Thursday, April 26, 2012

Burial for two dozen of the indigent deceased. Too bad we can’t do more

I’m not much of a fan of the “Star Trek” series of programs and films, but there are times that I wonder if the Klingons are on to something we could all learn from.

Klingons, for those who don’t know, are a species of warriors who are prepared to, if not all too eager, to fight to the death, and find great honor in such activity. But as for the corpses themselves, they are merely “empty shells” with the essence of what made that individual unique having been removed.

THE IDEA IS, that while they have their rituals related to death, they don’t put much stock in the idea of the body being all that important – once life as we know it is complete.

I’m not saying that corpses in that television world get disposed of like trash. But there are times I wonder if we put too much attention on the rituals related to our own deaths.

I couldn’t help but think of this when I read the stories being published about how some two dozen bodies of indigent people who died with no one to claim them were finally given a burial on Wednesday.

Those bodies were among the nearly 400 that were backed up at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, with some allegedly being stacked in the halls because the giant freezers meant to slow decomposition of the flesh while the bodies are in county custody were over-packed.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, the Chicago Archdiocese of the Catholic Church went so far as to offer up to 300 graves at Catholic cemeteries so that the bodies could at least be put into a proper grave.

Like I said, that offer was made months ago. Yet it is only now that only two dozen were actually buried – specifically at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery on 111th Street near the Mount Greenwood neighborhood, the first cemetery meant to service the South Side.

Cook County government officials would have liked to have taken up the offer much sooner, and for many more of the bodies that were never claimed – or where the next-of-kin were too poor to afford the cost of a funeral.

But it literally came down to the concerns among Cook County officials that they would be attacked in the future by putting indigent people into graves at a Catholic cemetery.

WHO’S TO SAY some indigent Protestant (or maybe Muslim) wouldn’t have some family come forth at a later date, all upset that they weren’t with their “own kind” in the after-life?

County officials literally had to spend time checking, as best they could, into the religious beliefs of these people – many of whom were so cut off from the mainstream of our society in life that I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to try to verify now if it would be acceptable that they were put into a grave next to Catholic people.

Now I respect the idea that some people have very intense religious beliefs that extend to the specific circumstances under which they want their dead treated. I’m not, in any way, looking to violate the concerns of such individuals.

But those are the people who do come forth and claim their deceased loved ones.

I CAN’T HELP but think that in cases where there is no one, accepting such a plot is only too practical for county government. It also sounds so much more respectful than some of the practices that have occurred at African-American-oriented cemeteries on the South Side – where there are people who literally don’t know if their loved one’s graves truly contain their remains, or those of somebody else!

So I can only think it encouraging that Cardinal Francis George was able to take the time to lead a graveside service for two dozen people whose remains should have been put to rest months ago. It’s only a shame we don’t know, in some cases, whose minds those dead individuals continue to live on in.

Because I honestly believe that the dead live on in the memories of the living – just as there are times when I can hear my own mother admonishing me if I’m about to screw something up (or offering her praise if I get something right).

All the rants about ritual just seem so trivial in that context.


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