to bury --Random House Dictionary
The first burial I ever presided at was for an eighty something year old farmer named Al, who actually died while sitting in his parked tractor, after an afternoon of plowing his fields. A fitting end, in a way, to his one earthly life. That was nearly twenty four years ago and since then, as a clergyperson, I’ve stood graveside and said prayers for the dead and grieving families at something like 300 funerals. I’ve lost count.
Some of these ceremonies were true celebrations of life, like the service I conducted for a 106 year old Rhode Island Yankee, who was eulogized by her 65 year old grandson. Or the rites for the man who loved to crack open a beer after an afternoon of landscaping his spacious backyard. To mark that father’s death, when his son got in the pulpit to remember his Dad, he opened a chilled "brewski" and then took a long sip. Holy Heineken!
Some services were, well, odd. The family who insisted upon playing a CD recording of Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “My Way”, as their patriarch’s casket was slowly rolled from the church. The graveside burial where the funeral director I worked with, doing one his first interments, buried the deceased in the wrong grave.
Some rituals were absolutely heartbreaking. The service I did for a week old infant who was abandoned by her parents on the front steps of a homeless shelter, who died alone and from exposure to the cold. The memory of that tiny little white casket still haunts me. A young man who died from AIDs in 1991. I was the third clergy person asked to eulogize him. Two other ministers had refused to bury that poor soul out of fear, ignorance and prejudice.
I’ve never said “No” when asked to bury the dead. Not once, because there is something within me that just knows deep in my bones and heart that every single child of God deserves a good burial. Every one is entitled to have someone stand at the graveside, speak of a person’s life and then commit that eternal soul to God. The proud and the poor. The believer and the agnostic, folks of little faith or no faith. People eulogized by thousands of mourners and folks remembered by just one or two or three family members. As a person of faith, as a human, I just believe this is the right and decent and civilized thing to do. No exceptions. None.
So for me it was so troubling to watch the ugliness and cowardice surrounding the protracted process to find a place and people to bury Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The protesters who camped outside of a Worcester funeral parlor and wrapped themselves in American flags, harassing and haranguing and condemning that home’s director Peter Stefan, who was just trying to do his job and act with compassion.
Our United States’ senatorial candidates, Markey and Gomez, who cynically trolling for votes jumped right on the anti-burial bandwagon and weighed in with feigned self righteous anger. Governor Patrick who could have stepped into the controversy early on and quietly used the power of his office to settle things but who instead washed his hands of any responsibility. Boston Globe reporters who pursued the body and the story up and down the east coast, showing little or no journalistic self censorship or judgment.
I hate to say it but in this one instance Boston Strong seemed to morph into Boston Ugly. This was a tawdry and sad chapter in what has otherwise been an amazing and beautiful example of human resilience, courage and goodness in the face of truly awful pain, destruction and terror. And no, my opinion on this should not be construed as in any way affirming the evil of what was done.
A truly civilized society is marked by many attributes. A refusal to succumb to mob violence and vengeance. A commitment to uphold the law, even, especially, for the most heinous. The ideal that no matter what is done to us, we will not allow it to tempt us to descend into the depths of human cruelty in response. Add to this the faith based notion that no human being is beyond God’s love or God’s judgment and no matter what happens, a society, a community can endure almost anything and still hang together as one.
So now, finally, the body is buried. The grave is filled in. The soul has passed on. May God help us to lay to rest this story.