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.
Hi Molly –
I have seen some bad funerals that left the family and friends wondering WTheck? I also have seen more funerals that have helped an entire community grieve together and move thru their pain as a community. We can never avoid death, yet we can help each other mover thru the pain as a community and family. I have hope for the future that we can start to help our communities heal with the right ceremonies and support. We are meant to live with each other and not live alone. I love the thought of completing someones burial or attending the cremation, it is the final act of love we can do for our family or friends.
Thank you so much for your feedback & thoughts on this topic. You’re so right in saying that we are meant to live with others but that death will come and change the way each of us lives. The goal then become adjusting to that new life and wading through the grief in the healthiest and most fulfilling ways possible.
Thank you for reading & sharing!
This is such an important post. Sharon was telling me about a family she met with recently. The woman was preplanning her own services. She kept saying she did not want it to be a big deal, something simple. Sharon pointed out that her family needed the service. I am not doing Sharon justice for the way she explained it.
The point is that I learned so much from that. I knew it from working at O’Connor, but the way Sharon worded it just made so much sense.
I have since “borrowed” her terminology a bit when speaking with families while taking first calls. They often refer to what Mom/Dad wanted and leave what they need out of the equation.
Thank you for writing about this important topic.
Thank you so much Lori! Pre-Need has obviously had a big bearing on what I wrote – having entered so many contracts that just call for a cremation and no services I want to do what I can to put an end to injustices like that. As a person you are deserving of a service and as a family you are deserving of a service for the person you have lost. It is SO important!
Thank you so much for the encouragement, I’m so glad these ideas are shared by so many of us : )