When I was a kid, they said cemeteries were so popular that people were dying to get in. They told us the fences were for keeping people out. There are some things people just don't like to face. Walk with me while I explain...
I went to another funeral recently. I wouldn't say I've been to a lot of them, but I seem to end up at at least one every few years. They don't seem to have changed much. Certainly, they have yet to show me the "fun" that the name suggests.
I suppose I should add that the recent honoree wasn't anyone close to me. We never even met. I was just there for emotional support. The way these things run, though, I had plenty of free time to ponder...
When someone dies in America, the body is put through several preparations prior to the funeral that ensure that if it wasn't dead already, it would certainly be before it got anywhere near the coffin. This certainly does away with any need for the old tradition of holding a wake (in which people gather to see if the corpse is going to wake up, since being found dead drunk apparently used to be fairly common and medical practices were slow in catching on to confirming death). Still, creatures of habit that humans tend to be, wakes continue to be held and everyone gets a chance to make sure the deceased is really dead.
At the actual funeral, the coffin was locked shut. Locked? Are they worried about graverobbers? The lock seemed rather standard, built right in, yet most people aren't celebrities and certainly aren't buried with much of consequence. You can't take it with you, after all. They tell us that all our lives. I tried to get myself listed as my own beneficiary once, but my investment counselor just gave me a blank look. I explained that it was only fair that I get to keep what I had accumulated rather than let others piss it away on things that had nothing to do with chocolate. I was told to fill in a name or the financial planner would put in her own. They really don't want us taking anything with us.
The coffin was driven miles away and put into a cement vault, rather a more ornately designed one than I'd seen in recent memory. That was sealed and then lowered into the ground and buried by a team of men with shovels. Now, there's obviously a good deal of money being made from people dying. Even if you were just selling the wooden boxes and putting people into holes in the ground, you could still make a good living just from the volume of customers (when my own father died, they tried to charge for the box even though we had him cremated). For some reason, though, there's a whole lot of extras that have been put into the corpse-handling process, but why?
I've heard it said that there's some fear about contamination of the ground or the water supply by the decomposing bodies, but that doesn't make sense unless there's something they've been slipping into the food that they don't want coming back to bite us. Hmmmm...
Maybe the undertakers' lobby is just so strong that they can get whatever legislation passed that they want, ensuring people will have to spend outrageous sums on funerals.
Maybe they just need to come out and admit that all the extra precautions are truly spurred on by just one thing: deep, unrelenting fear of the undead. I don't know whether to blame George Romero or go all the way back to Bram Stoker, but it seems that there's a serious concern about keeping corpses from getting back up out of the ground to ramble about and feed upon the living. Even the old ones must make for some tough zombies because I'm not sure if even Houdini could get through all that grave security...y'know, without becoming zombie-Houdini. Then there'd be no stopping him, of course.
Even faced with the prospect of either a vampire- or zombie-themed apocalypse, I guess people felt bad about decapitation (which could strain common feelings toward the open casket) and opted for embalming instead. Of course a simple stake through the chest, nailing the body to the coffin, would be a simple enough solution to keeping them in place, though perhaps a bit messy.
Personally, I think the obvious choice would be cremation, but I could be considered biased.