Do You Attend Funerals?

Growing up, I attended all funerals held at the Baptist church that I grew up in.  As a result, I am comfortable attending funeral services.

I have friends who do not attend funerals.  One friend swears that the only funeral she will attend will be her own, and she’ll skip that one by leaving clear instructions that she does not want a service.

In midlife, the occasions to attend funerals accelerate. 

During a two-week period recently, parents of six of my friends and acquaintances died.  The friends ranged in age from 35 to 65.  The parents ranged in ages from 60 to 94.  There is a difference in the feeling of a funeral of someone who has lived to be 94 than there is of someone who passes at age 60.  In my experience, funerals of nonagenarians are more celebratory.  The person lived a good, long life and the death is more acceptable.

While we all know we are going to die -- that is the price of having lived after all -- most of us do not expect to die while young and don’t want to attend the funerals of people taken before their time. 

When we reach mid-life, the funerals of our contemporaries increase exponentially.  Sometimes lifestyles catch up to people -- the wild and crazy friend who continued to party like a stereotypical college student is felled by his lifestyle.  Other times, death comes as a shock as it did for three of my women friends who died of colon cancer.  One of them was a poster child for healthy living. She was the fittest person I knew and also one of the kindest. 

Even though it was painful to do so, I attended their funerals.  I felt I had to bear witness to their lives.  Some of our other friends wouldn’t attend the funerals, preferring to remember the person as they lived.

Viewing a friend in a casket is difficult, but I find it helpful. In the casket I saw their body  as a suit they had discarded. What I think of as them -- their essence/soul -- was somewhere else. They all looked peaceful, complete and done.   Because I believe in an after-life, seeing this was comforting.

There are rituals and etiquette at funerals.  One of the more recent practices that I like is the photo board and/or video that chronicles the life of the deceased.  Growing up there was usually one photo of the deceased and it graced the funeral program.  A life can’t be summed up in one photo. 

I also like the practice of tributes. This can be an especially moving part of a funeral, when family members, friends and colleagues share stories and memories, expanding our collective knowledge of the departed. At the funeral of the 94-year-old I attended, his granddaughter asked if the attendees would join her in singing, God Bless America, because her grandfather had emigrated from Barbados and really loved America, his adopted country.  It was a truly moving moment.

The Eulogy, delivered by clergy is another important part of the funeral.  It sets the tone and delivers a message about the deceased as well as about mortality. Unfortunately, the eulogy can also be an awkward part of the service when it is clear that the minister didn’t know the departed. I’ve seen ministers flub names and make things up about the dearly departed that weren’t true or accurate.

One of the things I’ve learned from the recent funerals I’ve attended is that we must make time to connect with friends and loved ones right now because we truly don’t know when our or their time is up.  So:

  • Go see that friend’s mother who keeps coming across your mind.
  • Call, email and/or send a card to touch-base.
  • Don’t delay mending fences, apologizing, or telling someone how much you appreciate them.
  • Record your stories and those of the older members of your family whenever you can.
  • Take lots of photos.

My mother informed me and my siblings that she has all of her funeral arrangements made. She wants us to wear pink to the service.  She’s paid for her plot and her headstone is erected.  She even gave each of us a photo taken of her posed behind her headstone, embracing it with a broad smile (see photo, used with her permission).

My mother’s preparedness has made me begin documenting my desires for my funeral.  I update my desires regularly because like it or not – my funeral day will come.


The Lone Hearse by Tanita Moss:

Hearses always make me pause.  They make me stop a moment and wonder.  Wonder about the life I am leading.  Will my funeral be a tribute to the life I led?  Will it be filled with friends, family, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren?  Will they laugh at my antics and cry at their loss?  Will they raise a glass of Irish whiskey and toast to my life accomplishments?  Or will I be in that lone hearse…with no mourners following behind.

In a post, Funeral Service: Technology Bridges the Miles, “crane_ maiden” solved the problem of her aunts being too frail to travel their brother’s funeral. 

I came up with the idea that I could stream the funeral service live via the internet for them to see on their computer screens, giving them the next best thing to being there.

Ann Bibby who blogs on the 50-something Moms and her own blog writes about the best ways to offer condolences in a post, You Have My Sympathy.

So with my own experience in mind, I have become a careful connoisseur of condolences. I avoid all references to God or heaven unless I am 100% certain the recipient is of a religious bent. I don't choose cards that imply I am praying because I am not. I avoid phrases like "time will heal the pain" or "your loved one is in a better place". Time heals nothing. It merely passes…

Good and plenty!

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