, reminding people of their mortality does affect their politics. It’s been produced in the lab; have someone write a bit reflecting on how his hand will one day be the hand of a skeleton, and then test his politics, and you will find a veer to the conservative compared to the control group.

    The Gods of the Copybook Headings do have that effect.

    When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?
    Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
    What will you answer? “We all dwell together
    To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

    Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
    Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

    There is one who remembers the way to your door:
    Life you may evade, but Death you shall not.
    You shall not deny the Stranger.

    They constantly try to escape
    From the darkness outside and within
    By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
    But the man that is shall shadow
    The man that pretends to be.

  4. There isn’t really anything terribly tragic about an 88-year-old dying from old age, but the very immediacy of it gives an impact out of all proportion to Mor Far’s general lack of notoriety.

    Mom always says something like– it’s not “an 88-year-old dying; it’s them not being here and you won’t see them on this side again. They’ve gone away. That’s why we’re sad.”

    I think this is a pretty good way of dealing with that hole.

  5. Thanks for sharing the memorial, it sounds good and right. For various reasons this is timely and appreciated for me.

    So, thanks.

    • Death has been very much with us lately, too.

      • The connection and continuity, the family, and the life well lived — these are good reminders for me, while working through the end-of-life process in my own family.

      • Here, as well. I’ve had so many friends lose their parents this year, it’s terrible. Plus, one of the nicest women I know lost her battle with a rare cancer a few weeks ago. It’s getting downright depressing.

        • Good friend of mine with the same disease almost died at the beginning of this year– they are now going to take one of her lungs that is dead. I worry about her daily– She is also using a walker (took her weeks to get there)–

  6. I’m sorry to hear about your Mor Far. I’ve been there and I know how rough it is.

    I think you’ve hit on something here otherwise though. The removal of death from our lives (not that we’re not dying, but it’s not around anymore) has changed a lot and in many ways made us worse off.

    It’s weird. When I enlisted in the Army as a much younger Jimbo, I was advised that I had to pick a next of kin and that I could have a will made out. I named my mother as my next of kin, being unmarried with no children at the time, but never had a will made out. I mean, I’ve always had an interest in history. I knew that armies fight wars and that people get killed in wars. That’s the way things go. But it never occurred to me that _I_ could be the one killed. It wasn’t until a few years later when I got rear-ended and nearly went into a wall that I thought about it again. I walked away fine, but for a minute I was convinced that I was going to go sideways into that wall and not make it. I sometimes wonder if witnessing death at first hand, personally, would have made me more aware of my own mortality and more willing to deal with issues earlier. And then there’s this as well:

    There is no meal so satisfying as a meal from an animal you killed yourself. Yes, gutting a skinning a rabbit is a bit on the uhh.. non-appetizing side, but a roasted rabbit is delicious, as is rabbit gumbo, or rabbit stew, etc… And if one of your friends killed it that’s fun too. Especially if you were standing behind him when the rabbit broke cover in front of him and he can’t figure out why you didn’t shoot it. But I digress…

    I guess I’m saying that more reality in life is a good thing. Yes, grieving is, was and always will be a hard thing. It’s inevitable. That’s the way it should be. I think it might just be a little easier if we were more honest with ourselves and dealt with the fact that it was coming.

    • Those are issues I have to figure out now. I have no family left, my parents were the youngest children in theirs, married late and I’m an only child who never married, my three cousins were all so much older that I never managed to build much of a relationship with any of them, I’m not even quite sure how many kids each one has and how many grandkids there may be. With father now gone, I have no next of kin or natural heirs. I suppose I should set up something. Probably the two godsons I have.

      I suppose being an adult orphan with no family is going to become a lot more common in the near future (or ending up as a lone adult who becomes the sole caretaker of ailing parent or parents), with all these single children who get their own probably only child late. And I have wondered a bit how that might show in how societies function. Being where I am is rather scary in some ways.

  7. We do this to our food. Almost nobody slaughters their own animals anymore. I understand that if you want to sell meat, The Law requires you take your animals to a certified abattoir for “processing.” Most Americans have no idea what the blood and shit stink of violent death smells like. (I certainly don’t, though I know several of the Huns do.) We just know that cows eat grass and make more cows and milk and end up on our plate as steak or hamburger.

    I sort of agree, but sort of not… mostly, I’ve got a reflexive dislike of this perspective because I’m too familiar with the “solution,” which is to take kids of all ages and show them only the death, in isolation.

    We’re familiar with how that goes– a text, without context, is a pretext?

    We do need a catholic approach to food, including death– but also including life.

