Sunday, January 27, 2013

Down to 10 lbs

3:43 p.m. Today's project was to pick up my late husband Steve's remains from the mortuary. Acheson Graham does everything from printing the programs, arranging the flowers at the service, to holding services at their facility, to cremation. He had chosen cremation, so the urn I'd picked out early in the month was packed and ready to come into my possession.

I'd asked the kids if they thought it would be good to have the urn displayed in the house, and none, including me, were for that idea. The "urn" I selected was not any kind of precious or alloyed metal, but a dark blue leather cylinder that would have been much more to Steve's taste. Since Steve went to heaven at 8:17 p.m. on January 1st, and is seeing and experiencing the most magnificent of all things he'd ever dreamed of or desired, it almost seems moot to worry about what he would select of our paltry earthly style choices. Typically, when given a choice, he'd always say, "Get what you like," or "What's the cheapest?". So I did select something we both would like and far less expensive than the grandiose, ornate goldtone, silver and brass urns we wouldn't even have room for.

I thought about burial customs in the Bible. Genesis 23:19-20 says,

Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron [incidentally where David was crowned king of Judah, generations later]) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave that is in it were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as property for a burial place.

So caves were a family burial place. To this day, if families choose burial in a cemetery, they often will purchase a family plot of ground. Even the military allows both service member and spouse to be buried together, or their cremated remains to be together in an engraved niche. In  scripture, life circumstances or travel did not permit burial with ancestors, as happened with the death of Rachel, Jacob's beloved wife, who died giving birth to Benjamin in Genesis 35:18-21.

So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel's grave to this day. Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

Where collecting slain soldiers and leaders' bodies from enemy territory was necessary, proper burial was not possible. In I Samuel 31, when the men of Jabesh Gilead in Israel heard that the Philistines had fastened King Saul's and his son's bodies to a wall in Beth Shan and put his armor in the pagan temple of Ashtoreth, to celebrate their victory over the Israelites in war, they took action. The men marched all night to collect the bodies. v. 11-13:

Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan; and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.

Peaceful ceremony and burial in a family plot or not, public mourning was done for King Saul and his sons.

Jesus Christ our Lord was taken down from the cross, a savage and cursed method of death--Deuteronomy 2:23,

...he who is hanged is accursed of God. The body was not to hang overnight, that the land might not be defiled; it had to be buried.

Jesus indeed took the curse of the sin of the entire world upon Himself on the cross many centuries later. And even Deuteronomy 2:23 was fulfilled--His body did not stay on the cross overnight; it was taken down and buried in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb.

For our family, when Steve's mom Ruby chose cremation for her husband Lorenz and for herself, it lifted and settled the niggling question as to whether a Christian ought to be cremated, a controversy in decades past. (Perhaps the pagan funeral pyres of the Indian subcontinent were brought to mind). Because scripture states emphatically that "absent from the body is present with the Lord" (paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:8), it makes no difference once the soul has left the "house." One scientific study had people weighed immediately before death and immediately upon death, and amazingly, the person lost some ounces! The soul is as real a part of our person as our hair or our skin.

With these thoughts in mind, I pondered how much the remains of a grown man of approximately 160 lbs would weigh. I think this idle curiosity kept me from fixing on the rather grotesque task of picking up Steve's ashes and driving them home. The Lord was protecting me from feeling too horrified to carry out my task, it seems.  My daugher asked me before I left for the mortuary, "Can't you just tell them to get rid of the ashes?" But remains are the property of the family, who then, by the permit granted by the County of Riverside (which I have) may dispose of the remains, or keep them. Disposal three miles out from the shore into the ocean is often suggested, but that is out of the question for lack of a boat or finances to arrange that undertaking.  

I was nervous waiting for Steve's ashes and the urn, but was very surprised after signing the release form for the contents, at how heavy it is! Must be 10 lbs., very light beige-colored, densely-packed powder. It reminds me of whole wheat flour. I honestly had expected dark grey or black ashes.

As you can tell, the whole experience is rather surreal. But I drove straight home and set it on the bench near the posterboard full of pictures of Steve with all of the family, in th living room.  I'll let the kids know that they can come and look if they feel the need to. Then I will put the urn away, probably in the back of Steve's side of our bedroom closet.

Fifty-seven years of living, down to 10 pounds at the end of a fine Christian life. "Dust to Dust." How certain and how glad I am that this earth is not my home!

Are you?

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