10 Reasons You MUST Have a Funeral
Many people tell me “I don’t want a funeral. Just burn my ass and throw me in the woods.”
But funerals are both much deeper, much more important and much broader than most of us assume. They’re neither “just for the living” nor must they be the traditional viewing, priest, eulogy and funeral director format (although none of these things are bad … especially the funeral director *wink* *wink*). Funerals can be both deeply spiritual events and celebrations mixed with music, poetry and beauty.
Here are 10 things that give funerals both a deep and broad sense of meaning and value:
Individual Celebration / Mourning
The internet/Facebook/TV give us so many amazing stories. And the negative is that they give us so many stories! It’s like a smorgasbord of narratives and it’s easy for the individual to get lost among the celebrities, the pop sensations, the stars and the pro athletes. But it’s the individuals that make our community run and their stories get overshadowed … except at funerals, when we can rope off the smorgasbord, turn down the volume, ignore Kim Kardashian’s latest stunt, turn our cell phones off and celebrate and mourn one life.
Sigmund Freud stated that you have two choices: accept death or deny death. Freud also believed that religion was often a neurotic attempt to deny the reality of death. And, to some degree he’s right. But, when we look for hope, when we look for transcendence and when we look for immortality in the face of death, it doesn’t always fit into Freud’s binaries … it’s possible to accept death through some form of hopeful transcendent understanding of death.
Whether that hope is in heaven, or in the continuation of the deceased’s family or a more natural (i.e. green burial) type of orientation, or all of the above, it’s important that we find hope through the message of a funeral. Hope is what gives a funeral special meaning that helps us rise from the pits of darkness.
Death creates a hole in our lives and our world. It’s like an earthquake that shakes the world we once knew. Funerals are a time when we can reaffirm meaning, love, community, goodness and even humor. They allow us a space to come together and affirm that life is changed, but it still continues on. Funerals are a storytelling practice that keeps the identity of our family alive even when one of our members has died.
In my many years as a funeral director, there are few things that are more gratifyingly awkward and entertaining than a spontaneous drunk eulogy. Someday I’ll video one of these events, lawyer up and put it on YouTube.
To deny a person a funeral is to deny them an act of dignity.
Tony Walter writes “(funerals) mark that something valuable, a human life, has passed. Whatever else a funeral does or does not do, it must do this.”
This explains why so often impoverished and/or marginalized peoples will spend proportionately exorbitant amounts of money and time on the funerals of family and friends. They have been so devalued in life, that the funeral acts as one final statement of dignity. On the other hand, in a culture like the West — where we sit in social hegemony – we see less need for the dignity of a funeral; thus direct cremation, direct burial, etc..
Public acknowledgement of life and death
We like things to be private. And there’s good reason. Being public with our opinions, our religious values and even our sports teams get’s messy. But if we live in community, we die in community. And funerals give the community a time to come together an grieve, because …
Grief shared is grief diminished
The more we can share our grief, the more we can allow others to reach out to us, the more we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and accept help and love, the healthier we can walk through our bereavement.
On a psychological level, funerals and disposition (especially when the body is present), help us to see and accept death. Without a funeral that acknowledges the death of our loved ones, the dead can too easily become psychological ghosts. Funerals transition the deceased from alive to dead, and help us on the path to accepting the death of a loved one.
The walls of bereavement are very intimidating to even the spiritually and psychologically strong. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, you will fall and you will fail.
Unless you enter through the trodden paths of ritual.
The muscle memory of grief is ritual. Like the masterful pianist who makes impossible tasks seem natural, so ritual allows us to take the incredibly difficult task of mourning and gives us a way to persevere, even when it seems we shouldn’t.
Free food from post funeral luncheon
Aunt Eunice’s special potato salad. Uncle Bob’s homemade mead. Grandma’s collard greens. Good Lord. Pass the baked beans.