Tag Archives: funeral

Home-goings: A Black American Funeral Tradition

On April 7, 2017, my family and I hosted a home-going to celebrate the life of my great aunt. A home-going is a traditional African American, Christian funeral service held to rejoice the deceased person’s returning to heaven, and this elaborate funeral ritual has a deep history dating back to the arrival of African slaves in America in the 1600s. There are several aspects that set this service apart from the traditional funeral, including the week-long visitation to the bereaved family’s home, the wake, and the elaborate funeral procession. About a week prior to the service, a plethora of friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members who live in different areas of the world travel to visit the bereaved family every day to offer their condolences (the same people may or may not visit the family every day). A wake is then held for the deceased between 2 to 3 days prior to the funeral, and this allows family members and friends to have few personal moments with the deceased. On the day of the funeral, a group of police escorts arrive to the bereaved family’s house, and the family is escorted to the church. During this process, the family bypasses certain traffic laws, such as passing through red lights. At the church, some of the women of the family act as flower girls, and their job is to remove the elaborate bouquets of flowers that will be placed on the casket during the funeral. The service itself is often an emotional, high energy event that entails family members singing African American hymns and a boisterous eulogy by the pastor. Afterwards, the funeral procession travels to the gravesite, and people wait until the body is partially buried before leaving to return to the church or to the family’s house to dine with one another.

I never realized that my burial practice was significant or distinct to Black American people until taking this class, which is unnerving to me because home-going services are integral to my family’s traditions. They allow us to celebrate the life of our loved one while showering them with expensive items, such as custom caskets, support a black business (an African American mortuary), and re-connect with family. These services also allow me to learn about the richness and history of my family and our culture through our conversations as well as through visiting the gravesite because generations of my family are buried in a black owned gravesite in Atlanta.

(Note: There are several variations to these services, but I am sharing my experiences with home-goings.)


Works Cited:



Pet Funerals

Pets can easily become part of your family at home. When they die, it can hit us a much as a person’s death would. For a young child, the death of a fish might be detrimental to them because it is the first experience of death. However, rituals to help the child cope with the death of a fish are not as extensive as a person’s death. They usually just involve flushing the fish down the toilet while saying a few words about how meaningful the fish’s life was. But as the involvement and length of the life of the pet increases, such as with a cat or dog, the death rituals also increase. The death of a cat or dog also comes at a later age. I found this chart in an article about how to talk to your child about the death of a fish.Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 8.31.55 PM


It shows us that a child is able to better grasp the idea of death as they grow older. With the better grasp comes more elaborate rituals for some. You often have the option to cremate your pet and keep their ashes in an urn. My cousins have a shelf in their living room called the “dead pet shelf”. This isn’t uncommon in households where pets are considered part of the family, but anything more than this, such as a funeral, is unusual. Even though they are unusual, pet funerals do happen. Not far from Emory, the Shugart Family owns Deceased Pet Care, which offers burial and funeral services for pets, including horses. Because these deaths mean so much to some people, they are willing to pay and involve others in the funerals for their pets. They buy caskets and bury their furry friend in a garden. How far are you willing to go for your pet and where would you draw the line?

Mandela’s Funeral Attracts Hundreds and the Famous: An Opportunity for South African locals?

Nelsen Mendela continues to be a symbol of freedom and democracy for all, and is respected and revered by many. His legacy easily makes him extremely famous and his funeral is attracting the attendance of several key individuals including President Bill Clinton, President Obama, and and several other dignitaries. Several world leaders will be in South Africa for this extremely public event, and this is not a surprise to me. It seems as though our culture today expects large, lavish funerals for those who are famous or have contributed greatly to society, and that the public has automatically demanded a right to grieve along with family of the dead. What is interesting about this to me  is the fact that several, several people are going to benefit economically from this momentous event. Suddenly, Mandela regalia has a large demand, and South African locals are benefiting greatly from the influx of visitors.


In the article above, it is said that Mandela’s funeral will be an event for hundreds and it is attracting the attendance of several world-renown icons. South Africa is expected to receive hundreds, even thousands of visitors who will be coming to pay homage to the great leader. Nelson Mandela, at the age of 95, passed away earlier this week, on Thurs Dec 5th, and since then there have been grand plans being made for his funeral. As discussed in class, there is great attention payed to the funeral services of the famous, and this funeral is bound to be a grand event. His funeral is expected to be one week long, and is to included days of prayer and mourning, among other activities.

What is not spoken about is the industry that will benefit from this funeral. The article hints at the business that the state airline, South Africa Airlines, will receive. They will be providing private chartering of flights for several dignitaries to attend, and they will accommodate hundreds of people who will be entering the country in the next week or so.  They also mentioned the increase in Mandela merchandise, such as shirts, posters, pictures, or other regalia. This, along with the revenue from hotels, restaurants, or other services, will be enough for the South African locals to benefit from. In many senses, Mandela’s death will benefit several individuals.

