March 29, 2007

Casting earthly shells

Along the highways we are often reminded that people feel there is meaning at the location where a loved one passed away. Of course, the final resting place is most important -- the grave, vault, or urn -- but we also take interest in that spot where the person's life functions ceased. Along the highways you will see crosses and flowers at intersections and curves. Families honor their dead and remind drivers that their work is dangerous.

We also mark these sites away from highways, even when the death is natural. We pause to reflect on our loved ones at these places. How can our feelings be explained? Do we feel that we can be closer to them at this spot? Do we want to see what they saw in their last moment to understand what it was like?

There is also a lot of meaning for one's personhood when life functions cease. A living person, even if brain dead, is a person. After death, there is a change in identity: the person is gone, and a body is left behind. A doctor treats a him or a her, but a mortician prepares his or her body for a funeral.

This distinction is usually followed by journalists in news reports. However, I recently heard a couple of deviations in reports of a missing person recently found dead. The journalists said that he (by pronoun or proper name) was found floating in a pond. Normally they would say his body was found. I took notice but did not understand why the deviation was made.

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