Reverence for the dead

When taking one of my usual early morning walks, I came across a young dove dead by the side of the road.  I wouldn’t have seen it except for a pair of minor birds, who were approaching it, squawking.  The birds flew away and as I picked up the dove I could feel that it’s body was still warm; it must have only died shortly before.  It appeared to have suffered a head injury, perhaps it had been hit by a car.

My first thought was to take the dove home to bury it in the garden and I thought about what flowers I would cushion its body with.  This made me ponder on both our reverence for the dead and our behaviour toward the dead.  Our Neanderthal ancestors buried their dead, a fact verified by scientific finds and analyses which have also revealed that they buried their dead with flowers as well.  These ‘flower burials’ suggest an intentionality, an affection, a tenderness, and dare I say, a reverence.

What does this reverence acknowledge?  I asked myself that question as I walked home.  In picking up a dead bird, which I have done many times, what is it that is meaningful about such an act?  Why do it?  What is it in response to?  My behaviour is an acknowledgement of something which I believe is deeply profound; an acknowledge of the source of life manifest as a material end-effect.  It is care and respect for that particular creation, not just because we may feel pity or love for it now that it is dead, but because we acknowledge the Divine source as the spiritual point of origin from which all life forms proceed.  And in doing so, we acknowledge the Divine’s presence amongst us.  In truth, the whole world is shot through with God, yet we see it not.

Are we ‘alive’, or are we simply the recipients of life and if so, what does it mean to acknowledge that to ourselves?  Perhaps in my preoccupation with ‘all things dead’ I am merely remembering the source of life which has sustained them.

Michele T Knight Written by:

Dr Michele Knight is a Social Worker, Social Scientist, researcher and independent scholar. Her interest and research in the end-of-life has its origin in the lived experiences of her own bereavements, her near-death and shared-death events, the returning deceased and attitudinal responses to those experiences. Since 2006, she has been extensively involved in community development, support and advocacy in both a professional and community services/voluntary capacity in the areas of bereavement and grief, hospital pastoral care, and academic lecturing/tutoring. Her PhD, Ways of Being: The alchemy of bereavement and communique, explores the lived experience of bereavement, grief, spirituality and unsought encounters with the returning deceased.

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