That’s the Way It Seemed

Perhaps you’ve heard that groovy Davy Jones died. My inner seven year old is heartbreaky!

Yesterday, my mother’s father died. He was 99-1/2 years old, lived a fascinating, mysterious and sometimes tragic life often at history’s many crossroads. I will miss him for the rest of my life, of course, but about every six hours, my mother calls and makes an unexpected request. She’s lost two elderly relatives in very short order and Mom’s a trifle exhausted. This morning, I tried explaining to her renting a hearse is a pointless expense because we are NOT going all Weekend At Bernie’s: Lower Cape Boogaloo. This was an even less successful joke than it at first appears because my mother doesn’t go to the movies and detests Hawaiian shirts. This afternoon’s question was if I would write an obituary. I stuttered the truth: I would have to know more than I do to write about him, but I would try if that’s what we needed. This evening’s question: would I research Scottish funeral customs? Well, sure. That’s not tough.

Funeral procession

The funeral procession commenced at 3:00 p.m. Processions were traditionally on foot, a custom that persisted into the 20th century. The coffin was carried by eight men at a time, with all of the men of the community having the chance to help carry it. The procession was usually solemn but it could also be wild. Due to excessive drinking at the feast by the men, unexpected events occurred. Sometimes the procession would lose the coffin or even get in fights with other funeral processions which were headed toward the same churchyard.

Rest stops were at places where ‘cairns’ were built for resting the coffin. At each of these stops, for resting, switching pall bearers, or sharing whisky, the men would throw a stone at the side of the road as a tokin. Even today one sees these heaps of stones by the roadside.

Yeah, we’re not doing that. There’s this:

An old funeral rite from the Scottish Highlands is to bury the deceased with a wooden plate resting on his chest. The plate contained a small amount of earth and salt to represent the future of the deceased. The earth signified the decaying of the body to become one with the earth while the salt represented the soul, which did not decay. This rite is known as “earth laid upon a corpse”.

I’ll mention that to Mom. Cape Cod’s ecosystem is delicate and conservation is important. We’re not having Grandpa embalmed because embalming contributes toxins to groundwater that make a mess of people and critters, both of which Grandpa liked. But I guess we’re contributing Grandpa to the ecosystem, so maybe a little salt won’t hurt.

It’s really amazing what you think of when you’re trying to avoid thinking about bagpipers playing inside a confined space with good acoustics.

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One response to “That’s the Way It Seemed

  1. Wow, you have a lot of family stuff on your plate right now. I am glad that you can support your mother with all of this. Good luck and may the spirits support your efforts during this time.

    Speaking of plates, the bit with the salt and the earth and the plate is just lovely. I have several Scots Irish ancestors, so this resonates with me some. And yes, embalming is a horrible practice.

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