Anthropologist: The death of a child made me change the funeral home | iRADIO

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Adriana Kábová is an anthropologist and funeral guide. While researching Indonesian cultures, she came across traditional funerals where animals are sacrificed. “Although funerals were not my subject originally, in Indonesia I participated in funerals in the first place,” she describes. After her own experience with the death of a baby, she decided to change the funeral industry in the Czech Republic and became a funeral attendant.



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Prague
20:23 April 1, 2024

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Anthropologist Adriana Kábová | Photo: Karolína Němcová | Source: Czech Radio

How does a young woman like you become a funeral director?
I became a funeral director based on my own experience. My first child died and I had to go to a funeral home to arrange a funeral, and I was not happy with the experience. The funeral service environment was unsupportive and felt like I was time traveling to the 1970s. I myself later evaluated that the lady who worked there had no experience with mothers whose babies had died.

The doctor who took care of my deceased child told me a sentence that changed a lot of things in me: “Everything that the funeral law does not prohibit is allowed”, explains Adriana Kábová

Anthropologist-The-death-of-a-child-made

I was in a state of shock and at the moment when my child died, I would have greatly appreciated it if someone had taken my hand and told me what my options were and in what time frames everything needed to be arranged. After the baby’s death, you have 96 hours to arrange a funeral. You make a lot of decisions during that time that can’t be taken back.

Although I had my family and friends who protected me and helped me, they also did not know how to arrange many things. That’s why I was left with the feeling that the farewell didn’t go the way I wanted it to. After this experience, I told myself that I can either complain, or that I can change things here in the Czech Republic.

You are originally an anthropologist, you often visited Indonesia. Which experience would be transferable from Indonesia?
I often went to the island of Sumba, where I primarily wanted to focus on other things, but the topic of funerals found itself. Anthropological methods can be used to conduct research in hospitals or on the radio, but in Sumba they had a fixed image of an anthropologist, so I had to research the traditions. My friends gave me the role of a classic anthropologist who goes to funerals, weddings and wherever there is tradition. At first I was very frustrated because it was not my subject, but gradually I became interested in funerals.

At Indonesian funerals, people sit, chat, drink tea, coffee, and serve food for three days or a week. So I couldn’t really find more ideal conditions for my research. An insight can be taken from the Indonesian funeral that death accompanies life. It is more under the roof of religion, they believe that along the way you go on a journey to the realm of the ancestors, from where you still influence what happens in the family, so no one takes death as a tragedy.

The dead sometimes remain at home for days, weeks or years without being buried. They basically mummify a person, the same thing happens on the island of Sumba and Sulawesi. They take it as a part of life. Funerals are often grand and require a large amount of money to be raised. Up to hundreds of people are invited to large funerals, buffaloes are sacrificed, which can cost up to several hundred thousand crowns.

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You decided on a career as a funeral director in order to change the way funerals are approached in the Czech Republic.
Yes, because absolutely bizarre situations happened during my son’s funeral. For example, when I came to the funeral service, they asked me where I had my funeral clothes. Of course I didn’t have one because my baby was about 12 inches.

So the funeral lady advised me to get something by the next day. And I, in a state of physical and mental discomfort, went to a department store where the children’s clothing department did not have a suitable size, and when I asked, the saleswoman assured me that the baby would grow into the clothes. I already had tears in my eyes.

Then I thought I’d go to a toy store. I was standing among the toys, my milk was flowing, Harry Potter and Spiderman outfits in front of me. At that moment, I was already laughing through my tears at the idea of ​​someone opening the casket at the funeral home and seeing a little Ninja Turtle in the casket. Today, I would advise parents whose child dies to give up on finding suitable clothes, take a blanket at home, embroider or draw something on it.

How did you manage to handle it so well?
I have two great friends who I knew I could turn to at any time. In addition to the support of the whole family, psychotherapy helped me, I went to a psychologist for a whole year after my son’s death.

My partner is a foreigner and in his culture you are not allowed to talk about dead babies. When we left the hospital, he told me that it was over for him and he would never talk about it. Therapy helped me because I was able to let go of the weight that was weighing on me.

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Let’s talk about grieving. In the Czech Republic, we like to get back to life quickly, but at some point it catches up with us.
I think it’s normal for it to catch up with us because grieving can’t be rushed. It is a process that takes at least 13 months, especially for babies. The first year was definitely the hardest for me. I had a booklet that said grief and pain come in different stages, but I thought that wouldn’t be the case for me. I believed that grief doesn’t come in waves.

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The worst for me was half a year after my son’s death. A lot of things can affect you, the weather, triggers you meet on the street. All events where you assumed the deceased would be with you, but they are not. Deadlines and dates can send a person extremely down.

My partner and I found a compromise where talking about the deceased child could not be avoided completely. For example, I saw a trigger outside, but it didn’t fully break out until I was at home. I let my body experience it, I wrote down what was happening to it. I mentally analyzed the emotion and processed it. The tears were and were very often of relief.

How do you say goodbye?
We provide information even before the ceremony, which is something that puts people at ease. After that, together with the family, we prepare a ceremony that aims to help the family. We start with the place, because the ceremony does not have to take place only in the funeral hall or in the church, it can be anywhere. We already had a ceremony that was done on the football field. We often choose a place that was related to the deceased, for us it is most often places outside. But we also held a ceremony in a gallery, to which the person liked to go.

Then we focus on how the ceremony will happen and how to involve the mourners. We are planning a speech to be read there. We sit online with the family for an hour or more, when they remember the deceased, tell us about him, which we write down and make a big speech that is read by us or family members. The bereaved have the power to read the speech, but we don’t force them to because we believe they are at the ceremony to mourn.

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After the speech is delivered at the ceremony, people are given the opportunity to say what they did not have time to say during the life of the deceased. People have the courage to stand up, but we also have an option for those who don’t want to appear publicly like this. For example, writing on papers that are burned, or messages on boats that we send on water or in balloons. We do not leave after the ceremony, we realize that it is a unique moment of meeting people who may never meet again. We let the extraordinaryness of the moment fade for the mourner.

What should we improve in the Czech Republic when saying goodbye to the deceased?
The very first thing is communication. Usually with a funeral service you have to make a decision on the spot, with us it’s different that you can change anything at any time. I often work with people who have lost a child, when something comes up at 11 in the evening.

The farewell ritual is important and has been with us since prehistoric times, so it is important not to skip it. The doctor who took care of my dead child told me a sentence that changed a lot of things in me: everything that is not prohibited by the burial law is allowed.

Why is a horse sacrificed during an Indonesian funeral? Do Czechs trust funeral services? Listen to the full interview.

Lucie Výborná, ex

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