: On the front page of The New York Times today is a picture of pilgrims/tourists/mourners with their cameras aloft to get snapshots of the pope’s body as it passes by. I don’t get it. It’s a cultural thing.

All these pictures of the pope’s corpse brought back memories of seeing Pope John, who died in 1963, when I was 9. I was haunted, even freaked by all the pictures and TV images of a dead person. I’d never seen a dead person. I hadn’t been to a funeral and even if I had, my family doesn’t do open caskets. When you’re dead you’re gone. Dead bodies are scary. That’s how I was raised. As I said, it’s just a cultural thing.

I also remember how we were struck by the people applauding a dead man. Death was a silent thing, all somber and mournful where I grew up. It’s a cultural thing.

  • irishgirl

    I remember as a kid looking in a photo album of my mom’s and she had an old picture of her grandfather in a casket. I think it looked worse because the phota had faded and discolored.
    Being Irish its totally opposite…see the body, be with the body, have a drink with the body…its a celebration of life. I heard many stories of wakes at houses and someone staying with the body all night in the living room and getting drunk.

  • Jeff, my reaction was very much like yours. Then I lived in a rural area where people often went to a funeral home to give their regards to the family … and took pictures of the body. It was common practice, and I never like to censure people for doing something that isn’t really bad, just not to my taste. So I got over it.

  • Quentin

    We longtime U.S. persons ‘did’ open coffins, to adopt your phrase in the positive, which, in the negative, has greatly caught on since Mr. Cheney (?) used it somewhat snidely in reference to nuance; and we clapped to honor a life which had been lived. But despite such differences of exotic detail, you, Mr. Jarvis, and I share basically the same U.S. culture (in the sociological sense, that is).

  • I’m glad someone else has noticed the oddity of parading around an empty vessel. No one is there. I find it interesting and a bit scary to see thousands of people travel thousands of miles to briefly view a corpse.
    I remember my great grandmother’s funeral I attended as a child. At the end they paraded the family/mourners past the casket. I tried to go the other direction; I had no desire to see a dead body. Family members convinced me I should look. “She looks so good” they told me, she didn’t look good, she looked dead. 22 years later it still bothers me that someone would force a 6yr old to walk up and look at a dead body. Like you said, “Dead bodies are scary”. But what scares me more is peopleís need/desire to be near them. The spirit is gone; no one is home, no need to visit.

  • Tony

    So when you die, Jami, your family should just leave your body in a dumpster somewhere? Just an “empty vessel” afterall….

  • ED Beckmann

    When anyone dies I always remember my Dad saying, “Funerals are NOT for the dead they are for the living”. I was told the reason we waited three days before we buried them was just in case they might not really be dead! Thus the name “Wake”. I am of Irish decent and as I recall it any occasion was a reason to get loaded. I still have the Photos of my Grand Mother, my Father and two Aunts standing in front of My Grand Father in his coffin. They were German. I believe the Viewing is a way of dealing with the absoluteness of death. I can tell you it is a profound experience dealing with the death and in a strange way enableing. We need a way to truly let go. We still wait for our MIA’s to come home. We have spent years sifting through thousands of bits of flesh and bone of the 9/11 victims hoping for the return home of that tiny Dna to it’s family. For those who see the Pope as a Holy Father a photo in a way is like taking a part of the Holy father home so they too can let him go. Only humans are capable of keeping the dead alive in the hearts and minds of their decendants.

  • BT

    I agree With Tony, I’ve been going to funerals since I can remember. There is a great deal to be said for have a nice funeral for a lovedone.
    Maybe if we as people took our children to funerals, they would have a greater value of life.
    Yet it’s said, to sad for the kiddos,too scary.
    It is a time talk about God and Heaven, but those things are out of fashion, so We don’t
    expose our kids to all of life just the warm and fuzzy parts

  • monkeyboy

    About 150 years ago in this country people used to prop up dead bodies (especially children) for a group portrait. Taking photos of the dead is not that odd, its was often the only chance to take one.
    The people aren’t going to Rome to see a body, but to say goodbye to the holy father and an amazing man.

  • BT, I definately feel it is a time to talk about and celebrate the life of a loved one, And definately a time to discuss life, death, and God. (God is not out of fashion in our home) I also agree with Ed that the funeral is for the living not the dead; a time for closure and contemplation. I am all for a funeral as a celebration of life, like has been previously discussed but no Tony, I don’t care if they leave my body in a dumpster, I’d rather they didn’t cause it might really freak out the person that finds it. But as for me I’m not using it anymore.
    I do understand this a personal and cultural choice. If it helps you deal with the situation to view the body then go for it. I choose not to.

  • Maybe its a Southern/rural thing as well. I took my boyfriend, who’s from upper NY state, to my mothers funeral in Eastern NC a couple years ago. He was horrified at my brothers and sisters taking photos of the body in the casket…my oldest brother even standing up on chair to get some what of an aerial view. Where these photos ended up, I’m not sure, but perhaps one of our descendents will find them in old shoe box in an attic 50 years from now. However, I do remember as child my first visit to funeral home. An aunt, whom I hardly knew died, and I recall walking by the open casket but only seeing the very tip of a pale nose from my low view and feeling very, very creepy.

  • I don’t know about the pictures of the body…but I know alot about seeing the dead person. A few years ago my family suffered a massive tragedy, and seeing the body was the only thing that made it real for me. At the time, I was horrified, but now it’s comforting. I saw him alive, and I saw him dead.
    Honestly, it’s a lot more honest and realistic, rather than the kind of sanitized view of death. Kind of reminds me that I am actually just a vessel…

  • tonynoboloney

    I don’t think veiwing a body of a loved one is creepy at all. Death after all is just part of life. TONY

  • tonynoboloney

    I don’t think veiwing a body of a loved one is creepy at all. Death after all is just part of life. TONY

  • Eric

    I guess you won’t be too keen on Hunter S. Thompson’s send-off either. Gonzo’s going out with a bang (literally).

  • rastajenk

    Leaving the space out from between “loved” and “one,” as ET did above, creates a whole new twist on a phrase, especially for this thread. The LoveDones could be the name of a garage band!

  • Frank Volkert

    Mr. Jarvis,
    you will die, I will die, we all will die soner or later! Better get used to it. Could you please stop whinning:”B‰h, b‰h! Bad catholics made me see dead pope. Made me scared.”

  • Glyn

    Taking photos with a camera-phone and loading them on to Flickr seems strange to me: here’s an example, and see that thousands of people have looked at it:
    but the messages in response seem overwhelmingly positive. I suppose it’s another form of sharing their experience. As you say, it’s a cultural thing.

  • Glyn

    The BBC have just caught up with you about this, admittedly 2 days behind you, I wonder if they read this thread?

  • rguasco

    You say, “it’s a cultural thing,” as if it were code for something, some sort of quirk, quaint defect or problem, and that the problem is theirs. But your apparent squeamish over what is an unavoidable part of life shows that the problem, cultural or whatever, is yours.