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BY Simcha Fisher
Here's a happy thought: caskets sometimes explode. The phenomenon is well-known enough to have a name: "exploding casket syndrome." It happens because bereaved people want the caskets of their beloved dead to be sealed up as tightly as possible against the insults of time, moisture, oxygen, vermin, and change in general. They want the dead body preserved, and they want it to stay preserved, even once it's permanently out of sight.
The only problem is, death is death. Bodies still decompose no matter what you do to them or where you put them, and decomposing bodies release gas. So if the process of decomposition happens in a tightly sealed space, it's like trying to pump more air into a fully inflated tire: something has to give. As this article in Vice puts it,
Eventually, when the pressure builds high enough in that boggy tank of a casket, pop! Mausoleum panels can crack open, as happened recently in Melbourne, and caskets can be damaged. Not to mention that suddenly there is some very unfortunate clean up to do.
I've never had to arrange a funeral, so I won't pretend I know how I'd react, or what foolish things I'd agree to, in the midst of terrible grief and pain. But as a Catholic, I do know that death is no trivial matter. And yet at the same time, death is nothing at all. Death has been overcome, and death is not the final word in someone's life. Instead, death is a doorway, one that we must all pass through before we can enter into our true home.
Lavish funerals are like lavish weddings: they're understandable, because we are overcome with a desire to commemorate that something significant and remarkable is happening. In a funeral, we want to make a public commemoration of the value of the life of the dead person, and we want to show that our grief is huge. In a wedding, we want to make a public commemoration of the value of the love between the couple, and we want to show that our joy is great. And so it feels a little churlish to criticize someone for going overboard.
But it's one thing to have a huge event, and quite another to do everything you can to deny what that even actually means. It's hard to imagine having a healthy understanding of the significance of death, and still pouring tens of thousands of dollars into preserving a corpse, somehow hoping that it will remain the same indefinitely. Preserving it for what? At best, that's a foolish waste. At worst -- well, there's that "unfortunate clean up."
And it's hard to imagine someone having a healthy understanding of the significance of marriage, and still trying to preserve themselves. Seal themselves up. Keep out the insults of time and change. Turn their marriage into an airtight casket, designed not to let the necessary transformation happen, but to seal all transformation out. This self preservation can take many forms: keeping separate bank accounts; giving our spouses only whatever is left over of our time and energy after all of our first interests are taken care of; insisting that we stick to some original plan we had about income, accomplishments, or family size, even if circumstances have changed; punishing our spouses or ourselves for the high crime of getting older; refusing ever to admit that we're wrong; refusing to compromise; refusing to forgive; working harder at presenting a pretty picture to the world than at making our real lives better; insisting on thinking of ourselves as independent entities, rather than as one flesh. One flesh, vulnerable to change.
We can try to protect and preserve ourselves, even in marriage. The only problem is, life is life. If your marriage is tightly sealed and ringed with a rubber seal, then sooner or later, something has to give.
You may have noticed that I'm comparing a married couple to a decomposing body. Does that bother you? Then think less of a corpse, and more of a grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying. Now think of a grain of wheat falling to the ground and immediately seeking the finest in embalming services, and building an airtight chamber around itself. What kind of harvest will that bring?
Marriage changes you. Marriage requires that you give things up, forsake all others, step through that door to the other side. Marriage requires that you die, and that you look death in the face and let it happen. When you marry, you cannot preserve your radical independence. You cannot preserve the idea that your needs and wants come first. You cannot pretend that you are a solitary person anymore.
You can try! Many people do. And that's why marriages explode: life happens, and something has to give.