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The Growth of Cremations

October 22nd, 2010

By now, mostly everyone is aware that death-care has seen significant growth in cremations over the last score of years. It has been projected that traditional funerals will decline even further, thus allowing cremations to continue its upward movement to eventually become the preferred method of handling the death of our loved ones. This writing will explore the reasons why these changes have occurred and the forces that kept cremations suppressed for so long.

In recent history, traditional funeral care was primarily influenced by social norms, religious application and personal choice, and although financial consideration sometimes played a role in the services chosen, it was never the sole factor. While the norms in any society set the pace for social proscriptions and their embracing values, religion played a significant and discerning role in the decisions concerning traditional funerals. After all, funeral services were synonymous with prayers, religious rites, spiritual beliefs, and almost always involved the presence of religious leaders.

Religious beliefs, coupled with cultural identities and the ancestral influences inherent of so many varying nationalities constituted the factors that determined the characteristics of the funeral services, whether held at the funeral home, church, cemetery or at the residence of the family. In spite of these influences, however, the most powerful hidden force to propel the identity of the traditional funeral was almost always the funeral director, the only person who held the trump cards in the game of human disposition.

During the arrangement conference, family members were usually led down the beaten path to accept the latest in funeral merchandise, such as elaborately designed wooden or metal caskets. Emphasis was also placed on the funeral visitation and the assorted memorabilia available, like prayer cards, religious photos, newspaper obituaries, written biographies, and of course, the musical ensemble playing amidst a labyrinth of family portraits and photos in CD format, presented on large monitors throughout the visitation. Aside from these items, additional selections included flower baskets, standing sprays, corsages and a variety of unique and tributary floral arrangements, and of course, Christian crosses, crucifixes, rosary beads, and other religious artifacts like the Star of David.

Visitations included the playing of music, the watching of videos, the showing of family photos and many other specialized presentations that had been planned for, agreed upon and implemented by funeral personnel. Additional on the spur-of-the-moment stories told by family and friends added special touches that brought unity among those present. The cemetery was usually chosen for its geographical location or previous usage by family. The final transportation involved a procession of vehicles that followed the coach and limousine on a slow ride to the cemetery, where everyone gathered at the graveside to observe the casket as it was lowered into the ground or elevated into a mausoleum crypt.

Clear on the other side of the service spectrum was the hush-hush subject of cremation. In the beginning, everyone believed that if cremation had been requested, it was probably attributed to the family’s lack of funds. In those ‘cremation whisper’ days, many funeral directors openly expressed their disapproval of cremations, leaving families with the impression that everything had to be done to bring closure through honor and integrity, implying that only through a proper burial could this be achieved. However, the arrangement conference always took a nosedive at the family’s insistence for cremation. The funeral director knew that the funeral extras that brought dollars to the establishment would be reduced to a mere trickle if cremation was chosen.

What is most unfortunate is that even for many seasoned funeral directors, attitudes about cremations are still the same, even after so many years. If an objective study on the verbal and nonverbal communication of funeral directors during the arrangement conference were at all possible, it would most probably reveal their subjective and negative sentiments about cremations. When compounded with other negative propaganda to perpetuate damning results because of the occasional cremation horrors that have been uncovered, cremations would succumb even further into the pits of negative gossip. In spite of these hurdles, however, cremations continue to rise above the traditional funeral.

Negative attitudes about cremations stem from the funeral directors’ awareness of the limited profits through cremation. Additional negative long-lasting effects generally involve industry mishaps by employees. For example, about five years ago a crematory in Mobile, Georgia took possession of 334 human remains over a period of time and instead of performing their cremations, the bodies were thrown in the woods adjacent to the crematory property and allowed to decompose over time. This was an outrage that showed how one single operator could demonstrate such disdain toward humanity. Familes were horrified and the public was offended at the indecency of these actions. Such concerns are real and are the focal point of many recurring stories that accentuate such horrors.

The consequence of such aversive behavior has deprived thousands upon thousands of families of the best means of promoting healthy, respectful and humane closure through cremation. In addition, family and friends are further deprived of the Witness Cremation, thereby distancing families from a potentially positive experience that is available only at the crematory. The Witnesss Cremation allows family members to pay their respects in the presence of their loved one in order to say goodbye in an honorable manner and allows them to ask questions about the cremation procedure and the assurance that they’ll ultimately get the correct cremated remains, those of their loved one. After this very important exchange at the crematory, family and friends may observe as their loved one is placed inside the cremation chamber. The majority of crematories have the means to provide such an important and elaborate opportunity to each family.

Prior to the mid 1900′s, cremations were looked upon from a cynical point of view. Back then, cremations were associated with the atrocities of Hitler’s concentration camps and the killing of millions of innocent people. As knowledge of Hitler’s propaganda spread throughout the world, cremations earned an outward hatred because of the association. Starvation, torture, illness and the inhumane treatment of Germany’s political prisoners all contributed to the annihilation of so many victims. Those who were not buried in mass graves or became part of an external funeral pyre were ultimately reduced to ashes at Nazi operated crematoria. The units were designed and built to dispose of the multitude of prisoners that were converted daily to corpses before being strewn past the crematory steel doors. Men, women and children whose only crime was to follow the Judaic faith were targeted as Hitler’s enemy.

