Admit It … You Deserve a Funeral

Admit It … You Deserve a Funeral

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.

|| what do you think?

–       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?

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.

28 Comments

  1. Lori says:

    Molly,
    On some level, I think people throw those terms out there, “Don’t make a fuss”, “Throw me in a ditch”, etc. to wait to hear our comeback. If we said, “Okay, that is what I was planning anyway”, I think we would get some very surprised looks. I think, for some, it is a test to see if we will tell them we value them too much to go the easy route. They want to hear how much we love them and what type of ceremony we are planning.
    I also agree everyone has left a mark and should have their story told. Ceremonies for everyone!
    Thank you for sharing this…..
    Lori

    • Lori you are so right – it’s all about if their need to know they have mattered. If we can convey that to them, truly demonstrate that their life matters, that a funeral isn’t a “burden” to us but a “joy” I think then we’ve succeeded.

      Thank you so much for sharing!

      Molly

  2. Amy says:

    Molly,
    I think people don’t want to be a burden to others so it’s easier to say don’t make a fuss or throw me in a ditch. The think about cost and what is involved in doing the service.
    When my dad recently died I sat with him for hours going over how I was going to celebrate his life. Hearing stories that I could share and learning things about him I never knew. It has really helped me during the grief process know that my dad mattered. He had an amazing life and it was meant to be shared. I make sure I share that story when I’m talking with people so they know they matter. Even if it’s just to one person.
    Amy

    • Amy,
      Your family absolutely lived out the principle idea that our lives are valuable and that they deserve to be on display. The video made about your dad just amazed me – it was so wonderful and allowed me to feel like I knew him even though we never met. Those are the best kind of funerals – when you realize that you have missed out on something really special by not knowing the person as well as you wish you had.
      You can share from experience the power of honoring others and you know what you did? YOU made his funeral not feel like a burden, YOU showed him how much it meant to you and I am convinced that that brought him tremendous peace, comfort, and joy. If we can alleviate that burden, we need to. Beautifully done,

      Molly

  3. Kari Lyn Leslie says:

    Molly,

    Everyone deserves a party. We celebrate so much in our world, we should absolutely celebrate a life that has come to an end. I hope that when I am no longer here, on the anniversary date of my death, my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will light a candle and remember me. I hope they tell stories of me, like I do of my grandparents and great grandparents. I hope that they think back and wish I was here to make a meal, share a cup of coffee, make a holiday special or listen to them and impart some words of wisdom.
    Investing in our families and friends while we are here is so important, but remembering them in a special when when they’re gone and for years to come is such a tremendous gift. Generations to come can benefit from the gift of a funeral.

    oxox
    kari

    • So beautifully said Kari and such a unique perspective. I haven’t thought of the benefit before that a funeral provides on down through the generations but it is so very true. I know I got to be a part of my grandfather’s funeral, I was the representative grandchild who read out a few memories and list of things we loved about my grandfather. Getting to be a part of that was tremendous for me and I remember it each year on the anniversary of his death and am joined in my memories with my husband who never even met my grandfather. Had we not had a service, I don’t know what I would even remember from that time except his cancer.
      You brought out a story in me because of your wonderful observation, thank you for sharing & giving me a place to remember once again : )

      Molly

  4. Jon says:

    Molly,

    Great blog and way to make people think about the importance of having a funeral service. Being raised LDS I actually did not have much experience in people not wanting a service to “Not to fuss about me” As it is part of our culture to always have a funeral service. It wasn’t until I started working here that I realized that not everyone does have funeral services. I think the more we get people to tell about their life and what they have done may help them realize there is a story to tell and a means for a service.

    • I 1000% percent agree with you Jon. It’s wonderful that so many of our religious traditions maintain this need and validate the importance of a ceremony, what’s sad is the church message (that I’ve heard in evangelical services) which can sometimes leave out the person who died and speak only about the religion itself. This seems like one of the clear reasons why we have so many “non religious” people avoiding services, they think that they are just for the religious and who would want a sermon for a eulogy anyway?

      I love that the LDS community so strongly believes in giving a place and time to the family, the community, and the departed. It’s a beautiful tradition and I think the more who follow their example the better.

      Molly

  5. Erin Fodor says:

    Molly,

    Thank you for this very insightful blog. I have to say that I have not had this conversation yet but maybe will one day. For myself, I would absolutely want my family to have a service for me. I think that celebrating the life of a loved one is very special and a great honor. I would do the same for my family.

    Thank you,

    Ern

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