Honouring our Dead

I love the Haka. It is a ferocious tribal dance with chest slapping, googly eyes and aggressive tongue wagging. The uglier the face, the better. It is loud and angry. It is awesome.

During our visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center a couple of weeks ago, we had a chance to take part in a Maori ceremony. As visitors arrived in the village, both the hosts and visitors took part in an elaborate welcoming ritual. There were women singing, men grunting and posturing… the New Zealand version of “please come in, can I take your coat?”

My favourite part took place at the end: before crossing the midline to meet one another, both groups paused for a moment in complete silence. It is a time to honour the dead. It is a time to remember those who should be here but aren’t, those who came before and those who have gone ahead.

A few days later, we found ourselves at Pearl Harbor. Yet another foreign culture, when you consider both my Canadian-ness and my Anabaptist roots.

It was chilling, standing above the watery tomb of hundreds of young men. The rusty turret of the U.S.S Arizona peaks out of the water. More than a thousand died there. Most of the bodies were never recovered.

Even the girls were quiet and contemplative, though B was mostly upset because we would not let her throw her hat in the water.

This large, elaborate memorial shuttles thousands of people in and out with the efficiency of a popular tourist attraction. Most of us came to check it off the list – yep, been there, seen that.

I love to walk in the footsteps of history, to see the places where my reality was born and reborn. The BIG picture was affected here.

But it was more. This was about the small pictures too. Here lies one life. And another. And another. And another… We honour each one, each name inscribed on that wall.

I can’t help but think this is something we are missing in our culture. Not necessarily the elaborate tribal ritual or the impressive concrete ediface, but memorial woven into the fabric of everyday life.

We are studying Death and Dying in my Developmental Psychology class this week. The western theory of Grief Work promotes the idea that detachment from the deceased is a healthy final stage in the process. In fact, those who continue a relationship with those they mourn may be considered unnaturally preoccupied.

These theorists are the same who approach all grief as a pathology, rather than a normal part of life. Sure, there are those who succumb to a chronic, unhealthy grief. But recent research supports the idea that continued bonds with the dead, especially those who were a vital part of our lives, is beneficial.

The bible says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1). The souls of those who came before us. Those who have gone ahead. And they are watching.

These are the ones who built the scaffolding of our lives. If we forget the lessons they have taught us and the sacrifices they have made, we forget who we are.

I am a seed that was sown from the past and I shall never be lost.” ~ Maori saying

We do not worship our ancestors as ancient tribes once did, but we must honour them. In remembering, we are telling our own story. Not just to the world, but to ourselves and our children. And someday we will be a part of their story.

So here’s me: grand-daughter of Doris, Robert and William, niece of Naomi, mother of Noah and Simon.

How do you honour your dead? How can we make memorial part of our everyday life?

About Christie Hoos

I'm a bookworm, nature lover, kick-boxer, candy fiend, sci fi geek, home body, progressive Christian and part-time student. I love my crazy life and the messy, fun, stubborn, silly, brilliant people who populate it. View all posts by Christie Hoos

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