How do rites help us to come to terms with the death of our loved ones?

” HASatoday, it is not uncommon to have never seen a dead person at 40, or even at 50,” notes Christian de Cacqueray, founder of the Catholic Funeral Service. Due to medicalization, death that was once tamed has become taboo during the 20th century.e century.

The health crisis has nevertheless reminded us of the reality of our mortal condition, as well as the importance of saying goodbye to the deceased, as he emphasizes in his latest work, Live as a mortal (Salvator). “I am a door opener: after death, I show a path that I know is marked out. »

Visit to the dead, specific prayers, coffining, appointment for the lifting of the body, celebration, burial… “The rite is in time what the dwelling is in space. After the psychological chaos caused by the announcement of the death, the prospect of this organized journey brings relief. »

“Often the dead person is beautiful”

This relegation of death often leads to an apprehension of discovering the corpse of the loved one. How to confront his now inanimate, rigid body, his pale, even waxy face, in a cold, neon-lit burial chamber?

“Often the deceased person is beautiful: his face is soothed, less wrinkled”, reassures Father François Buet, doctor and palliative care chaplain at the Sainte-Élisabeth clinic in Marseille. In order to facilitate this last homage, the funeral chamber of the clinic is particularly neat: subdued lighting, comfortable seats, decoration, Garden of Eden represented in painting.

Rituals to accompany the living

“Death and the vision of the dead invite us to understand the loss, notes Christian de Cacqueray, to accept that we will no longer see ourselves in the order of the flesh and, more deeply, to become aware of our humanity, even in its finitude. »

During this final face-to-face meeting, various rituals can accompany the “to God”: lighting candles or candles, symbols of the light towards which the deceased has gone, placing fragrant flowers, watching over the body, talk, kiss or caress him, pray around him…

This last meeting is getting ready. The priest also considers palliative care as “a retreat allowing grace to unfold in hearts before the divine embrace”. At the end of the day, a mission, underlined by this doctor of theology, author of Spiritual accompaniment of the person in palliative care (New City): “We try to be catalysts for reconciliation: with ourselves and with others. A work of anamnesis reveals the sacred history of the person. We see its golden thread, despite its trials, its failings…” The nursing staff is trained in the rituals of monotheisms around death.

Life gives in abundance

A doctor in palliative care for 30 years, Constance Yver-Elleaume asks: “How do we view death? She is an opportunity for me, a powerful master who allows us to grow in the faith that everything is in its place, until death, and that life gives in abundance. »

His latest book is titled the Caterpillar Smile. The game of birth and death (the Golden Breath), in reference to Lao-tzu: “What the caterpillar calls ‘end of the world’, the rest of the world calls it a butterfly. »

She herself bears witness to this awareness, at the age of 30: “I had a lot of expectations with regard to my parents, my loved ones, life… In reality, nothing and no one owes me anything. Waiting makes you demanding, pressing, prey to disappointment. Whereas if nothing is due to me, everything becomes a gift…”

Nevertheless, this inanimate body materializes a situation that we know is irreversible. It cruelly underlines our powerlessness, our inability to rewind the film and augurs the bite of absence. “A sudden death or an intense relationship makes the pain of separation more acute”, she agrees.

In front of the remains, feelings can come up with force: regrets, anger, resentment… “Even if the relationship has been difficult and without denying what we feel inside, continues Constance Yver-Elleaume, it is possible to look for the positive moments experienced with this loved one. There has always been, at least once, a smile, a gesture, a spark… Giving thanks is just as good for those who are grateful as for those who are leaving. » A way to let the soul go in peace and prevent the one that remains from being consumed by bitterness.

Embrace the sadness

In addition, during this final interview, something even deeper can come into play, as Christian de Cacqueray explains: “Every dead has a word to say to the living. Faced with his silence, I am sent back to the meaning of my existence: does the awareness of my finitude invite me to good or evil? To open or close? To give me or to hoard? We construct our being for eternity. »

The rites post mortem of our contemporary society have evolved: limited condolences, faded mourning. “Any excessive manifestation is judged as a morbid abnormality”, notes the historian Philippe Ariès in man facing death (Threshold). “We try to spare the children by not crying in front of them. » Wrong! As Jesus let his tears flow in front of the tomb of Lazarus, emotion is characteristic of our humanity.

“We are here to welcome the sadness, the tears, believes François Buet, but also to be witnesses of the compassion of God, who is close to the afflicted. And we share our hope that the deceased has entered into eternal life, is at peace, and will watch over everyone else. » For the living who remain, the chaplaincy team can offer prayers of consolation in the chapel.

Often a question arises: should the children be taken to the deceased person? “Don’t let them think that getting close to death kills! strongly recommends the director of the Catholic Funeral Service. If they are removed from the funeral bed, it will be difficult for them to grieve. »

He invites adults to watch their non-verbal language: “What we show through our attitudes, our gestures, our silences is decisive in the construction of children. If we give the impression that there is a wolf, they will classify death as shadowy, obscene, unspeakable. The reality is that we are all mortal. Death is the prospect of all of us; it paradoxically gives value to our life. »

An intact body
The body of Carlo Acutis, the Italian teenager who died in 2006 of overwhelming leukemia, was discovered in 2018 intact, that is to say with all his organs. Some remains turn out to be incorruptible, undecomposed: Teresa of Ávila (whose tomb gave off a sweet smell); Philippe Néri, the Curé of Ars; Catherine Labouré (intact 56 years after her death); Bernadette Soubirous; Daniel Brottier (founder of the Apprentis d’Auteuil). Science does not explain this preservation.
Putrefaction begins 24 to 48 hours after death. The decomposition time varies according to the ambient temperature and the size of the person: in the open air, it only takes two to three years for the carnal envelope to become dust again. In a coffin, about 50 years are needed.

How do rites help us to come to terms with the death of our loved ones?