Are traditional burials becoming less ideal?
This week I interred my friend at Dovecot 2. It’s been a while since I last visited this premiere Jamaican cemetery.
As I wandered around the grounds of the original Dovecot, not knowing that, that section has almost reached its maximum capacity, I thought the place looked like a retired farmers’ ground and wondered how management could have allowed the place to run down so badly. There is no evidence of lawn care and the dead lie among bags, boxes, and plastics, which litter the grounds. It was a ghastly sight given that so many people had invested heavily in laying their loved ones to sleep there. It must bring pain to heart and tears to eyes of loved ones to see how unkempt the place is.
There is no beauty, no serenity, and no tranquility. From what I saw, surely the dead will not be able to “rest in peace”.
Funerals in Jamaica have become a costly venture. There is great competition and a proliferation of funeral homes and services. Indeed, companies in this industry won’t ever go out of business. Not only are there funeral homes competing for business, but there is also great competition to see who is going to be more novel and/or classy. I have seen tombs built like cars, like ships, like boats, and some like little mansions to repose the dead.
Recently I attended another funeral and observed that every yard along the processional route had a family plot. This cheapens the value of the land, even though elaborate masonry was utilised for these graves.
A friend of mine inherited a prime piece of real estate and wanted to sell but was offered nothing much for the property because it had graves on it. In order to maximise its potential, he had to exhume the bodies and reinter them in a cemetery, after which the value of the land increased exponentially.
With the number of people dying in Jamaica, burial spaces are becoming scarce, and many modern Jamaicans have begun to explore other options. Cremating is becoming a popular choice. The argument is that inurnment is more cost effective than entombment and less cumbersome. Bear in mind that a decade ago inurnment was frowned upon.
Ours is a changing world. Mores have changed and there is a great cultural shift that comes along with the adoption of modernity. Very soon Jamaica might catch up with Canada, which cremates almost 75 per cent of its dead, and the USA, which cremates about 60 per cent, according to Cremation Association of North America. In fact, in Central Florida, approximately 90 per cent of the people I work with either choose to be cremated or their bodies are donated to scientific research.
It seems to me the more secular society becomes, the less willing people will be to incur the high costs of traditional burials, because money allocated to that expenditure could be better invested in productive enterprises.
I believe that in the future many of these cemeteries are going to be levelled and replaced by apartment buildings and housing schemes. These cultural shifts are rapid ones, but many argue they are rational and realistic, especially in an age in which people are hard-pressed for cash.
We may very well be seeing the emergence of the popularisation of human composting, ecological death cure, and biodegradable caskets. Millennials see this as common sense, and driven by their ecology, sociology, and theology, they feel the Earth should not be unnecessarily encumbered when, in fact, we will be returned to Mother Earth from whence we came: “Dust to dust and ashes to ashes”.
Green burials are catching on in some areas as an alternative to traditional burials. They are simple, often more affordable, and environmentally friendly.
I wonder what our children will do with us of the traditional mindset.
Burnett L Robinson