    If you take kids whose only exposure to flesh-and-blood animals has been auntie’s service chiwawa and walk them through a slaughter house, you’ll traumatize them and will be misleading them. This is even a problem in small ag-based towns, and my folks still do their best to take leppies (motherless calves) in to schools so kids can get to know where food comes from, but… when some parents can’t even cook and may be stuck at “milk comes from the store,” how can you build a sane world view? We are omnivores, and animals aren’t people, but both of those very basic things run into resistance from a horrifying number of supposedly educated folks.

    And, because this is the internet– no, I’m not insulting vegetarians of various stripes, just the loons who want to insist that unlike every other species with our dental hardware, we’re supposed to eat only plants. I’m kind of impressed that some folks can make eating only plants work, and my husband’s childhood BFF is mildly allergic to red meat.

    • I’ve heard of kids who considered whether to swear off milk for life after being taken to our local fair — and the milking demonstration.

    • I think this is because I read “Everything I Want to Do is Illegal” by Joel Salatin, about how regulation makes family farming far more difficult than it ought to be, that I’ve been wanting to do just that: get a lamb and some chickens, raise them, slaughter them, and then cook them and eat them. I not only want to do this for my children, but for myself, because I think I could benefit from this process. And this, despite being rather squeamish. (I find it difficult to either squish, or witness the squishing of, a spider, for example.)

      My wife has told me about the wonders of fresh, raw milk, from a cow that you could trust to be germ-free. I’d like to try that someday too.

      • I’ve known some chickens that I was delighted to see appear on the dinner table. Obnoxious birds.

        • My Dad’s favorite story of his Grandmother was when he was little (3 or 4 maybe earlier) she was walking in the yard, coffee cup in one hand, my fathers in the other. Just as she finished her cuppa, the rooster came a squawking and acting like he was going to put the spurs on the interlopers.
          When he got in range she beaned him with the cup, and said “looks like Chicken for supper tonight”, and continued one to get the breakfast eggs.

          My uncle had a rooster who was a nasty work as well … it dissapeared one day and no one fessed up until 30+ years later. My cousin and his best buddy took it out in the woods and shot it with a bow so there’d be no noise. His replacement was a far calmer fellow.

      • I can assure you that the best tasting beef comes from a cow that did its level best to kill you.
        That the meat was tough and stringy only added to the savor.

        I’d advise starting with chickens.
        The chickens you raise at home have much more flavorful eggs than you can get at the store. And roosters are annoying enough that you won’t feel too bad about slaughtering them.
        (But don’t overdo. Laying hens will each give you an egg a day for most of the year. You’ll be amazed at how quickly that can add up.)

      • Guinea hens, you will not be the least squeamish (in fact you may take great delight) in butchering them. More seriously laying hens may be a good idea.

        • I’m severely allergic to feathers. In retrospect I wonder if the problems I had in childhood (as in, transported to hospital to be put on oxygen) came from the fact we kept hens and I helped feed them. Or are living chickens somehow different? We can’t keep them here, but I sort of would like to in a future home, if/when we can move.

          • Feathers on live chickens would probably be less irritating to your allergies, because they would not produce as much airborne particulates. But they would still irritate. However, it’s likely that bathing them every few days will help. If you start when they are small, they should get used to it easily.

              • You gotta realize: when I was raising a few chickens for eggs, I was part of a Yahoo group on urban chicken farming, and the way those (mostly women) treated their birds was better than I treat a dog. Some would bathe the things every day, they would feed them warm yogurt, pet and cuddle them, and more.

                Me, I’d do things like throw ’em a dead mouse, or a partially-eaten ear of corn, and watch the fun as they fought over it.They learned to follow the lawn mower to get the bugs it would turn up, too. Too bad I made a poorly-fitted coop for them to nest in – they were all eventually eaten by something.

                • I confess I’d have trouble eating egg layers because they would become “people” to me. My grandmother kept her egg layers in honorable retirement for the year or so after they stopped laying. (Easy in a farming community where most of what they ate was free.) BUT if I bathed them? Yeah, they’d be pets. There’s just no way there would be anything else.

            • Wouldn’t the process of bathing* them cause more irritation than simply having non-bathed chickens?

              *Sorry, I finally finished choking on the idea that someone would actually give a chicken a bath, and came up with an argument against it.

        • Guinea fowl are great for scaring the beggeebers out of people. A few screams at night and everyone in ear shot will enjoy the occasional meal of the things.

        • Guinea hens are not a good idea if you’re not sufficiently out in the country, though. Noisiest dang birds I ever saw.

          • Peafowl. Tops for the most irritating, useless feathered beasties known to man. I’d prefer chickens anyday, and I very much prefer eating them to raising them.

            • kie-YAH! kie-YAH! kie-YAH!

              Give me guinnies. They eat rattlesnakes. (all snakes, but the rattlers are what I care about)

              Plus, their shed feathers are lovely in hats. Ugly as sin as birds, but lovely feathers; the pearls are sort of a silky-gray with hints of graphite, then spotted with a pale ivory sort of white.

