Celebrating Death-Chicago Style

– L. Arthalia Cravin

The above photo was taken by Nathan Weber for a June 19, 2012 online article that appears at msnbc.com. The caption reads: “Chicago Funeral Home Director-These Kids Don’t Expect to Live a Full Life.” The story then chronicles the out of control gun violence in Chicago that so far has left 240 people dead since January. Over the past three weekends, 18 people have been killed and 110 injured from sense gun violence. But what is even more shocking is what else the funeral director has to say.

The funeral director has been in business in Chicago for 80 years and owns two funeral homes. He says that he is busier now than ever conducting upwards of 125 funerals a year for homicide victims, many of them young adults, some just teenagers, who are victims of the recent surge in violence rocking Chicago. The oddity about these ever increasing funerals is the joyous “Homegoing” celebrations of young lives shortened by senseless violence. According to the funeral director, these funerals come with a cynical type of celebration of death. The funeral director was quoted as saying: “You get about a thousand other kids who come to these funerals. They see how it’s celebrated and they think this is how I’ll be celebrated when I get shot.”

I have often felt that the black community worships death in a way that encourages dying. I know people who seem to take delight at going to funerals. News of someone’s death seems to bring some type of perverse joy. Characterizing funerals as “Homegoings” has been taken to a new level of “putting them away nice” with funeral themes, life videos, and memorials that seem totally disrespectful of how many of these people actually died. What does it say to young people when dying young from gun violence is cleaned up to make the dead seem like martyrs who died for a worthy cause? If death is viewed as putting an end to all of life’s miseries, is the celebratory nature of funerals actually sending a perverse and wrong message about dying—and especially dying early?

One of the saddest movies that I ever say was called “Imitation of Life.” The movie starred Natalie as the young girl who had to face the reality that in spite of her white skin that her mother was a black woman. The movie depicted Wood’s struggle with facing her true racial identity and her enormous shame of her black heritage. When her mother died Woods finally accepted that her mother was indeed a black woman who quietly and humbly mopped floors to give her the privileged life she came to know. But it was Mahalia Jackson’s rendition of “Sooner I’ll Be Done With the Troubles of The World” as Woods stepped from the rear of the church to claim her dead mother in the casket, that brought home the message of death as the final escape from troubles—but an escape that always leaves others behind who suffer in ways unimaginable. Is this what is missing from today’s celebratory Homegoings?

Look at the baby in the foreground of the above picture. Look at the top of the head of the small child to the left in the picture. There is something very incongruous about these youngsters in the midst the young men carrying the casket. A casket carrying the body of yet another young black youth shot and killed by another black youth. What is there is this picture that is worthy of celebrating? Has life for so many among us become so wretched and unbearable that death is seen as some type of “step up?” What kinds of daily thoughts occur in the minds of young children who, as the funeral home director said,” don’t expect to live a full life?” If an early death is indeed the only hope for so many of America’s youth, it is really so hard to understand all the killing? If after a death by gun violence, the body is cleaned up, dressed up, placed in a nice clean casket, placed inside a nice funeral home or church for viewing by friends and relatives who express love and admiration, after which the nice casket is taken to a nice clean hearse and buried in a quiet-well kept cemetery where the person is “done with the troubles of this world,” then for so many who are without hope why not wish for, no celebrate, dying young? But before celebrating, think about all the troubles left behind—broken families, fatherless children, childless mothers and fathers, financial burdens of burials and child-rearing, fears of retaliation and more violence, and the overwhelming pain and loss of young lives. What is there to celebrate as families all across America, even in Amarillo, prepare to bury yet another young black man gunned down by senseless violence?

Copyright 2012 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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  1. avatar Cathy Williams says:

    I totally agree-good article.

  2. avatar Cathy Williams says: