Dealing with Death post-collapse
People imagine many deaths after a collapse. Few are brave enough to consider how to deal with so much death. A recent post here talks about it somewhat:
[link to www.backwoodssurvivalblog.com
In Winter, the ground grows very hard, and burial is not an option in many places. Even if you did bury them, it wouldn't probably be very deep, and unless you have lots of rocks you couldn't cover them with a cairn. Rocks are naturally encountered in plowing, but they also have important usefulness for construction, bridges, walls, preventing erosion, so it's not a good idea unless they're so numerous that it makes sense.
Burning is not an option really for security reasons. It's a large waste of wood and that may be in short supply. It reveals that people are present by the smoke and can be seen for miles. If it's not a normal custom for that person, then it can be horrific for them.
The most probable means of dealing with it, is pre-dug holes made very far from the location. This will prevent leaching into the ground water and hence poisoning your well. Having the plot far away will help survivors deal with the death easier. Seeing a daily reminder of their loved one's final resting place will not for many; some may have a strong need to be within eyesight of their loved one's burial place. It's truthfully a matter of careful teaching about hygiene, leadership, and creating a sacred space.
It's awful to ever move a gravesite. As a community grows it will spread out. This means careful planning.
The dying worry about their past mistakes and they struggle with issues about it. Leading up to their deaths, you should be helping them understand that they're dying. If their loved ones are there, you should be encouraging and facilitating reconciliation. Some won't want it, but if they don't, then they will deal with it until they themselves die, and that's brutal.
See previous posts on dealing with ceremony. When people feel grim, they don't know what to say. Writing something down ahead of time, and following a similar pattern each time, creates a cadence inside of the listeners. Then those words and recitations from Holy Scriptures (or the spiritual words from your tradition) will add meaning to them, and help them lock in peaceful thoughts about their deaths. Death is no time to convert others to your belief system, but it may possibly help people (who are not spiritual) to consider the Source.
Anger and even rage is a normal aspect of grief. Expect wild behavior from some survivors, even vengeance. You'll have to help them calm down to respond not react to the death. Saying, “What would your loved one most want you to do?” is a calm serene voice is most persuasive. Saying, “You should do ____.” is the least effective response.
Survivors need several things. When encountering death, they want to know that their loved ones didn't suffer. That's often a small white lie. It's true that people can die in their sleep, but many people struggle in the end. They want acknowledgment that their loved one's life had meaning. They need to talk about memories that were wonderful and intimate. They need grief counseling. They need to learn ways to cope. They need understanding. Since people are basically selfish, they won't do these things in your community unless you as a shaman ...model it with your own response to it.
There was a study about Emergency Room operations and the family as observers. They measured the ability to cope with grief when they saw heroic measures being taken versus shielding them from it by sitting in a waiting room and out of the way of the team. What they found was that seeing the death while seemingly cruel, helped the family deal with the death far easier in the end. They also blamed the medical team less when they saw all of the things done to attempt to save them.
In a collapse, most certainly many family members will take care of their own kin anyway, but people far away may come visit later, even years later because of what's occurring. If you're one of the people helping them cope either trying to care for them, save them, or helping the survivor, then you'll greatly increase their feelings of friendship. That's real commitment to them, something rare today. You did something unselfishly when it most mattered.
This is why you need to carefully document how they died, where they were placed, and what measures were done in a journal. Then people can go to the specific spot to say goodbye. This doesn't take that much time, and placing their driver's license in a jar that's shallowly buried in that spot helps them process it. It should always be in the same place, so it can be retrieved easily. It also helps you later as authority is re-established.
People have a strong need for continuity. It's why we often are given material items that belonged to the dead. It's very sad, but people will loot the dead person's belongings, and as a shaman and leader, you must teach about this. Mostly this is an issue with photographs and jewelry. Be as respectful to the dead and their family members as possible. Having a locket, a pocket knife that belonged to them, will help those tribal members always carry a visible token of their love for them. In a world so damaged, people need these talismans for strength.
Our bodies are only shells that hold our essence here for a brief time. Respect the dead, but don't waste resources too much to honor them. You honor their spirit more by helping their survivors to LIVE. That's what a funeral is for really, it's a carefully made response to help THEM to cope.
As a shaman, you can best help them by speaking to the dead aloud and thanking them for their service to the community and to you personally if that was true. Many survivors are not able to do this because it's outside their experience. Being matter of fact but sincere really helps, and then they know that it's alright for them to do this from time-to-time to help them remember and honor them.
It should be expected that parents who survive their children will have very rough days on the anniversary of their children's deaths. Creating memory ceremonies for them to participate in, in a community and family way, is a very noble thing to do.
Elderly people often don't cope well. The shock of a spouse or child will often make them give up. Expect a lot of deaths 8months to 1.5 years from the first death. Today, the norm is often that an elderly woman will survive her husband/partner by five to eight years, but this is with a lot of grief resources and elder care.
This may mean helping underage or aged tribal members to practically deal with day-to-day survival. In primitive society, they often died when the hunter or nurturing adult family member died and they no longer had someone to care for them. Don't split up families if you can, but adopt them.
Survivors need to be taught skills (growing crops, preserving, trapping, etc) to help them manage. Expect up to a year of grieving and far less work from them as they barely hang on. Keeping busy, working with their hands, being creative, engaging in life, these are the things that will help them adapt. A relationship was irrevocably lost. Many times until another relationship is created, they'll feel lost and alone. Feeling alone is the worst punishment that people imagine.