I recently attended the funeral service of a longtime family friend. My husband and I met at his house 36 years ago. I taught tennis to his wife and daughter.
His funeral was the perfect blend of ceremony and singing, laughter and respect. It was the way I’d like to be remembered when it’s my time to go.
Of course, no one likes to talk about funerals. Most of us would prefer a root canal to addressing the topic of death.
But funerals perform an invaluable role in our society. For instance, funerals help us acknowledge that a loved one has died. They provide incontrovertible proof that a person we knew is no longer with us. Our lives from that day forward will assume a different form.
Funerals let us say goodbye. They grant us a vehicle and an appropriate outlet for expressing loss. This is especially important when a death is sudden or unexpected, when we’re emotionally broadsided by a horrible event.
We feel supported by our family, friends and community when we attend a funeral. We join neighbors we’ve known for eons and strangers we’ve never met in a tapestry intricately woven by the deceased. These fellow mourners form a living entity that offers comfort to all attendees. Its vitality continues to provide succor throughout the difficult months and years ahead.
Funerals are times to reflect on our own mortality. They’re the ultimate symbol that life has an endpoint.
They encourage us to sort through our psychological closets and see which areas are in disarray. Perhaps we spend too much time at the office or have held a grudge way too long. Now is the time to make appropriate changes. Tomorrow may be too late.
Finally, funerals give us hope. Even though they’re times of loss and sorrow, they’re evidence that life continues after we’re gone.
The family will still celebrate Christmas. Kids will grow up and have babies of their own.
They’ll be affected by our existence. Still, they must heal and move on.
PLANNING A FUNERAL
When planning a funeral, consider including the following elements:
- A public celebration. While the family is most affected by the loss, the deceased’s friends and community are grieving, too. Allowing all mourners to attend the service lets them show their support for the family while handling their own pangs of loss.
- Rituals. Rituals are wellestablished ceremonies that accompany events. Most of us find them soothing because they’re familiar and we know what to expect. Rituals needn’t dictate what happens at a funeral. But they can give structure and solace. Lighting candles, reading familiar verses or the playing of “Taps” may all serve the purpose.
- Music. Music creates an overall mood and facilitates the expression of feelings. It may include religious hymns or contemporary pieces that were meaningful to the deceased. Intersperse music with eulogies, sharing and remembrances so that mourners have time to access their feelings, then back away for an emotional reprieve.
- Beauty. While funerals aren’t meant to be productions, they can supply an important aesthetic quality that is pleasing to attendees. Funerals can be held in traditional settings, such as synagogues or meeting halls. Or they may be conducted at the beach or along a favorite trail. Either way, a soothing, serene environment will be much appreciated.
- Readings. Specially selected readings have the power to connect with the intense feelings of the bereaved. Verses from spiritual texts, contemporary poets or hit songs are all appropriate if they have special meaning for the family and the deceased.
- Eulogizing. Eulogies are best performed by those most closely associated with the deceased. Even when speakers aren’t trained in public speaking, their heartfelt words and emotions connect with everyone who hears them.
- Involvement of family and friends. Everyone who was close to the deceased brings a unique perspective to the service. Incorporating all ages and relationships deepens the impact and lets participants feel special.
- Gathering. Joining together following the service cements the profound experience the mourners have just experienced. Hugging, crying, eating and connecting remind all attendees they are members of a larger, common family. It also serves as a powerful reminder that the survivors are still living and that their needs must be addressed.