Archive for Funerals – Page 2

Over My Dead Body, Part 3

The infamous Jaguar hearse from "Harold and Maude."

The infamous Jaguar hearse from “Harold and Maude.”

When I asked Facebook friends about whether or not the deceased’s body should “attend” the funeral, Joy Wheland Cole* 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 raised 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 conflict about having/not having the body present, what’s the conflict truly about? Tension between the deceased’s second spouse and the stepchildren may have less to do with the body, instead related to an old hurt or a new inheritance.

I could create a longer checklist of questions, but the point is this:  communicate! 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 do. Many avoid talking about death, treating it as if it were the plague. We modern humans are strangely superstitious about our mortality. If we mention death, then death will happen! Or we become selectively tongue-tied. If I engage in a chat about having or not having a body, the rest of my family will view me as . . . morbid, insensitive or inappropriate. That list could also lengthen.

But here’s the thing . . . will all of you reading this please raise your hands if you think you’ll avoid dying. Oops, look, everybody’s hand is up. Now put your hands down and talk about what you want. Write down what you want. And if you change your mind, don’t assume your loveable or irksome loved ones will be able to read your mind.

So I’ve made my decision. (Have you?) Cremation please. No viewing of the body, except privately by family if they choose to. I have no insider confirmation of what happens after death. I faithfully believe God’s love is forever, but that doesn’t lead me to anticipate walking through heaven’s pearly gates or strumming a harp at the crest of a cumulous cloud. However, I know I don’t like the notion of embalming and have zero interest in a kind, sensitive, just-want-to-get-paid-enough-to-feed-my-family funeral director dabbing rouge on my cold cheeks or carefully arranging my lifeless hands. But that’s me; I have no idea about you. I simply and firmly believe only two things. 1) You and I will die . . . by accident, mayhem, illness or old age. (That list could also lengthen.) 2) Might as well let people know what you want.

Communicate. Talk. Share. Chat. It’ll be hard. It’ll be weird. Or maybe talking about your wishes will be one of the finest conversations you have. You never know until you do. The healthy and honest sharing done before death means the time of grief after will more likely also be healthy and honest for the living.

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)


*Yes, I got Joyce’s permission to quote her!

Image from here. Couldn’t resist adding a still from the ’73 film “Harold and Maude.” It’s one of many movies that entertains the viewer and also nudges one to wonder about relationship, life . . . and death.

Have you heard about the Five Wishes? If not, check out this resource.

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Over My Dead Body, Part 2

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 recently. However, I attended a grief workshop led by the knowledgeable and energetic Alan Wolfelt. He strongly advocated for the presence of the body at a funeral. Wolfelt’s viewpoint challenged my long-held beliefs.

Why have the body?

In today’s American culture, we are 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, odd exercise regimes and a dose of botox to battle age. But resistance is futile . . . flesh inevitably reveals human limits and mortality.

Grief matters. When a loved one dies, ceremonies encourage emotional reactions to death. While everyone differs in how they handle death and bereavement, physically witnessing the body guarantees a response. It can be too easy to postpone mourning—or more broadly, to avoid all sad feelings—because most prefer non-stop happiness. Death is a miserable time for the living. Viewing a body bluntly invites the grief we mustn’t ignore. Read More →

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Over My Dead Body, Part 1

From the 1963 film, "Charade."

From the 1963 film, “Charade.”

I’ve argued with myself since attending a grief workshop led by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a national expert on bereavement.

Should the dead be at the funeral or not? Wolfelt, a prodigious writer and enthusiastic speaker, crafted a “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—a poet, essayist and undertaker—agrees with Wolfelt. 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 disagree with Wolfelt and Lynch. But should I? Is the body’s presence at the funeral—open casket and in plain view of the living—a “morbid or wrong” decision? Do we abdicate our “essential and fundamental humanity” when keeping the casket and its contents out of sight? Read More →

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