The latest wave of unfettered narcissism to splash across our society has drawn the attention of local funeral directors. It is the funeral selfie, a photo taken with the deceased person and then posted to social media. It is not a photo taken from a respectful distance of a person praying or otherwise saying goodbye. It is not a morbid but otherwise tasteful remembrance of a loved one. No, it is all about ME and the deceased person is but a prop in another cool snap of ME.
Funeral directors put out a plea for restraint, asking people to kindly respect the wishes of the families, who, you can imagine, are horrified to see their loved ones on display on Facebook or Instagram. Can you even imagine?
Photographing deceased persons is not new. When photography was still new, Victorian-era families would sometimes take family portraits that included a just-deceased child. Creepy by our standards, yes, but clearly taken from a different point of view, that of memorializing a dear member of the family. The selfie photos say something entirely different. They are the answer to a dare that says, “I was there!”
A quick google turns up selfies of people in front of ongoing human tragedies, such as fires and terrorist events, as well as Holocaust memorials, Auschwitz, and the like. Again, it’s not necessarily inappropriate to take a photograph, it’s the insertion of a grinning, posing self that is, frankly, sickening. It indicates a disconnect from reality, a total self-absorption that rises beyond adolescent into something disturbingly unhealthy.
As I’ve written before, people today cannot cope with death. Often they mask what is actually happening by using euphemisms and even hiding the grave from people gathered for a burial. The funeral selfie is simply the other side of that coin. It’s an in-your-face defiance of the gravity of the situation, an obvious refusal to enter into the solemnity of parting with a loved one, a denial of the reality of death.
These cultural trends have also impacted Catholics. Fewer and fewer Catholic families provide their deceased loved ones with a Christian funeral and burial. That also indicates a disconnect from the reality of death. The doctrine of Purgatory is an essential Catholic belief, one that is not well understood today. I will refrain from my usual rant, but suffice to say that many Catholics today have not been properly taught their faith. Nevertheless, we should be aware enough to recognize our weakness and try to fill in the gaps as adults. Failure to do so is also a form of narcissism. It is thinking that what we know is sufficient and we don’t need to develop ourselves beyond where we are now.
What we need, of course, is humility. We need to accept that we are always in need of personal growth and, in this case, the Church has a lot to teach us. Understanding Death, Judgment, and Resurrection is fundamental to our faith and our trust in Christ. It provides far more comfort in a time of bereavement than a silly photograph grinning with Grandma.