            • They eat good, but I wouldn’t raise them on a bet. And for some reason everyone raises peafowl to simply be an obnoxious pest, not for food.

  8. Sorry to hear about your Mor Far– may he be remembered long in your family. My grandma Jane (great-grandma) died at 98 and I still miss her. I had a close connection to her.

    As for food and death, I moved to a farm around the time I was eight and the first thing we learned was NOT to name the food animals. It doesn’t end well.

    • LOL! Our family tells the story of Grandpa having to trade one of his pigs to someone, because, even he couldn’t bare the thought of butchering Ginny after my oldest brother named her.

    • Odd – I know a family that does that all the time, and has no problems with it.

      Of course, it could be the naming: The turkeys, for instance, were named, “Thanksgiving”, “Christmas”, and “Tom”.

      • well there you go– dinner names are quite different from pet names–

      • Depends also on the character of the animal. One of my aunts once told me about a pig they had raised for the winter. Now, for decades that family always bought a piglet in the spring and raised it to an adult, then had it slaughtered for the meat. That was how they got their pork. And she said she never before nor afterwards had any problems with the thought that they were going to become the dinners and lunches and whatever for the next year. But then they got this one piglet with a very sweet nature, and he (or she, no idea, she didn’t name the animal and since Finnish language is gender neutral…) became something of a pet to her until the time of slaughter because he kept that sweet nature even when grown. And she said she cried for months afterwards. But only for that one pig.

        • During the Siege of the Alcázar — Spanish Civil War — they were killing the horses and mules for food. The first animals included one really nasty mule; grooms showed up just to see it dead.

    • Never was a problem, we raised beef growing up and they were always named, but they are a stupid cow, most people don’t get to attached. I do remember one of my little cousins calling my dad up when she was about ten and inviting him to dinner with the words, “we’re having Harvey* for dinner,”

      *the name of the steer they raised from a calf for beef.

  9. I was 5 when grandpa died. I was the youngest of the grandchildren, and at the end, I was the only person he’d let in his room at the hospital. A few years later, my other grandma followed. A year or two after that Dad broke the news to me that Mom had breast cancer and there was a chance she might not beat it (thankfully, she did, and since then has beat breast cancer again and colon cancer once). Needless to say, I was inoculated to death at an early age. And it really was an inoculation, the passing of loved ones has never been life shattering to me. DO NOT get me wrong, I still dearly miss them and would give nearly anything to spend a few more minutes with them again, but…that will have to wait until I join them in Heaven. You mourn, you celebrate them, you remember them, and…well, you accept it and move on.

    Contrast that with my sister-in-law (now ex-SIL, but role with it) who had zero experience with death until she was in her 20’s. IIRC, she was working as a waitress and an elderly gentleman that was a regular of her’s passed. For lack of a better term, she fell apart…over the death of someone who really wasn’t that close to her. She didn’t know how to handle it, she didn’t understand why no one else seemed to be bothered by his death, and became rather depressed for quite a while over it.

    So, yes, it has been much to our detriment, this divorcing our society from the reality of death.

    • Some time after my father died, I reflected on the experience, and concluded that I was /very/ glad that hearing about the passing of others would generally only afflict me with mild sadness, assuming that I had reason to know them. (Or know of them, in the case of famous programmers and authors.)

      If the loss of every person hit me like that, I don’t think I’d be able to function at all!

  10. My “Ti Granny” (Petite Grandma, AKA my Paternal Grandmother), died at 90 something. She was barely 5 feet tall, and 100 lbs. dripping wet, but she was bigger than a 6 ft+ 200+ lb. grandson. She was Second Gen. Cajun, and 13 when the Wright Brothers flew.
    She married into an Irish Family, and had enough Grand/Great Grandchildren that I had _52_ no further than 1st cousin, in 1967. We had, as best we could, a grand Irish wake for her. Remembering stories of her life, and things she did. I will always wish that I had a wife and children for her to meet. If I ever do, like my cousins, the children will meet her (in Heaven, we hope), and recognizer her from the stories we tell. Even though she’s been gone about 30 years.
    Irish wakes are to remember, and wish well on their way, those gone before. Celebrating their life, and wishing them well.

  11. Another note to Dave– I have met some of the Veterans who are in the honor color guard. A lovely group of guys. They asked me to join, but were disappointed when I told them that because of my illness I just wasn’t reliable–

  12. Arwen Riddle

    My sympathies. We lost my maternal grandfather almost two years ago now. I still miss him.

  13. I’m a member of the PGR, Patriot Guard Riders. We work with various Veteran Associations as well as stand alone funerals. I would invite anyone that has a family member in EMS, Fire, Police or has prior military service to give them a call. Most funeral homes will issue the invite for the family. Civilians deserve recognition too; but, I don’t know how to do that.
    My pastor and I have an agreement, one will do the wake for the first one down. So far, we’re both looking good. My appreciation for your story, its worth repeating.

