Monday, April 24, 2006

Buddhist Funeral Rites and the Free Market

The Washington Post has an interesting article about how funeral homes in America are responding to immigrant populations' customs.

One part of the article really caught my eye. It describes how one funeral home found itself catering to Vietnamese-American Buddhists:

Harmon and Doherty met with monks and nuns at Le's home, where, over tea and Vietnamese sweets, they learned about Buddhist funeral customs. Later, Le bought supplies and framed portraits of Buddha from a large temple in Houston and presented them to the home. She made a reference folder for funeral directors so they could advise second- and third-generation Vietnamese families that might be unsure of the rituals.

So Vietnamese-American Buddhists are turning to non-Vietnamese and largely non-Buddhist (Harmon is described as an attendee of a Buddhist meditation group) funeral directors to make sure that a proper funeral rite is observed! Only in America!

Six years ago, a very close friend of mine died. He was one of the people responsible for naming me "Tor." Ben lived a very Bohemian lifestyle, and fancied himself a Wiccan somedays, and, at the very least, always a pagan.

His wife Cheryl asked me to ride with Ben's body from their apartment in Belfast to the crematory in Auburn. As the ride progressed, I became a bit apprehensive about what would ensue at the crematory. The hearse driver had observed our ritual closing of the casket which Peter Stewart had lovingly made, and many of the rest of us had decorated. This was a beautiful casket, with an extremely conspicuous pentacle on top. The driver began to ask about the origins of the ritual, something along the lines of, "Is that what they do in other countries?"

Well, we had pretty much made everything up. We often did as members of the Shebang Street Theatre, which Ben had founded. That idea seemed not to go over well with the driver. It was a pretty quiet trip.

When we arrived at the funeral home (and I wish I could remember the name of it), we found a group of people who bent over backwards to let us celebrate Ben's cremation exactly as we desired. We brought along a lot of paper-mache standards that had figured so prominently in many of Shebang's equinoctial and solstitial performances. They let us display them in the parking lot during the cremation process. The funeral director allowed us to carry Ben into the crematory itself, and advised us as to a good time for last words, before the machine would drown out any conversation.

Given my experience in the cultural isolation of Maine several years ago, I'm not surprized that funeral homes in metropolitan areas are eager to help folks from all cultures mourn their losses.



Linking to: Pirate's Cove, Committees of Correspondence, Pirates! Man Your Women!

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