News accounts of such inhumane treatment left all of us with knots in our stomachs and terror in our hearts. Anyone possessing even a kernel of human decency or an ounce of respect for the solemnity of human life was inflicted with overwhelming psychological despair that was easily felt throughout the world. This abysmal sensation was experienced by all people, regardless of national origin or religious following. Once again, such negative associations with the act of cremation had left many people impervious to change. Consequently, cremations did not become a viable option for many years. Interestingly, in spite of all the discouraging stories that circulated for so long, cremations are still climbing. We must therefore ask ourselves, why? The answer is linked to the finances of each family and the economic struggles of our times. Cremations eventually skyrocketed once the conditions were favorable, in spite of the historical setbacks associated with World War II.

With support from celebrities, however, the idea of cremation started to take its rightful place in the hierarchy of positive evaluation and optimistic placement and is currently expected to continue its upward climb of preference. Adding to the bandwagon of cremation popularity were famous individuals who themselves were cremated. Some of these were John Lennon, whose body was cremated at the insistence of his wife, Yoko Ono. Others include Versace, Maurice Gibbs from the Bee Gees, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Robert Oppenheimer, Arthur Rubenstein, Harpo Marx; Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky; Ethel Merman; Maria Callas; Neville Chamberlain; Alexander Fleming; Greta Garbo; Marvin Gaye; George Harrison; Henry James; John F. Kennedy Jr.; Rudyard Kipling; Eliot Ness; George Bernard Shaw and many, many more.

It seems that the passing of time has helped heal the negativity once associated with cremations. However, the war has not been won outright; only smaller battles have seen the victory of triumph. In order for a total victory, one must allow progress to completely overcome and eradicate those awful memories. There’s still work to be done to overthrow years of aversive conditioning.

Today, Jews practice cremations as do Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Moslems. In addition, everyday people have contributed toward washing away these sins of history. Movies that depict cremations as an acceptable means of human disposition have already reached thousands and even millions of people. We have finally reached the point from which accelerated progression can be implemented through proper coaching and education. During our lifetime, each of us will convene at our crematory of preference to pay tribute and say goodbye to a loved one through the Witness Cremation.

Geronimo Mena, Jr.

CANA, Florida Cremations, Guiding Light, Hollywood, In Memory of 911

In Commemoration of 10-10-10

October 10th, 2010

The adage that death is an indignant assault against every member of humanity is believed by many to be the ultimate understatement. However grim as this may sound, it does nevertheless serve as fundamental reminder that each of us must develop our individual abilities if we are ever to perceive, embrace and enjoy all the wondrous opportunities inherent of life extraordinaire. Put differently, we will triumph in life only when we succeed in developing ourselves to the fullest extent of our potential. To fall short of maximizing our innate talents is tantamount to never understanding the true meaning of life. Since the beginning of recorded history, cultures throughout the world have reiterated this awareness through art, music, literature, and of course, religion.

We are constantly surrounded by wildly concocted beliefs that run the gamut from the simplest cognitive approach to the more complex endeavor that ranges from creationism to reincarnation, but which ultimately ends with death as the uninvited finale to our relatively short lives. Such extreme variations certainly give us a lot to think about. There is really only one way to factor in what is factual and what is fictitious, and this requires a steady determination if we are ever to unravel the mysteries that surround our very existence.

Such widespread and opposing viewpoints offer each person a multitude of potential possibilities that bombard our imagination by stirring our cognitive reasoning and vastly over-stimulating our emotional arsenal of human characteristics. Each person is forced to reckon with an onslaught of conscious and unconscious stimuli that exposes us to every possible nuance of life within the scope of the human experience. We are subjected to vast degrees of contradictions, exaggerations, and tumultuous viewpoints that only seem to confirm our beliefs, but which in reality confuse our senses, thus forcing us to reach false conclusions. In the end, we are left to rely on the convictions of others because many of us are incapable of arriving at concrete conclusions about anything that involves analytical thinking, objective questioning and psychosocial evaluations. We are left to grapple with the many hurdles of life that purport to quench our intellectual thirst but which merely leave us in a state of suspended inquisition amidst an ever-growing aura of emotional affliction.

In the final analysis, our individual focus should not be with matters that confound our senses, but with those that contribute to our individual growth and prosperity. You are constantly urged to worry not about unanswered questions and concentrate instead on those that give your life the zest and vitality it needs to promote health and happiness. Always remember that life must contain a cross section of all the emotions that make us human. Too much in any one direction, however, and you will surely succumb to overload; and this is not conducive to a life in the balance with comprehension and fulfillment. Deprive yourself of well-rounded experiences and you will surely fall short of living life with optimum satisfaction. Rather than embrace something that you cannot possibly ever understand, why not surround yourself with those personal convictions that add clarity and contentment through comprehension. This way, the momentum of your life will be determined by the speed of your own choosing while travelling in the direction you have planned. In that manner, you will not just be the guide in the voyage of your life, you will also decide when and how to arrive at your final destination. Make the best of your choices because regardless of those who so vehemently state otherwise, this will be your only opportunity.