  14. With respect to the OT addition at the end re: Mike’s reissued Freehold:

  15. Your words honor your Grandfather’s memory, and may even be of comfort to you later on, in reminiscence.

    I think what you are getting at in the second half of your work is that we hide what is real, and pretend it is something other than what it is, when it suits us. There is far too much of that these days, about things that matter. Witnessing death, and exposure to the butchering of meat animals, are certainly two good reality checks. Working as a butcher as a teenager, I believe it gave me an insight into the inevitability of how things go, as the animals have their own destinies, and perhaps we all do as well (but not so easily foreseen). Butchering is cruel, and disturbing on some levels, but it is what it is, figure out how to live with it. There are lessons for life in that. Oh, and if you are studying to be a surgeon, learning how to butcher and dress out a animal is probably a very useful set of skills to prepare you for your profession.

    I would close with a observation that your Grandfather seems to have lived a life well lived in his time. He was pushed into war, and came out the other side of it, good for him. I would think that he lived long enough to have done and seen many things that mattered to him, and that he valued. We should all be so fortunate.

    • “). Butchering is cruel, and disturbing on some levels, but it is what it is, figure out how to live with it.”

      Maybe it was because I was involved in it from before I was old enough to remember, but I never found it either cruel or disturbing. Interesting yes, “hey dad, what does this bit do?” I’m sure I drove my dad nuts, but by the time I entered kindergarten I could identify all the internal organs and most of the common cuts of meat. Now it is just a job that I don’t care for, but always do myself because a)butchers charge to much for a job I can do myself b) I’m picky and have never seen a professional butcher yet that will do a good enough job to satisfy me.

      • It was a treat to be allowed to see mom skin and gut the rabbits and chickens (Defeather, not skin, natch.), yes. I was talking to a twenty something the other day and she said she’s been vegetarian since, as a young kid, she saw her mom butcher a chicken. And I thought “Is she crazy, or am I?” I liked knowing what the various organs did, and knowing what was inside animals (and presumably humans.)

    • Butchering is cruel, and disturbing on some levels, but it is what it is, figure out how to live with it.

      I know some people who are fine with handling chicken meat, or fish, for food preparations, but can’t deal with pork or beef raw due to exposure to autopsies. They’re fine with eating meat, but can’t stand looking or handling raw pork or beef.

      • *chuckle* When I was a physical anthropology student, I used to gross out some of the others by bringing meaty pasta and cassaroles for lunch, and eating them with much gusto. *grin*

        Dead is dead, some things are tasty dead things, some are not. If handled with respect and care, I’ve no problems with it.

        • My SIL stopped eating meat after first month in cadaver lab. Took her a year to start eating it again. Older son had his first cadaver lab, came home, cooked us steaks on the grill…

        • Biology dissections put me off eating shark. Somehow the scent of the fish blended into the scent of the preservative. And I’m allergic to the preservative. Otherwise bring on the steak and spaghetti.

        • Apparently my nose is too sensitive– Until I was older I got sick to my stomach with just walking into a hospital– the smells. I am also a sympathetic vomiter (ugh).

  16. Absent comrades

  17. A somewhat related aside…

    This past Sunday night, one of our dogs died unexpectedly. (I’m not fishing for sympathy, and I’m certainly not comparing the death of a dog to the death of a beloved ancestor. I’m working my way towards a something I found interesting.)
    So I spent some time with a shovel, digging a grave at night, in the rain, by the light of a guttering lantern.

    I was amazed at how cathartic that was.
    There really is something vital about caring for the dead, and we’ve outsourced it to others in the name of convenience (and because we’d prefer to avert our eyes).

    • I had this realization when my grandmother died. In Portugal this means she was put in the family tomb (not exactly, because of family politics she ended up in an inlaws tomb, but never mind) and the women in the family go to the cemetery once or twice a week to wash the marble and put up flowers. When I go over, I do this at least once, usually buying showy flowers instead of the normal local flower bouquet, because grandma would like that. She could say “See, my granddaughter buys me expensive flowers!” Anyway, it’s a very cathartic thing. It affirms “You are not gone from me. We’re still linked by love and duty.”

    • The historian Eamon Duffy has an interesting chapter in _The Stripping of the Altars_ about what the Reformation and the loss of prayers for the dead meant to the average Englishman and woman. People felt a strong sense of continuity and connection to the annual recitations of the names and families of the dead, and the prayers for souls in Purgatory. As Sarah says, it was a connection and a way to continue remembering them. And as Luke points out, the villagers were doing a last service for their dead. When the Reformation stripped that away, it left (as best Duffy can tell) a sense of loss and disconnect.