Friday, May 05, 2017

Dignity in Death for All

Last week a downtown fixture in Belleville, a man named Hamish, died suddenly. He was a fascinating looking character, tall, rail-thin, with long flowing hair and the beard of an Old Testament prophet -- or Gandalf. It was impossible to gauge his age, which turned out to be sixty.

Hamish had his challenges through the years but he was an interesting man, offering blessings and his form of benign pronouncements to whomever would listen, and those who wouldn't. He would attend our Inn from the Cold meals from time to time and we chatted on a couple of occasions. He showed up one evening after the program had concluded for the year hoping for a hot meal. I answered the door and explained that there was no meal, and he left, offering a benediction that involved angels, and went on his way.

Not surprisingly, Hamish had no financial resources -- he was poor -- but our provincial government made sure that there some dignity to his death, both in terms of taking care of his remains and providing an opportunity for visitation. I checked on this, because his adult children were open about their lack of resources and we were willing to help, if needed. I was relieved that there was provision for this, because it's not a sin to be poor, and every person should be treated with respect, even in death.

I heard this week that Saskatchewan will still take responsibility for "disposal" of the bodies of the indigent and poor, but not funeral or memorial services. Apparently this will save a million dollars a year. That sounds like a lot, but not so much in a multi-billion dollar budget.  Here is an excerpt from the CBC piece:

Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor says the government is focused on meeting people's basic needs, which do not include funeral services. (Trent Peppler/CBC) "A basic human need is to have food on the table ... it is to have a roof over your head and it is to have the lights on in your place," she said. "Unfortunately, these are the kinds of decisions that we had to make in this budget."

Opposition poverty critic Ryan Meili balked at the notion that funerals are not a basic requirement. "That just seems to me pretty out of touch with the real needs of human beings, with the needs of our emotions, with the needs of families to connect with a loved one," he said. "You have a loved one who's died; you need to be able to say goodbye. That's just a basic part of being human."

I agree with Meili. I have presided at hundreds of funerals and memorials, for everyone from the very poor to the very wealthy  and never thought that the important work of grieving had anything to do with financial means.

What are your thoughts on this? Is a funeral a fundamental human need?

1 comment:

Frank said...

I think some gathering in memory of the deceased is a basic human need.
Looking at Brad Wall's gov't. premises, I guess we shouldn't be too surprised at their take on this issue.