If you’re like me you’ve heard many of the older people in your family say things like, “Don’t fuss over me when I die,” or, “When I’m dead just throw me in a ditch.”
We accept their statements as expressions of not wanting to burden their family with the planning, cost, etc … but what are they really saying to us when they throw these quips out?
I think what they’re really saying is … “I’m not sure if my life mattered enough … I’m not worthy of anyone’s time … Would anyone go to my funeral? … Will someone please tell me I mattered!”
At least, that’s what I hear.
I don’t know a soul that isn’t horrified at the stories on the news where a body is found in a ditch – it’s tragic, unthinkable, and disrespectful. So, is that what these people think they deserve? While I desperately hope no one feels that way, I know that some do.
These sentiments can become problematic for the person’s family as well. Many of our families are looking to honor the wishes of their loved one and when permission is not given to honor the body or “fuss” over them, the family can feel guilt when more is wanted or deny their grief-needs altogether.
From what I have observed, families who do want to have a ceremony of some kind have had moving or significant prior experience. There, sadly, seem to be more families who have had the opposite experience. Perhaps they attended a funeral where the officiant said the wrong name, or they just find the experience too boring or sad. They have been denied the experience of a “good funeral” and therefore skip all manner of ceremony. Their last act in honor of their loved one is a signature in an office when it could be waiting with the casket as it is lowered into the earth, or escorting their loved one to the crematory and being present for the moment of release.
So why do we say things like “throw me in a ditch” and laugh? and what does it imply about our emotional approach to death?
I think at our core, there is a deep desire we have for others to make much of our lives. We have a need to matter and a great part of “being at peace,” I believe, is knowing with certainty that other lives were better because of ours.
Let me share a story I read in Doug Manning’s book “The Funeral” where he talks about his own father whose only wish was for the stereotypical pine box plus ditch. Doug comments that this is something “all men seem to feel the need to say, even though they don’t mean it.” He goes on to say, “I finally told [my dad] that the funeral was my gift to him and, if he did not mind, I would decide what kind of gift I would give. He was pleased and relieved. From that day on, we had to go through the funeral step-by-step every time I was with him.” (p. 19). He gave his dad the gift of knowing that someone would make much of his life, that someone wasn’t going to toss him in a ditch because his life really mattered.
I wonder how many families would come through our doors with a different mindset if they had only said to their loved one, “Look, we want to have a funeral for you, you’ve meant so much to us and we want to come together and remember you through stories, your favorite songs, and things that remind us of you. Please, let us do this.”
Wouldn’t that be a lovely conversation to have?
Beyond the fact that each of our lives (in my opinion) have mattered, it’s been statistically shown that families (especially children) who participate in a funeral ceremony for a loved one have a dramatically healthier grief journey. They are guided into acceptance through the ceremony vs. left in a world of denial without any signifier that the death has really happened.
I know blogs like these won’t change everyone’s mind but I do hope you will at least think about how each of our lives matter and find new ways to value and honor the ones you love.
– Would a conversation like that change your mind?
– Is there anyone in your life you have said something like this to or wish you had?
– Do you want a service or nothing? How come?