We all have to go some time, and the need for funerals connects us all

There is much that divides us on this planet, but the fact we all must find a way to handle death is quite reassuring, Mike Stafford says. File

Did you know it’s believed that our most distant ancestor, the Neanderthal, participated in rudimentary funeral practices almost 300,000 years ago?

Researchers have found their skeletons covered with flower pollen and surrounded by collections of the deceased’s favourite LPs, mostly The Rolling Stones and KISS. Academics believe that indicates a basic form of religious belief back when you lived a full life by age 14 and that life rarely ended peacefully.

Funeral services and superstitions have developed over time for many reasons: religion, hygiene, coping with grief and even to celebrate a person. It’s a process that seems to transcend every belief, culture, border and race. I find that to be very cool.  There is much that divides us on this planet, but the fact we all must find a way to handle death is quite reassuring. There are still some aspects of life we can commonly call “humankind,” and death is one of them.

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I read a story last week about some unique trends in the funeral industry, an industry that rivals Amazon in its strength.

One is the life celebration that features video of the decedent directly speaking to the assembled crowd.

Another is the service attended by the still very much alive person being remembered. In some cases, they have been diagnosed with a condition that, unfortunately, will take their life sooner than later. In others, they just want a party and will deal with the death from hangover the next day. The former is touching, the latter is just weird. Don’t people go to bars with friends anymore?

Click to play video: 'Makeshift memorial for John McCain grows outside mortuary in Arizona capital'
Makeshift memorial for John McCain grows outside mortuary in Arizona capital

WATCH: Makeshift memorial for John McCain grows outside mortuary in Arizona capital

U.S. Senator John McCain died on the weekend at age 81. His death was not a surprise and the press and most colleagues eulogised him as a brave soldier, a committed public servant and a patriot.

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Sen. McCain is receiving the kind of memorial rarely seen in politics these days. There is a service in his adopted state of Arizona. His body will lie in repose in the U.S. Capitol rotunda and he will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.

You rarely see that level of honour in politics anymore. There was a traditional funeral train for Pierre Trudeau. John F. Kennedy’s assassination shut down a country for a week. Today, a politician gets an obituary on the evening news before they throw to the sports scores.

I recently attended a “Celebration of Life” for Sandra Carusi, a dear friend from work who died far too young. She was an amazing woman, mother and radio sales person. Hundreds of people were there at a facility that positively glowed with good thoughts.

In Victorian England, funerals were about grief. Two professions that no longer exist were the “mute” and the professional mourner. The “mute” was a hired actor in a top hat and tails who was paid to do nothing but frown. The “mourner” was a woman who would scrape her fingers across her face and dramatically tear at her clothing. Five years ago, we’d call them Leaf fans.

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I will take the tears, the laughs, the hug and the copious amounts of wine at my dear Sandra’s Celebration over that, anytime.

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We will all check out eventually. Although we all share the need to mark the passing of a family member or friend, we have, in many cultures, learned that it doesn’t have to be the physical death of one shared by the emotional death of all.

If you want to “stage” your funeral just to get a sense of how you will be remembered, go ahead. It’s your money. It’s your ego.

Just don’t make it happen on a holiday weekend.

Mike Stafford is co-host of The Morning Show on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.

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