This is similar to the deaths of recent public figures; Micheal Jackson, Whitney Houston, or Princess Diana. This is slightly problematic, but yet a fact of life; people benefit from the death of others. Especially famous people. Almost anything can become a commodity, can’t it?


Garden of Innocence: a space for forgotten children


Garden of Innocence is a non-profit organization that started in San Diego in 1999 that provides dignified burials for abandoned or unidentified children. In most cases, the children have died in a hospital and their bodies have been released by the county medical examiner to the organization after parents have not been found or convinced of claiming the body after 30 days. Other children have been found dead in other settings (i.e. garbage dumps), and their parents have not been found after months or years of investigation. The organization buries each child in a handmade coffin, with a blanket and a toy. These children often do not have a name, or their name is not known, so a member of the community is encouraged to give him/her one. Additionally, a poem is made for each child, which is read during their burial service. Hundreds of people, strangers really, come out to service (which usually is for more than one child) to commemorate the life of the child. Part of ceremony consists of passing the casket or urn from person to person, signifying that the child and the community have been mutually touched by each other’s presence. This organization has expanded at the national level, with 17 gardens across the US. Their hope is to expand to all 50 states.

My first instinct when learning about this organization was that they do some great work. Isn’t everyone deserving of a proper funeral and burial? This organization provides a service to a forgotten portion of society. However, when I learned that they assign names to the children I became a little bothered. I understand that having a name gives someone a sense of dignity, a sense of being, a sense of being present. However, is it really appropriate for a stranger to give a child a name? In a news article I read, which you can access here, someone justified giving a child the name of Daniel because it was a traditional family name. Another child was named Jose because a lot of Joses work at the garden. By doing this doesn’t this become less about the child and more about the people involved in the burial? But then again this demonstrative of what we have been talking about all semester…that death is more of a concern for the living than the dead. While I understand that people’s intentions are most likely good when doing this, that by giving a child a traditional family name you are making them part of your own (family), to a certain extent it takes away a certain degree of altruism to which we may want to ascribe to these funerals. Because there were not preexisting bonds between the child and the “mourner”, you start to question why exactly they taking part in the funeral and burial proceedings? What kind of people are the ones who participate in these funerals? Is it a way for people to deal with the loss of a child or loved one themselves?

When I looked more into how this organization obtains their caskets I found that they have a partnership with a woodworking department at a high school and a Boy Scout troop. They have dubbed the program Children Making Caskets for Children. While I can see why some people can see this program as problematic, I think it is a good way to get children to start talking about death, a taboo within our society especially among this age group. This can be an opportunity to help these children making the caskets conceptualize and understand death better. It can definitely foster a healthy conversation and space for questions on the topic to be asked. Although it is not indicated, I hope that the children are prepared and sensitized on the topic before going on to build the caskets. This is important, especially when building caskets for children, nonetheless abandoned and unidentified ones, because many children may not have prior experience with death, child death, or child abandonment.


How do you feel about this organization’s work? What do you think about this Children Making Caskets for Children Program?


**I’d like to note that I think it is important to consider what societal factors may lead someone to abandon their child. It is easy to view the child as the victim through the lens of an organization such as Garden of Innocence, but it is vital to realize that the child’s parents could be victims of societal forces that may lead them to inevitably having to abandon their dead child.


You can learn more about Garden of Innocence by visiting their websites:

National Website http://gardenofinnocence.org/home.html

San Diego Chapter Website http://www.gardenofinnocence.com/homepage.html



Death of a Leader; Public Mourning

We talked in class about the death of a leader or powerful figure. I though immediately about the death of Vaclav Havel last December when I was in Prague. The Czech Republic was very affected by the death of its former leader and the world mourned him.

Havel was really important to the Czech people but I want to give you a little background on who he is and why he is important.

Vaclav Havel was born into a privileged family that lost its  wealth when the communists where installed in Czechoslovakia in 1948. Communist rule limited his education and he bounced around in various jobs until he landed in the Writers Union in the mid 60s where he was first active in politics and humanism. Havel wrote throughout his educated life and was even invited to visit America to see a production of his second play. Travel was limited under the Soviet rule but he was allowed to go.

Among Havel’s first political acts was his opposition to the Soviet tanks in Prague during August of 1968 suppressing reforms, and his organization of a petition repudiating the politics of normalization in the Soviet Union.  Multiple actions caused him to be in and our of prison for about five years.

