I recently attended a service where the officiant said, “funerals aren’t for the person who died, they are for the living.” I initially disliked this idea, feeling that it sounded vastly self-serving at a time that was set-aside for someone who had died. This same officiant then proceeded to talk about himself and his own grief experiences, sharing almost nothing about the person who had died. My mind drifted off until a slideshow began playing and jogged me back to why I was there. This officiant’s failure made a sad event even worse. The service he performed wasn’t for my friend or for his family – it didn’t serve anyone but himself.
I continued to wrestle with this idea of just exactly who funerals were for and then I began learning about grief. As I delved into this topic I learned about how important meaningful traditions, symbols and ceremonies can be for the bereaved. I learned how important the component of storytelling is, how photographs and memorabilia help family to laugh and remember good times, how deeply those gathering need to be with each other.
So, here’s how I think funerals work:
#1: A funeral is and always should be about the deceased (and only the deceased), remembering and sharing their unique life-story that touched & left us with stories of our own.
But here’s the other half that is just as crucial:
#2: A funeral is and always should be for the family & friends left grieving.
This last part can be tricky especially for families who pre-plan and don’t think about their families needs when making arrangements. Getting your family together to talk about how your children or spouse would like to honor you when the time comes is a healthy and wonderful way to love and serve your family.
Understandably, many families aren’t aware of how a funeral can honor their loved one while also helping them. But, this is a mortuary blog, and we are here to talk about the tough stuff so here we go . .
Based on what our families have shared with us, here are a few of the unique & deeply meaningful experiences available:
Viewing: “I saw my grandma at her funeral when I was a kid and it really freaked me out” – Seeing your loved one for the first time since they died is one of the most anticipated events we see families experience. But we have seen that when families choose to see their loved one (especially if the death was traumatic or due to an illness) they experience tremendous relief and peace. While this may not be for everyone, we encourage you to not rely on previous experiences to determine how your needs should be met now.
Celebrants: The goal of the Celebrant is to tell the story of the person lost and provide the family with a meaningful service. A certified Celebrant will meet with your family before the service to learn about your loved one so that when they speak at the funeral they have a fully detailed & illustrated picture of the life being honored.
Witnessing: One of the most unique experiences we offer is the opportunity to be present for the cremation. Families have expressed a sense of “getting to be with [their loved one] until the very end,” and felt that this was “the last way they could care for them,” – that “it just felt right”.
These are sacred moments.
We want all of our families to have moments like these. To have a beautiful service commemorating their loved one, to experience a sense of peace, to know that their loved one is taken care of, and most of all, to have the certainty that they did all they could.
These kinds of services that are about the person who has died, and that serve or are for the people carrying on.
Give your loved ones sacred moments like these.
You have touched upon the greatest value and the failure of our profession. A service that is healing and meaningful and story told well is what people are thirsty for. It seems our profession demands excellence in every aspect of what we do, from the moment a family contacts us until we carry out all of their wishes and yet we tolerate mediocrity or less from those who actually deliver the public messages. No wonder we see the trends of families avoiding ceremony. They have seen no value in those services where the person conducting the service makes no connection. The true tragedy however, is the price the families and friends pay when their loved one simply “disappears” from life and nothing is done to mark their significance or value as a human being.
The Celebrant movement holds the greatest promise for those who have not seen value or simply have no connection to any tradition where ceremonial honor is part of their experience when a life ends. Even faith communities would benefit by taking queues from and incorporating celebrant elements into their traditions. For those willing, it can even be a tremendous bridge for religious groups to care for their neighbors in a most relevant way.
The stories of people are amazing! They are begging to be told and we know how to do it. Thank you for reflecting your experience. I wish it was not the norm but unfortunately for too many, it has been and continues to be reality. I believe changing the way services are designed and performed is our single greatest mission in the funeral service profession today.
Thank you for your post.
I so agree with you & that is the mission we are on. By educating our families and the public, and beyond that, by training more people about how to deliver these incredible services, we are helping build a new platform for funeral service and creating an engine that I believe will be unstoppable.
Thank you so much for being the leader in our community in education about Celebrants and enthusiasm over the beautiful job they do.
You have inspired all of us & led the way for this company to change the funeral experience, 1 family at a time.
You touched on a VERY important topic in your comment; that being the importance of keeping the memory of your loved one alive by talking about them. I remember my husband saying to me, “It’s really cool how you guys still talk about your Grandpa and enjoy the memories you have with him by remembering them together” – my husband never met my Grandpa but he has a pretty good picture of who he was based upon the memories I and my family have shared with him. I was surprised that he commented on that but then realized that many families don’t know how or are worried about what talking about the deceased might bring up for others so they avoid talking about them. In one of the grief books I’ve read the new widow shared that one of the worst things for her was when her friends and family hesitated or refused to say he late husband’s name, as if he had never existed.
Keeping the memory alive is KEY and I love that that hit home for you and is a part of how you approach grief and your uncle.
Thank you so much for sharing!
Thank you Amy!! It is so wonderful to work with a team that is so on the same page and excited about the new and valuable changes happening in our profession. Thank you so much for reading and for your dedication to our families!
Yes Kari, that all attests to this truth that value is not always found by following in tradition – sometimes you have to pave your own path and create something new and unique for your loved one, yourself and your family. I remember Glenda, one of the Celebrant trainers saying that someone came up to her after a service and said the same thing, “How did you know so and so . . . ” Glenda replied, “You know I never got to meet her, but I wish that I had” : ) Thanks for sharing Kari!
Wow! What a beautiful service you had! I love that you and your family felt the freedom to do what you dad wanted instead of following a traditional structure blindly for the sake of tradition. It sounds like you had an incredible experience and the joy that is in your comment makes it very clear that you did a great job celebrating and remembering him the way he was.
Thank you so much for sharing your story – it’s beautiful and I hope you continue to encourage more people to have freedom when planning these events out the way you did.