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A Better Way to Do Funerals

In my family, we are approaching a generational shift. Most of my parents’ generation has died or is dying. Along the way, we get to look at different ways of doing funerals. And we discover that they are relics of a bygone era in need of updating. I’d like to propose a different way. Problems…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

In my family, we are approaching a generational shift. Most of my parents’ generation has died or is dying. Along the way, we get to look at different ways of doing funerals. And we discover that they are relics of a bygone era in need of updating. I’d like to propose a different way.


  • Because people are living longer and often are living at a distance from family, they die lonely and isolated. The immediate family flies in for a day, wears black and leaves. 
  • It is left to the local church (if there is one) to conduct the funeral, a sad affair where little of the deceased’s personality and humanity shows through.
  • Because bodies decay, historically, the funeral got scheduled the same week as the person died, interrupting the lives of those who want to honor him or her if they want to attend the funeral. Grieving may or may not happen in the rush and logistics of the ceremony.
  • The funeral is a costly artifact presided over by the Funeral Home, a profit-making institution that has many choices for the bereaved to make. The embalming is costly, the casket is costly, and the burial plot is costly. Also, the burial plot is often a long way away from anyone, so graveside visits are rare.



Conduct a party – Celebrate the person’s life while he or she is still alive. In the movie Get Low, Robert Duvall is a hermit who decides to do this. And why not? He got to hear people remember him. At a “funeral party” people get to think through what the person has meant to them. The party goers get to see the arc of the person’s life – what was important to them.

Interview them – Get a video of the person talking about their lives as an evergreen testimony to future generations. I did this with my parents several years ago when their memories were sharper (see the 3-hour video here). If you want to learn more about how, contact Pass It Down – they have figured out how to do this well.

Consider cremation – It solves two problems: It’s much cheaper and it removes the urgency of having to schedule an immediate funeral. You can be thoughtful about how and where you scatter ashes. The best example I saw of this was Anastasia Sloan, who tragically passed away two weeks before her World Race. But she went on it anyway. Her team took her ashes and scattered them in 11 countries (more on that here).

Schedule a memorial service – Grieving is important, but it needs space and time. Talk to family and friends and schedule a memorial service at a time in the future when people can come. There is no rush on this. With time and perspective, the service will truly honor the person rather than comply with a tradition that needs updating.

In Conclusion

Yes, in conclusion. We need good closure – better than we are getting when we don’t think through the possibilities. Death is a natural part of the cycle of life. In many cultures, they have figured out how to celebrate. In New Orleans, they have the tradition of a brass band marching in the street and playing jazz. That sounds like a tradition I’d like at my funeral.

When I die, please don’t wear black and don’t embalm me. Let my life speak to you through the stories and relationships my life contained. Grieve whatever you lost, but let it be fuel for your own lives, spurring you on to embrace dreams that are unfinished.

Comments (8)

  • Seth,
    Yes. So good. Before my dad passed it fell on my shoulders to help him and my mom to make plans. As we talked about it, my dad said he did not want to be buried in the ground. He said first of all it a waste of good farmland and in case of a flood you’d be just floating down the river anyway. He wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered on his home farm land where he was raised as a kid. He and I decided that if they wouldn’t let us scatter them there I would just ride by on the motorcycle and let them blow in the Wind, but the landowners who have used the farm as a ministry to young boys was honored to fulfill his wishes.

    Also before he passed I was able to video him not really knowing it would be the last time I would see him. Those videos are Priceless to me and my family.

    He had spent half of his life in Indiana where he grew up and the last half in Kentucky. So we were able to have a memorial service in Kentucky honoring his life and rejoicing that he is in heaven. A few weeks later we did the same thing in Indiana. In both Services there were hundreds of people who walked through the line to tell me and my siblings how much my father had impacted their lives.

    My father had spent many years opening his heart and home to those in need. So in lieu of flowers we ask people to do something good for someone. To help someone and tell us their stories. I know he would have loved it and it cost us almost nothing but the memories of celebrating his life are priceless.

  • This was a very timely blog for me as my dad just passed last week. We were lucky in that we knew the end was coming and had time to find out what dad’s wishes were. We will be honoring those wishes next summer. He was a wonderful man and I miss him so much but I know he is in heaven and no longer in pain.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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