A politically sanctioned student demonstration on November 17th, 1989 was broken up by the police where they brutally beat and arrested most of the demonstrators. The significance of November 17th for the Czechs is related to student martyrs and abuse over time, if you want to know more about the role of eth Czech students you acn read more at this website…


Vaclav Havel organized a meeting two days after the student beatings where he and other dissidents established the Civivc Forum. The Civic Forum requested the communist leaders to resign,  an investigation of police action, and release of political prisoners. The day after Havels’ meeting 200,000 people, mostly students again, participated in a demonstration that was the first of the series that ended the Communist rule, the Velvet Revolution. Vaclav Havel was installed as the president of Czechoslovakia and remained the President during the Velvet Divorce, the split of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

During his presidency he was constantly addressing human rights and providing “moral leadership.” He constantly fought for equality and rights of the Roma and gypsy peoples as well as other minorities in the country. Havel was incredibly instrumental in the formation of the Czech Republic as the country that we see today. He was a major player in the inclusion of the Czech Republic in the European Union, which happened the year after his resignation.

Havel “stepped down” in 2003 but he was still instrumental in the future of the country. Many present leaders would seek his advice well after 2003.

The reaction of the Czech people after the death of Havel was very interesting to watch.

A mini memorial to Havel at the entrance to the public viewing at the Prague Castle

During Havel’s death I was able to witness first hand the reaction of the people. I was on the Charles Bridge during the procession of the body to the Prague Castle for the public viewing. The Bridge filled up with people and then a procession of police, citizens with flags of support for Havel as well as Czech flags. At the end of this procession was a car with the coffin inside.

The Charles Bridge just before sunrise, before the procession of the coffin

There was a writhe of red roses on the side of the car. All of the people on the bridge, civilians, photographers, and news reporters fallowed the car in silence all the way to the Prague Castle. It was a very curious procession. The people fallowed the coffin about two and a half miles to the Cathedral of St. Vitus in the Castle complex. Many of the followers held Czech Flags and banners with praise for the former leader.

The car containing the coffin as it slowly drives by our spot on the bridge

My view of the procession

The streets where lined with votive candles and flowers and national and solid black flags hung from buildings.

An alley in Prague

An interesting dedication

The week after his death all advertisement stands replaced ads with memorial posters of Havel.

Havel mourning poster

The Prague Castle is still the seat of government in the Czech Republic and business went on as usual as it did during Havel’s reign.

Officials leaving a non-public government building in the castle complex

For more information on Havel’s life you can read an article on him in the NY Times…


or from The Guardian …


If you want to know specifics about his funeral there are articles here…




Six Great Tech Tools for Planning Your Own Death

As time goes on, it is clear that the world is becoming more technologically dependent. But have you ever thought about how nonmedical technology affects one’s death rather than one’s life? Recently, there have been several applications and tools available through both Facebook and the Apple AppStore that can offer assistance in planning one’s death. These programs range from allowing one to write their will to storing private family information that is later used in legal matters.

The will is one of the most important documents one can provide post mortem; it lists who inherits what property. Now, one can begin writing or edit their will as many times as they want with the “MyWill” application, a free program that can be downloaded through the Apple AppStore. The user is able to assign certain pieces of property to certain heirs. It also allows the user to assign a new legal guardian for their minor children!

A living will is different than a normal will in that a living will outlines critical healthcare decisions in advance. Thus, if the user is unable to communicate and is in a critical medical condition, this application can be used to access the patient’s wishes regarding medical treatment. “iLivingWill” is a $0.99 iPad application that allows one to do just that.

“If I Die”is a program available on Facebook that allows users to record a message to loved ones and friends if they were to die unexpectedly. The user can choose up to three people to send this recording to via Facebook message.

Another free app that is available is called “Funeral Advice”. It provides video tutorials that allow one to essentially and interactively plan their own funeral. This application guides one in the right direction by suggesting funeral homes, casket choices and steps to take after losing a loved one.

“Death Meter” has been criticized by many people for its lack of credible information. This program gives one an approximate idea of when they will die based oninformation inputted by the user. This program takes into account hygiene, diet, family history and daily activity. There are multiple other websites that serve the same purpose.

Personally, I would probably never purchase or download any of these programs but of all these applications, the one that I would find the most useful is “AssetLock”. With this application, one is able to store important records in reference to financial records, insurance policies and funeral arrangements. Members of the family can then access this information after the user has deceased. “AssetLock” acts as somewhat of a “virtual safety deposit box.”

After reading this article I felt a little “creeped out”. It’s one thing to talk to someone about your death personally with a lawyer and/or funeral director and plan out how you want the ceremonies and legal aspects to be carried out. But the fact that someone can whip out their iPhone on a subway on their commute to work and write a will or allocate their assets is a little too close for comfort. Although some may be skeptical of these tools, programs like these make people more aware of death because its implications and guidelines are accessible at any moment.

I later visited www.findyourfate.com/deathmeter/deathmtr.html and plugged in my information. The Death Meter claims that I will die on June 5, 2079, now we just have to wait and see how accurate that truly is…

Jared Siegel

This article can be found here: (http://www.wisebread.com/six-great-tech-tools-for-planning-your-own-death-0)