Author Archive for Larry Patten

Dead Thoughts, Part 3

Arlington Cemetery

I understand the tradition of having the body at the funeral. I also understand how an “open casket” that cradles that body might help in the grieving process.

However, I personally don’t want mine there (not that I’ll have a vote when the final decision is made). As a professional minister, I would also never encourage anyone to include the body.

Several years ago, I asked Facebook friends about whether or not the deceased’s body should “attend” the funeral. Joy Wheland Cole (whose husband was a pastor) responded with,

After kissing my cold, embalmed parents and realizing they weren’t there, I decided cremation was much more helpful in realizing the finality of the death. My husband was cremated and I truly found more comfort in seeing the urn than seeing my parents’ embalmed bodies!!

Cole’s response invites a key question: what will bring the living comfort? I would add:

  • What were the wishes of the deceased?
  • Do any religious or family traditions influence the decision?
  • If a family has conflicts about having/not having the body present, are they avoiding other issues? For example, what if tension between the deceased’s second spouse and the stepchildren isn’t about the body (safer to debate) but about old hurts or a new inheritance (things complicated to be honest about)?

Whatever the living decide about the dead, it’s far better if there were open discussions about dying and death beforehand. That’s easier to suggest than accomplish. Many avoid talking about death, treating it like the plague, an embarrassment, an inconvenience, or only happening to others. Even we modern remain strangely superstitious about mortality. If we mention death, won’t death happen? Or if I encourage discussion about having or not having the beloved’s body present, will my family dismiss me as morbid or inappropriate? Read More →

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Dead Thoughts, Part 2

graveside service

Unless you follow a faith tradition that doesn’t permit the body to be present, should you include the remains of the deceased at the funeral?

I won’t mince words with my answer:  No.

Frankly I didn’t even consider this question until a few years ago. However, after attending a grief workshop led by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, I knew it was important for me to be more open-minded. Wolfelt has a well-earned national reputation for grief support and he advocated for the presence of the body at a funeral. Wolfelt’s viewpoint continue to challenge my long-held beliefs.

Why have a more “traditional” service with the body?

Today’s American culture continues to be youth oriented, even youth obsessed. Hollywood actors aren’t alone as they nip and tuck their ways to a youthful appearance. In order to be the “stars” of their own life, many engage in crash diets, demanding exercise regimes, and regular doses of Botox. We are a culture that battles the weakening and worsening of our bodies. And yet resistance is futile! Age inevitably, unavoidably reveals our mortality.

Death comes.

Grief follows. Read More →

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Dead Thoughts, Part 1

Bunhill Fields

Will you have a funeral for your loved one?

With the body present?

Those are questions I’ve pondered since attending a grief workshop led by Dr. Alan Wolfelt a few years ago. Wolfelt is national expert on bereavement, a prodigious writer, and an enthusiastic speaker. He wrote a piece entitled, “Ten Freedoms for Creating a Meaningful Funeral.”

His #4 was:

While viewing the body is not appropriate for all cultures and faiths, many people find it helps them acknowledge the reality of the death. It also provides a way to say goodbye to the person who died. There are many benefits to viewings and open casket ceremonies; don’t let others tell you this practice is morbid or wrong.

Thomas Lynch agrees with Wolfelt. Lynch is a poet, best-selling author, and—likely the profession he places on his IRS forms—an undertaker. In a 2013 edition of the digital magazine Aeon, Lynch wrote:

Thus, on my short list of the essential elements of the good funeral, the presence of the dead is the first and definitive element. Memorial services, celebrations of life, or variations on these commemorative events – whether held sooner or later or at intervals or anniversaries, in a variety of locales – while useful socially for commemorating the dead and paying tribute to their memories, lack an essential manifest and function: the disposition of the dead. The option to dispose of the dead privately, through the agency of hirelings, however professional they might be, and however moving the memorial that follows, is an abdication of an essential undertaking and fundamental humanity.

I admire Wolfelt and Lynch. I also disagree with them. Read More →

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather