Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


We Die Not Pass Away

Long before I retired I thought a lot about death. I asked a friend about why am I thinking so much about death. She wisely pointed out that in those years 1989-94, I was pastor to dying young men who had HIV disease. At Trinity during those years we conducted funerals for 75 men between 25-35 who had contracted AIDS. Death was in front of me every day.

Her remarks put my thinking about death in some perspective. Yet I still thought about death a lot. I wrote about it my journal. The thoughts did not interfere with my work or love life. In fact I rather enjoyed thinking about death and dying.

I became intrigued with the funeral business after I was ordained. I became rector of the Church of the Holy Nativity in the Bronx, New York. Lyle Knittel was the church funeral director. Not many churches have such a person, but Lyle had been there long before I came. Many members, not all, used his services to remove, prepare and bury the dead family members and friends. Many times we conducted funerals together.

Jessica Mitford’s book The American Way of Death was published in the 1950s. It was an expose of funeral practices that often bilked the grieving into spending vast amounts of money on needless funeral services. Lyle of course was offended but I though she was right. 

I also read the works of Thomas Lynch, Funeral Director and poet. The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade is a wonderful look at death and funerals. He is funny yet serious about taking death seriously and not hiding from it.

I once told Richard Turley my parish administrator at Trinity, never to use the words passed away, departed, fell asleep or any other such abomination in mailings from the church. When you die, you die.

I adhere to the usual clichés. I am not afraid of dying but I do fear suffering. Put me out of my misery. Ann and I have signed the usual papers to allow doctors to let me die if there is not hope of a decent life. I am more than happy to have doctors rid me of misery even if he or she does something illegal.

As a life long Christian I believe there is life after death. As a life long product of the scientific and logical positivist world, I have no concrete evidence that there is life after death. I like the Book of Common Prayer notion that there is “a sure and certain hope” in a resurrection and new life after death. I hope there is. Wouldn’t it be fun to see my dad and mom again?

I have visited Sullivan’s Funeral Home on Market Street in San Francisco. I told Mr. Sullivan the funeral director of my wishes. When I die, I want my body taken to the funeral home and refrigerated, not embalmed. If my daughters and brother wish to journey to San Francisco from the East Coast to attend the funeral, the funeral will be held with in a week or so of my death.

My body will be placed in an inexpensive wooden casket. At the funeral the casket will be taken to St. John’s Church, San Francisco. There a pall will be placed over the casket and taken into the nave of the church. There will be a full choral liturgy, with incense and hymns chosen by me. The preacher will be the present Vicar of St. John’s. If he is not available, my wife Ann will choose the preacher. My body is to be cremated and the ashes scattered in the garden at St. John’s.

So many people are so frightened of death they cannot even make a will. I for one try to look at my death seriously. Making a will and a plan for the funeral and disposal of my body makes me more comfortable with my death. I think it is also a responsible thing to do so my family and friends are not burdened with that chore.


Blogger janinsanfran said...

Dear Robert: Leaving a plan for those who are left behind seems a fine kindness.

My mother did that for me, though hers leaned more toward instructions about what I must NOT do: no horrible hymns, especially "For all the saints..." :-)

12:02 AM  

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