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A Better Way to Do Funerals

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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

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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

  • 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.

 

Solution

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.

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