The New Funerals – Celebrations of Life

“He who has no time to mourn has no time to heal”

   John Dunne

Traditional Funerals

Funerals, as we know them today, have existed for centuries.  During the Victorian Era, they became more elaborate. It was not uncommon then for families to go into debt to make sure their loved one had a proper funeral. To do otherwise in Society’s eyes was to be viewed as a pauper.  The rituals used during this time are more or less the same as we see today.

No longer keeping up Appearances

Many families today, are not willing to spend the money on rituals that have no meaning for them. For some, they cannot afford the cost of a more traditional funeral.  Therefore they are moving away from them.  Celebrations of Life have become more popular as “keeping up appearances” is no longer a concern. The cost is one factor, but another is the flexibility that celebrations provide. Perhaps more in keeping with the families values and views.

This move away from funerals reflects Society’s attitudes towards what they represent, sad and somber events. Celebrations of Life appear more positive and upbeat. They give the mourners an opportunity to feel sadness but also experience laughter.  A time to gather in community to celebrate life.

The Funeral

The traditional funeral as we have known them are no longer the only choice families have when deciding what ceremony to have for their loved one. In fact, the word Celebration of Life is now used instead of funeral. Before dismissing the funeral just be aware it has specific elements to help us come to terms with our loss and grief. There is also the spiritual aspect of giving hope and life everlasting.  Whereas a celebration of life dwells on the past.

Three Ritual Components

With traditional funerals, there are three ritual components: the visitation, funeral service, and the burial.

Usually, a few visitation times are set up for the family to receive their community members who wish to show support and to pay their respects. The family receives many words of sympathy and condolence, and this support allows them to know they are not alone in their mourning. The deceased’s casket or cremation urn may be present, and flowers surround them. Personal items may also be displayed giving onlookers a glimpse of who the person was during their lifetime.

The funeral service is either held in a church or funeral home depending on the family’s needs. Music plays a part in the ceremony together with readings and Eulogies made by the family and close friends.

After the service, the mourners will accompany the deceased to the gravesite. An officiant will conduct a short ceremony. The casket then is lowered, with flowers or earth placed on top signalling the end of the funeral. The time now for final goodbyes. Traditional funerals have a somber, reverence about them creating space for grieving and mourning to take place.

A New Trend Emerges

A Celebration of Life was what took place at a memorial for the deceased and may take place weeks or months after their death. The mourners present then take a moment to share their memories of the person or speak about the contributions they made to Society. Today a Celebration of Life is used in conjunction with elements of the more traditional funeral. However, the casket or urn will not be present.

Celebrations of Life

Celebrations by their very name are more positive and up-lifting. They can be held anywhere either at the funeral home, restaurant, beach or somewhere that was meaningful to the person or family. These celebrations, just as the funeral may have online videos/photos of the deceased’s life, as well as flowers and personal memorabilia. Family and friends gather and remember their loved one through stories, sadness, and laughter.

Saying Goodbye

Death of a loved one is always a sad occasion, and the ritual of saying goodbye is an essential part of the grieving process. However, the very nature of a celebration conveys a happy affair, and as such, the need to grieve and mourn in these early days of mourning may not take place. It is in these moments that you allow family, friends, and community to support and share in your grief.

It is natural not to want to feel those negative emotions universal in grief. Feelings come and go, laughter replaces tears, sadness turns into joy. Emotions turn inwards when repressed, depression and anxiety can result.

The deceased may have requested you not mourn for them but instead be happy and celebrate what they meant to you. However, funerals or celebrations are for the living; the living need to grieve whether it is through the rituals of traditional burial or a mix of both. It is their routines and the familiar that is designed to support you in your grief and your mourning. You are the bereaved person, allow yourself to do so with pride not shame, as it shows you have loved.

 

Traditional Funerals or Celebration of Life?

 

What will you Choose?

Will it be a traditional funeral or celebration of life? That would depend on the person, or the family especially if the person died suddenly leaving no instructions. There are those brave souls who prefer to plan well ahead and will organize every detail for when their time comes.

photo credit: Jim Surkamp via photopin cc

For those less brave, they will prefer to defer it instead for fear it may bring death closer to them. What about those souls, who are conscious of the expense for a more traditional funeral? So will settle instead for a less expensive option. Or cost isn’t the factor; they believe they are protecting their loved ones from the ritual & pain of mourning?

