This past spring the Maine Legislature flirted with the idea of making “Viking funerals” legal in Maine. Not surprisingly, this quirky legislative proposal got lots of media attention. Also, not surprisingly, the proposal quickly flamed out in the Senate. The official death knell reads: “Ought not to pass pursuant to Joint Rule 310.” Ashes to ashes, dustbin to dustbin.

I had a personal interest in this story because I once wrote a short story titled “A Viking’s Funeral” that, while never published, got me into a graduate writing program and won me a national short story award. It was about a young boy whose malcontent, iconoclastic grandfather starts building his funeral boat shortly after his beloved wife dies, and then convinces his grandson to fire him up after he passes on.

The media hubbub also reminded me that Viking-style funerals have a strong hold on our imaginations, thanks to popular cultural juggernauts like “Game of Thrones” and Star Wars’ “The Phantom Menace.” In both films, characters are cremated in elaborate ceremonies.

The news reports suggested this was a serious proposal, spurred by a nonprofit cemetery group called Good Ground, Great Beyond. The group was seeking permission to have outdoor funeral pyres on a large, forested parcel it owned in Dresden. Had the proposal passed, Maine would have been only the second state in the union behind Colorado to allow these Viking-style funerals. One can imagine them rivaling Fourth of July celebrations and Christmas tree lightings across the state. “Hey, Molly, let’s skip the fireworks, I hear they’re lighting up Old Man Cummings on Mount Abram tonight!”

Yes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Several publications that rejected my family themed short story responded with mixed comments like, “Nicely done, but not terribly believable.” Obviously, my story was way ahead of its time. Little did these risk-averse literary magazines know that in a few short years Colorado families would be acting out scenes from “The Long Ships” and Maine legislators would be considering jumping on board.

I’m making fun of all this when, in fact, I plan to be cremated when I leave this vale of tears. Maybe going out in a blaze of glory, with family members adorned in animal furs and face paint while raising a tribute glass of honey mead, would be better than my being incinerated, alone and unloved, in a basement funeral parlor oven.

As I get older, the prospect of death becomes more real. I’m not afraid of death, having had a good long run, but the whole business does cross my mind from time to time. Our family tradition is cremation, followed by the depositing of the departed’s ashes in a beloved body of water, like the San Francisco Bay or the Gulf of Maine.

But it might be fun to light up the night sky in a final, dramatic act of departure. “Skol!” my loved ones would toast me, as the doors of Valhalla open and I fall into Odin’s waiting arms.


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