The traditional western funeral format; visitation, open casket and church service followed by cemetery internment is slowly shifting in favor of more modern, less somber send-offs. But are some funeral arrangements taking it too far? Theme memorials? Happy Funerals? Are we losing the ability to express grief and how does that bode for coming generations?
Most religious affiliations have fairly strict guidelines about how a death is handled. Jewish tradition calls for a simple casket and burial as quickly as possible. The role of mourners and the order of the services is specifically laid out which takes care of most decision-making during a time of loss. Tradition can be comforting.
Similarly in Islam, the deceased is not embalmed but rather the body is cleaned, wrapped in a white shroud and laid in the ground, unless a simple casket is required by law. Again, the burial is to take place as soon as possible after death and although there is no ceremony at the grave, family and friends will pray for the soul of the dead before gathering at the home of the family of the departed.
In the Catholic faith, a priest will be called when death is imminent to administer the Holy Communion to the dying individual. After death, a funeral mass is organized and often the body is embalmed and present during a vigil held before the service. The body will be buried or interred in a sacred site, blessed by a priest.
But for those not strongly associated with a religious order, funerals can be held according to the wishes of the deceased or determined by remaining family and close friends. Open caskets are often replaced by photo memorials, popular music may flood the room or personal items of the deceased may be placed on display, creating a sometimes surreal environment for mourners. And critics wonder if this shift in how a life is commemorated affects the grieving process.
Here are some poignant thoughts that may help carry mourners through grief long after the funeral, however it was conducted, is a memory.
by Gwen Flowers
I had my own notion of grief.
I thought it was the sad time
That followed the death of someone you love.
And you had to push through it
To get to the other side.
But I’m learning there is no other side.
There is no pushing through.
There is absorption.
And grief is not something you complete,
But rather, you endure.
Grief is not a task to finish
And move on,
But an element of yourself-
An alteration of your being.
A new way of seeing.
A new definition of self.