We forget the importance of Rituals

It seems, in our haste to move on and quickly move through our grief, we don’t see how these rituals help with the healing process. We may consider them”old-fashioned and stuffy.” However, many do serve a purpose as they help you to accept the death. They also create space to feel supported during your time of grief. These rituals help create a container for you to mourn with your tribe and your community.

As we move on or rush through these essential rituals, what are we teaching future generations? How will they know what to do or deal with their grief if we are unwilling to show them? Often the guest of honor is not present at their funeral. Gone are the days when the guest lay in the front parlor for all to see. Children were usually present perhaps running around the casket, peering in and asking their questions. The adults would openly mourn and wail as they allowed their grief to flow. These parlors today have been replaced, and the task handed over to the funeral homes. Some people are even by-passing them, as they are opting for cremation with their remains scattered elsewhere. The celebrations of life are carried out in restaurants or other non-traditional space.

What will your choice be? There are indeed many options.  Will it be the traditional route, one that has worked for centuries?  Or something less traditional?

Bypassing Emotions

Personally, I find moving directly to a celebration of the person’s life can avoid your emotions. It doesn’t take into account the need to reflect or what your feelings are about the death. We need this time to process and is part of the grieving process. It is important to celebrate the contributions a person has made while here on this earth. Just not over tea and cake or wine and cheese with little reference to the person.

As a Society, already death averse, is this just another way for us not to feel or be with our heartache? We are condensing everything into a few hours. Is that the value we placed on the deceased?

Funeral & Celebration of Life

I’m in that delightful age bracket when scheduling a funeral or celebration of life into my agenda has become the norm. There was a time when it didn’t appear with the same frequency as now. Now I speak from a vantage point of experiencing these different funeral events. Certainly, one way to support the family is to go to the visitation and show you are there for them. Talk about deceased person and listening will show you care. Whether you attend a service at a church or funeral home you show the family they are supported by their community. These rituals create that container for grief to be held and allow mourning to begin.

My Experience with Celebrations of Life

A few years ago, at one celebration I attended, it was a mix of old and new combined. There were many friends and family members eager to share their stories of the person they lost all too soon to cancer. Everyone’s story was moving and filled with joy, and at times tinged with bittersweet moments. Or laughter. Each speaker allowed you to share in their journey with the deceased.

After a short while of listening, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. It was interesting to note, how everyone was crying quietly, dabbing their eyes politely as if this shouldn’t be happening. The grief in the room was palpable, and I wanted to sob out loud. I was uncertain that if I did so, would others join in or would they look at me strangely? This wasn’t my relative but a person who had touched my life, so I did not feel it was my place to behave this way.

It isn’t Polite to Cry in Public

Besides my mum’s voice had entered my head “Anne, it isn’t polite to cry loudly in public” that was enough to shut myself down. I could no longer respectively allow my emotions free range. I would deal with them later at home.

With so much grief now being felt but never acknowledged, the family continued with their Agenda ending the moment with a singer. This was the transition moment. We were then invited to join them for a celebration of the person’s life over a cuppa tea and cake.

I then wondered how people could switch in an instance from pain to celebration in minutes. They had done a great job in creating the container for our collective grief, but this grief needed more. Perhaps an opportunity for quiet reflection, composing ourselves before joining the celebrations.

In our death averse and ever so polite society, crying in front of strangers just isn’t done. I often wondered if the family was still in shock and going through the motions. Or did they have ample opportunity to mourn prior being surrounded by family and friends so that they could now take a pause and start celebrating?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a proper celebration, however, immediately after death I think it is missing the point. I believe this is the end step of mourning, not the beginning. Two rituals are missing from the equation. This now leads to yet another discussion – another blog in the making!

 

The Journey – A Beginning, Middle & End

The river of life flows through us all

Then when a death occurs, we get to fall

into Grief’s Abyss, a dark unfamiliar place

Down into the valley where we all must face

How to cope with all the changes

when the familiar landscape rearranges

Gone are the roads and highways once traveled

as our lives become unraveled

 

We’ve taken a wrong turn; we’re not meant to be here

We look around us and go into fear

as our compass resets and the road on the map shows

we must follow this path along where the river flows

Through a forest of Grief, this pathway we see

widens and intersects—which to take so we’ll be free?

