In February at the Boissevain Post Office sorting table there were a record five white funeral notices on display. I am happy to report that the majority was an invitation to the funeral. Why does this matter?
There is a trend in 2018 that has likely been building for some time as families avoid conflict and community by declining a funeral service. Instead they opt for cremation and small private graveside service as “their wishes.”
I strongly feel that the dead don’t care when they are gone. Funerals as a celebration of life and a marker for grief activate community. The grieving process is different for each individual, yet coming together as community “face to face” has healing properties.
There were two deaths this winter of women close to my age who went silently into the night. These lives will be more easily forgotten as there is no memory of a special day or time set aside as a community to offer love and support to the bereaved family.
You might find these words harsh, but I have conferred with a funeral director who agrees with my perspective. Perhaps the best outcome of this column is that it sparks a family discussion as to how you want to be remembered when you die.
A funeral service gives the family a key signal that they are not alone in their grief.
It helps affirm the positive characteristics that folks appreciated about the life well lived. There is power in sharing a story, and knowing the trials and tribulations that were part of the journey for a fellow human being.
What about the cost?
Ah, the money issue is not the whole reason why folks avoid having funerals. The funeral director says there are still basic costs for private graveside services. If there is a church group for the luncheon, and preplanning done, the costs can be reduced.
A checklist of questions for you:
- Burial — Do you have a spot at the family plot? Is it well maintained? Can you plant a memorial tree there? What do we do with your ashes?
- Body — As you are dying, do you want to give new life to the organ recipients you have considered? Do you want to be cremated, or in form for a viewing? Do you want people to be able to touch your body as they say their goodbyes?
- Box — How fancy does it have to be? I have picked out three caskets in my lifetime, and I vote for the cheapest pine box, wrapped with a quilt. Some people store their caskets at home, but you can make other pre-arrangements. Cremation containers come in many formats.
- Bouquets — Plant a tree in my memory, and have a few arrangements at my service, but don’t spend heaps on roses for my casket spray. What’s your favourite flower? Do you want graveside roses in vials for your mourning family? I have seen a toy tractor as part of the spray, and a viola at the altar.
- Bearers — Whom do you want to carry you to the grave? Women can be given this honour, too. The pallbearers might all wear matching T-shirts and jeans, which honours a young life lost. List a few alternates.
- Bulletins — Get your picture taken, one you really like. In the digital world lots of great photo stories are possible for the service bulletin. You can put a copy in your funeral plans file which you are starting after reading this article. I have also seen a video screen picture on the altar, and a PowerPoint slide show or banner for the service.
- Beliefs — What is your favourite Scripture verse or saying? A woman who died of cancer had a verse about “What Cancer Cannot Do.” You might have a special verse that describes your faith journey, and encourages the mourners. What message do you want your pastor to preach?
- Block of granite — Do you know what you want marked on your tombstone or graveside marker? “Love one another” was my mother’s choice. My sister’s grave marker has her signature. A walk through the local cemetery will give you lots of ideas. I won’t have a picture of our farm, but this too has been done. Some families dedicate the marker a year after the burial.
- Blessing with music — Music is a powerful release and great comforter. Choose the songs that are special to your journey which will bless the grieving congregation. I have witnessed young teens play for their dad’s funeral, and seen the power of bagpipes and the violin as solos. “Jesus loves me” is universal in its healing power. Some younger folks tune in with popular playlists. Start collecting the tunes now that you want relayed at your life celebration. Three-part harmony was a real blessing at a graveside ceremony where family members and friends covered the grave by hand with long-handled spades. The physical action of laying the soil helps the healing process.
- Benefactor — Which charity will receive donations in lieu of flowers? Do you have a special mission or local cause that you wish your friends will support in your memory? Will a trust fund be needed to support your dependent children?
- Balls and balloons — I have seen grandkids throw golf balls into the grave as they say farewell to a beloved grandfather. White balloons were a strong connection for our family to relate their love of fun to their deceased grandma who delighted in their water balloon games. The children released the balloons at the graveside.
- Biography — I like the Globe and Mail’s column: “A life well lived.” What key points do you need to jot down about your story? Would you spend some time writing your own obituary? This is a key area where your foresight could really help out your grieving family. Reading the eulogy, publishing the obituary, these are big tasks, and you can soften the hardship by offering your words, recorded on paper and audio file. Would you ask three friends from hockey, golf, and your Bible study group to speak about you?
- Buns — Raisin buns are a traditional funeral food, along with meat, cheese, pickles, and dainties. Breaking bread together around a table is a healing thing.
- Barrister — If it is true that 50 per cent of the people reading this don’t have a will, that’s very sad news. Get your will updated, and chat with your beneficiaries about your wishes. Make a separate list of special belongings you want to go to specific people.
- Books — Information on planning your funeral is readily available from funeral directors.
I really want us all to act on this. Written plans are a wonderful gift to the family left behind, when they have some understanding of how you would like to be celebrated.