Geronimo Mena, Jr.

Guiding Light

Honorable Relationships

October 1st, 2010

The death of a loved one is perhaps one of the most emotionally depleting experiences of our lives, especially if the death is unexpected and it is traumatic in nature. However, words alone cannot always provide complete comfort. Often times, the desired healing must originate from within. Yet none of us can come to terms with such deaths solely through our defensive barriers in the expectation that it will prevent melancholy or repel a bout of anguish or remorse. We must avoid such crippling sentiments by recognizing that death is a very integral part of our lives for which we have absolutely no control. Embracing this knowledge is always a matter of consciousness…an act of pure cognitive determination that allows us to accept our mortality. Once accepted, however, death itself will become much easier to cope with, no matter who has died.

The best ways to prepare for any loss is by living our lives to the fullest, by being as productive as possible, by making certain that our interactions with each person is both honorable and memorable, particularly when it involves those with whom we are closest, such as our parents, spouse, siblings or children, and by recognizing that all lives will one day come to an end. When these variables are met and when their bonds are strong, only then will we be able to accept our losses when and as they occur. From a logical standpoint, living life positively means that we are always cognizant to do the right thing, to perform from a spectacular standpoint in every endeavor, and to think all matters through before acting upon them. Most importantly, however, we must apply the greatest care in all of our relationships. As social animals, we require intimacy not just for sexuality, but for emotional sustenance as well. When we are able to set a strong foundation in each of our relationships, we may be able to withstand any aberration that may come our way. 

When our behavior is said to be honorable, it can easily produce positive reciprocity as it shows the greatest respect toward those who touch our lives and those whose lives we touch. Such a show of mutual respect and commitment represents honor and integrity among and between all people. When we incorporate such sensitivities into each relationship, they become more meaningful, thrive further, and create a healthy labyrinth of love. Love is the perfect bi-product of all we do that is generated from selfless acts of compassion, from a show of true humanitarianism, and from a genuine interest in doing first for others before we do for ourselves. Such pure expressions of love, once set in motion within the framework of any ongoing relationship will always abound true and result in a mutual homeostasis that further enlightens other areas in our lives.

As we learn how to give and receive love, we embark in a mutual multi-level climb for the purpose of achieving optimum love, the main ingredient in all relationships and the epitome of their foundation. Once true love is established, however, nothing can topple what has already been built and nothing can weaken its base. Love is the lifeline of all that is important to and between all individuals. It is evident in the manner in which we speak, in the performance of the tasks we take on, and in the amount of time we dedicate toward others. Humanity is made up of individuals who depend upon our show of fair play, compassion, and in the consideration we invest in others. All these things help reinforce the stability and power that unites all people. Most importantly, however, we must always remember that love thrives only for the benefit of all people.

In the complexity of today’s world, if we are truly secure in our relationships, then we can be in no greater position. It can be stated with absolute certainty that we are fortunate for having experienced one of the most miraculous of all human attributes. Factors of age, gender or levels of initial attraction are no longer important. What remains only is the purity of our memories. Under these circumstances, the death of a loved one, while deeply heartfelt and forever mystical in our perception, will allow us the freedom to mourn in a healthy way. Secure in the knowledge that we have been triumphant in our interactions, we are now free to honor the memory of our losses. In the final analysis, we are left to find our way through the maze of memories, thoughts, and feelings that are the important remnants of the person we have lost.

In honor of the person now gone, we owe it to his or her memory to transcend through hours of painstaking memories in order to recall, extract and assess the true nature of our inter-relational skills. From so many hours in mental review, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we can analyze the relationship from its inception to its very end. Those who immediately conclude that they could have handled many situations differently will suffer the most. These are the individuals who will express regrets, those who show remorse, and those who realize that their behavior could have been more subtle, perhaps more considerate of the other. Those who feel badly for their part, tend to succumb to the ill feelings brought out by such memories, subsequently, causing such feelings to linger for long periods of time. In contrast, those who smile during their many hours of contemplation are the ones who behaved properly, fairly, and ultimately treated their partners with love, compassion and honor. If they decide to re-enter the arena of love, they will experience success all over again.

This exercise in remembering is intended as an act of introspection, as an internal mechanism of self-evaluation that will allow us to improve the areas of our weakest proportion. This experience will also serve as the basis for all future growth. If we can so flagrantly disregard the experiences of our past, how can we possibly prepare for what we are to face in our future? Take the time to recall what you have done wrong and prepare for your future with the solid foundation of your past. There’s no reason why you couldn’t be totally honest with yourself. After all, no one could ever know what you are thinking.

Geronimo Mena, Jr.

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