One road leads to the flatlands, which go on for miles

there is nothing of interest it seems that will bring back smiles

 

The other has a roundabout with three roads just around a bend

Guilt, anger, and acceptance; oh, when will this journey end

Choose one, for the only way through is to openly mourn

So many people have traveled here long before you were born

Each has found his or her own way out and you will too

You will leave this land behind to face life anew

The climb back is steep; let me lead the way

I know you doubt, “How does she know?” I hear you say

 

For I have traveled through here some time ago

I got to claim my prize, Grief’s Gifts and I’m now in life’s flow

A review of your journey will show where you’ve been

glimpses of your growth, goals, and purpose all seen

We are all here to welcome you back for we know you are worthy

You’ve been gone for a while on your own a Hero’s journey

Whenever we get back into the river of life that flows through us all,

We’ll take comfort—we have our map and are ready if we fall

into Grief’s Abyss for we know

 

The Wheels of Samsara turn; the cycle of life continues

Does Grief End?

When Does Grief End?

If grief follows the natural sequence of life wouldn’t it stand to reason that there is a beginning, a middle and an ending or does it spiral continuously throughout one’s life?

This is a great question and one that will be different in each case.  For some, they never get over grief but rather learn to live with it.  This is sad because they are not living their lives to its fullest and rather just making do.

Then there are those who believe it will end when it ends.  Research has shown that if you allow yourself to grieve and be with it – then the heavy grieving where you are consumed by tears on a daily basis does begin to subside after about 3 months.

A Family’s Grieving

Let’s look at the question from the point of view of a young child whose has lost her father to death.  Depending on the family dynamics the grief can become prolonged as it goes underground and presents itself later in life at different moments in time.  This was the case for the person who first asked me this question?

I didn’t get the opportunity to delve deeper so what I’m writing now is pure speculation.   Often it will be hard for a widow with children to find time to grieve.  She now has more responsibilities and has to take care of everything including the family.  Her grief can be put on hold.

Perhaps she isn’t comfortable grieving in front of the children so will stop herself if they are around.  They may even hear her crying in her bedroom and wonder why?  Children are amazing and will pick up on this and believe they did something wrong so it’s their fault.

When a child believes this, it can create conflict within them. They don’t know how to deal with these feelings.  To help themselves cope they may develop bad behavior or rebelliousness to help them feel better.   There is the other extreme where they withdraw and try extra hard to always do the right thing. They become good girls or boys.

Growing Up Without Dad

Regardless of how the loss was dealt with or how well they moved on with their lives, their grief may resurface at different times and for different reasons. It is often the milestones in life that tug at our hearts.  Such as, when a young woman marries and is inconsolable at the thought that her dad won’t be by her side.  Or when her children are born, and she realizes her dad will never know them.  These situations can cause her to feel her loss acutely once again.

A young boy may feel resentful of his friends when he sees them with their dad.  Or when his friends are playing sports or going on trips.  It can be at these moments he feels the emotions but doesn’t know how to handle it.  Crying isn’t an option, especially for boys.  Those painful feelings may arise again when he buys his first car or when he buys his first house and it needs fixing.  He can feel the loss of his dad all over again.

So, to answer the question, does grief ever end?  It does end after the first event “the death” itself.  The other losses are the firsts & seconds that I warn my clients about when they face these transitions through their life.  Being aware of them doesn’t stop us from feeling these losses but what it does do is prepare us so that they don’t overwhelm us and we can plan for them.

Life is a series of losses and with each loss comes an opportunity for growth and learning.
This is how as humans, we evolve into expanded versions of ourselves.  If it weren’t for loss when would growth and new learning occur?

Grief then is the alchemy turning our lead into gold and is as much a part of life as birth.

We must welcome in our grief as much as we welcome in our joy.  Grief and Joy walk hand in hand just as surely as grief has a beginning, a middle and end like all emotions if they are given space.

If you’re still wondering if your grief will ever end, I have a solution and I’d love to chat with you more about it.  Please email me at anne@reconnect-from-grief.com and we will set up a time.