October 1, 2013
New, Unusual Methods Of Honoring The Deceased Becoming Popular
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
New and rather unusual ways of honoring the dead are popping up this century, according to a new study from Baylor University. These unconventional memorials include blending cremated remains into tattoos, creating "virtual tombstones" online and displaying "Rest in Peace" decals on cars or T-shirts.
"With 'do-it-yourself' memorials, people are creating their own ways of memorializing the dead, particularly in a more secularized society," said Candi Cann, PhD, an assistant professor of religion in Baylor's Honors College. "Some people are alienated from some common traditions such as a long funeral Mass. Cohesive rituals may not be part of their lives."
Cann presented on "bodiless" memorials at the recent international "Death, Dying and Disposal" conference of the Association for the Study of Death and Society.
Cann conducted interviews with bereaved subjects, finding that such memorials are "the opposite of what occurs in the religious realm with martyrs and saints and with relics," Cann said. "Martyrs and saints bring us closer to holiness and to God through their bodies and narratives of their suffering."
Cann says that modern bodiless memorials are "returning" the dead to us through visual or virtual "replacements." These replacements are more personal than a memorial in a cemetery or in nature. Cann says wearing a tattoo as a tribute is not unlike the customs of Victorian England or the Civil War era. During these times, people sometimes wore a lock of a loved one's hair or a photo in a brooch or watch chain.
"People simply want to carry the dead with them," she said. "They see a tattoo as forever."
Young people are the most likely to get tattoos to express grief. "Often, they choose one of their grandparents that died, because that's their first loss."
Some seeking tattoos go so far as to have the remains of their loved one mixed with the ink pigment. Medical experts advise against this practice, however, and many tattoo artists refuse to participate to avoid legal complications.
Traditional funeral wear is black, however today many mourners are opting for a "mourning T-shirt" that may be the deceased person's favorite color, or display dates of birth and death, an image, or an affectionate nickname. The T-shirt may be worn long after a funeral.
"A T-shirt also is a way for people who aren't family or allowed time off from work to say, 'I am grieving,'" Cann said.
People are also using car decals, shoe polish or liquid chalk on car windows, to pay tribute to the dead.
People have left teddy bears or erected wooden crosses at the scene of a tragedy for a long time, but they are becoming more creative and imaginative. For example, Cann found a snow-white "ghost bike," festooned with a maroon Christmas garland and placed at the site of a bicycle accident.
But "the bike is a clean, pristine version - not the one that was mangled," Cann said.
Online mourning has evolved from funeral websites that allow "virtual visitors" to sign guest books to include Facebook's "R.I.P." permanent memorials, as well as virtual tombstones, which allow people to use their smartphones to scan headstone codes and launch websites with an interactive life story for those who visit the grave in person or online.
After such tragedies as the Boston Marathon bombings, spontaneous public memorials with flowers and teddy bears spring up; however, "those spaces are becoming smaller in geography and time," with people differing over how much is enough, Cann said.
Cann says that when such physical public memorials are removed, they almost always return in "the virtual realm . . . The dead will return to haunt us if we do not acknowledge them."