By Stacy Mitchell
It is not uncommon these days for people to say that they want no funeral or memorial held when they die. This can be for many reasons, such as: 1) they don’t believe they need or “deserve” for people to speak of them when they are gone, 2) they believe they are sparing their loved ones anguish, pain, and stress, 3) they either have no religious or spiritual belief, or their beliefs do not support having a fanfare for the individual but rather focus on the beliefs of the afterlife and re-union with a supreme being.
Unfortunately what some people fail to recognize is that a funeral/memorial ceremony is an important, and much needed, part of the grief process and incorporating loss into our daily life. Attempting to avoid this process can serve to create more grief and pain, not less. If people understood how deeply their loved ones need to undergo this process they would not try to quash the idea of a ceremony at their death, moreover they may even decide to participate in its planning before they go!
In part one, I wrote about the deep work, many twists and turns that takes one to the center of a lifetime before death. Another key part of walking the labyrinth of life is The Return. In the death continuum, there may be no opportunity for return by the one who is dying, or if so, it may only be for a short while, but the return nonetheless is where the seeds planted by your labor at the center, will bear fruit.
As a funeral celebrant, one thing I have seen over and over is that it is much easier for families and friends to honor a loved one in death if the loved one was willing and able to talk about their beliefs and desires for what should occur after their death with ease and confidence. Rather than avoiding the ‘inevitable’ by refusing to talk about it or by demanding that no one do anything when you are gone, consider talking about it now with your loved ones, preferably before anyone needs to think about it as a reality.
These conversations need not be heavy, yet they do need to be about more than just your choices for disposition. Here are just a few things that your loved ones need to know about you in order to create (or help you create) a funeral or memorial that is meaningful:
- What are your most deeply held beliefs – religious, spiritual, and secular?
- What are your deepest questions about life and death?
- What are you most passionate about?
- Which have been your most important relationships and why?
- What was your greatest joy in life?
- What was your greatest sorrow?
- What legacy do you wish to leave?
When it comes to grief, you cannot assume that everyone will remember the things that were important to you if you never talk with your family and friends about them in the context of your death. Your funeral/memorial should be an authentic reflection of who you were in life and what you believe, tempered with the needs of your mourners to experience and express their grief communally.
Conversations about death can occur in family discussions, with celebrants, clergy, or hospice workers, and in community gatherings known as Death Cafés where people come together to discuss issues of death and dying openly. These opportunities for conversation allow your loved ones to return from the labyrinth armed with the knowledge they need to honor the life you shared together and the love that will always bind you together.
Stacy Mitchell is a Life-Cycle Celebrant® creating and officiating ceremonies from birth to earth, and a Reiki Master/Teacher, serving the Central Coast of California. She is a contributing author to the new book, Life-Cycle Ceremonies: A Handbook for Your Whole Life, and a faculty member of the Celebrant Foundation & Institute. Contact Stacy at 805-208-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org; for more info visit her website at www.honoryourvoice.com.