Top Ten Death Rituals
Given that most of us will never be given a state funeral and buried in Westminster Abbey alongside Dickens, Chaucer and most of the Plantagenet kings, it’s probably worthwhile thinking about how you could go to the happy hunting grounds in style. After all, if you don’t, your ashes will probably end up being scattered on your local high street while your only surviving mate wonders how he’s going to get back to his nursing home. So here’s some funeral-style stuff you can force your stricken mourners to get involved with.
10. Buried at sea
You don’t have to be Lord Nelson to get buried at sea. If you’re the kind of guy who dreams endlessly of the glory days of the British Empire, when Britannia ruled the waves, you may want to look into having your remains put on a Man of War and then having that Man of War sunk in the English Channel. If you’re not an imperialist, you can embrace the sea thing from a spiritual, “oh the wild beauty of the ocean” angle. In your heart you long to spend eternity tossing and turning in the grey-green waters of the boundless Atlantic. That’s what Vernon Kaye wants, so why not you?
Hippies love nothing more than to sit around and talk about how much things mean to them and about how everything is connected. This being the case, the death of one of their mates is actually a source of jubilation for them. It means they can indulge in some next-level po-faced pensive togetherness. Basically imagine that scene in the film version of The Beach where they all get together on the beach to bury the guy that got nailed by a shark. There’s someone playing "Redemption Song" on an acoustic guitar, there’s someone chanting an old Hindu tract and, more importantly, there’s a load of beads.
8. Moving in on the dead guy’s wife
She’s vulnerable, lonely and hey, it’s a difficult time for everyone – you particularly. After all, you were his best friend. And you need some comforting. And so does she. He’d want you to do it. You’d have his blessing. Of course you would.
7. The Mbenga of Central Africa
These guys are pygmies, and pygmies don’t really seem to be able to deal with death. When someone dies, their hut is brought down on top of them while their relatives cry around it. Then the whole camp is disbanded and they move somewhere else. After that, the dead person is never mentioned again.
6. Estonian graveyard meal
Unlike Central African pygmies, Estonians are quite keen on preserving links with the dead. Back in the old folky days, when someone died, his friends and family would go to the graveyard and eat with the dead. Plates of food and delicacies would be placed on every tombstone and everyone would happily commune with those six feet under. What exactly happened to the food is unclear. My Estonian grandfather, who died in England, haunted the shit out of my dad after we brought Domino's instead of vere pannkoogid to the graveyard he was buried in. Apparently, damn good pizza doesn’t count as an Estonian delicacy.
5. The Catholic funeral
Black cars line the streets. Veiled women weep. Stoic, besuited men look into the distance and kiss one another hello. Then everyone gets inside the church and listens to an old man chant in Latin for seven and a half hours. Just before everyone passes out from inhaling too much incense, the priest shuts it down and everyone gets to stare endlessly at the heavily made-up dead body. If you’re going to go down the traditional funeral route, you need to do it Catholic style; Protestants just don’t understand the ritual. They’re too busy going on about how it’s bad to pay your way into heaven. I mean, what’s the point of having money if you can’t spend the afterlife in first class as well? Also, if you’re Catholic, you get the Pope on your side.
The crow is the black-winged symbol of death. The appearance of a crow will send your local auger into a fit of despond. Besides, just think of Brandon Lee. But the crow has its own death ritual and it isn’t too dissimilar from a way we deal with death. A dying crow will invariably be surrounded by members of its own kin, who stand guard round their companion, easing its passage into the great unknown. It’s just like when you were a kid and you and your parents went to visit your grandma in bed. She kept on telling everyone what she "really thought of them" before she went to sleep and you never saw her again.
3. The wake
Well, the body was in the room and O’Leary, he began to sing. Yes, it’s death Irish-style. Old Grandpa Donaghy is on piano, Stacks Riordan’s on the fiddle and Shane MacGowan’s singing songs of old Galway. Don’t worry about people getting judgmental about your alcoholism, if you’re at an Irish wake it’s charming to be drunk. It means you’re a poet like W.B. Yeats, Brendan Behan or Sean O'Casey. Just walk around telling everyone that you hope God will take mercy on the poor damned soul of the departed.
This is the perfect option if you want to get in on your own death ritual. Practiced in Japan by Buddhist monks until the late 19th century, it was made illegal at the beginning of the 1900s. It’s important to note that we’re not just talking about wrapping yourself up in bandages here. This isn’t for part-timers; it requires more than five years of preparation. For a thousand days you have to get rid of all the fat on your body by eating nothing but nuts and seeds. The action point for the thousand days after that is this: get rid of all the moisture in your body. Who gives a fuck if we’re mostly made up of water? Just eat little bits of pine tree every day and then, at the end of it all, celebrate with a nice mug of tea made from the sap of an urushi tree. Obviously the tea is exceptionally poisonous. But don’t worry, if explosive diarrhoea and vomiting ensues, you’re on the right track. This means the tea’s working and that the sap is protecting your gut from maggots. Now all you have to do is get into the lotus position and allow yourself to be sealed in a small, stone chamber. Next stop: death! And hopefully a meeting with the Buddha; he’s the whole reason you’ve been doing this.
1. Deathbed conversion
It may be pre-death but it’s a ritual that many just can’t do without. They say that even famed atheist Bertrand Russell pleaded with God on his way out, telling the great grey-bearded one that his essay "Why I am Not a Christian" had been a delightful piece of satire aimed at taking those pretentious godless types down a peg or two. Apparently, God was having none of it. Modern-day Christians like to tell anyone who’ll listen that Charles Darwin actually had a deathbed moment in which he renounced evolution, but a picture of Darwin on his deathbed clearly shows him drawing pictures of human-faced monkeys playing with tools. Hardly the actions of a Christian. Still, in the end, the fear of death may leave us all open to making some kind of Lord Marchmain-style re-embracing of Catholicism. All we can do is hope that Evelyn Waugh isn’t writing our last days.