recognize milestones: weddings, christenings, bar mitzvahs, retirements, you name it. We want to recognize that a change has occurred in life and celebrate or prepare for what the means for our future.
A perfect example of the value we place on ritual can be seen in the local controversies over the graduation ceremonies at Newburgh Free Academy and at my alma mater, Hendrick Hudson High School.
At NFA, the outdoor ceremony was called off less than 10 minutes after it began because of a sudden and heavy rain. Students and parents were told the graduation was complete and would not be rescheduled. This lead to plenty of hurt feelings, tears, and angry shouts.
“Why was there no backup plan? The district should be ashamed of themselves,” one parent was quoted as saying. “These kids worked so hard and have waited their entire lives for this moment.”
At Hen Hud, a prank gone wrong lead to the arrest of 19 students, and a ban that kept them from attending graduation.
While the situation was controversial on many levels, there was a lot of talk about whether the students should have been allowed to attend the ceremony. Other students even threatened a boycott themselves, but were prevented from doing so by their parents.
One parent was quoted as saying that it was more of a punishment for the parents than the kids.
My point is this: human beings tend to place a great deal of importance on ritual at milestone occasions. Whether it's the exchanging of vows at a wedding, a gathering of family at a baptism or bris, or walking across a stage once schooling is complete.
Likewise, there's value and relevance in a funeral ceremony. Not having one will not make the pain go away. However, more often than not, having some sort of ceremony will help bring the reality of your loss home, and allow the grieving process to begin.
It matters that someone is here. And it matters when they no longer are.
It is important to honor the life of someone who has passed- in much the same way that the graduation ceremony is important for those who have finished their schooling. Even more important, whether the loss is sudden and unexpected or the result of a long illness, it's important for the community to come together. It's often helpful to the family to share their grief, and get support, from others. It's just one way of recognizing that one important chapter in our lives is complete, and the next one must begin.
I hear it all the time. People who tell me that, when they die, they don't care if they get cremated and spread in the ocean, buried in the back yard, or thrown in the dumpster behind the 7-11.
“I'll be dead. Who cares?”
What some people don't realize is that the funeral is for those of us who are left behind.
Civilized human beings have used ceremony and ritual for centuries to