Funerals are not for everyone

Several years ago, a co-worker lost her eight-year-old daughter in a tragic car wreck. The little girl and her older brother were on their way home from Sunday school to make a surprise Mother’s Day meal for their mom, who was attending church services. A drunk driver plowed into the girl’s side of the car, killing her instantly.

I attended the viewing, along with hundreds of others. I remember thinking, “How can this mom and dad stand there by the lifeless body of their child and welcome guests? How can they possibly play the part of host and hostess when their entire world has been shattered?” They tried their best to smile and act cordial, muttering, “Thank you for coming” over and over and over, when they had probably rather be home with just their closest family members and friends where they could grieve openly.

Not long after this funeral, my best friend, Sandi, lost her mom. Following her mother’s wishes, Sandi had her cremated. There was no funeral. Sandi, her husband, and her daughter quietly buried Mrs. Cook under her favorite tree in the front yard. At the time, I thought this was very strange.

My mom died this past July. She had already made all of her own funeral arrangements, so there were no decisions for me or my brother to make. She had the “normal” big funeral with a viewing, flowers, and a church service. I watched at her viewing as her old friends paused at the casket, shedding tears over Mom. Many of these were the same people who had never taken the time to visit her when she was confined to a nursing home for the previous five years. But they turned out in droves to pay their last respects. Wouldn’t it have been better for them to have spent time with Mom when she was still alive?

I think a person’s life, and not their death, should be celebrated. Funerals are for the living, not for the deceased. Perhaps funerals give folks the opportunity to assuage the guilt they experience for not visiting the living person. After it’s too late, they can cry and send flowers, and that makes everything okay. The family endures the emotional and financial cost of a funeral so that fair-weather friends and distant relatives can feel better? What a bizarre custom!

Maybe Sandi’s mom had the right idea. Maybe we should leave this life quietly, without fanfare. Perhaps the mourningn process should be a private affair where the bereaved family doesn’t have to put on a “brave face” and they can just be themselves.

I don’t want a big funeral. I don’t want to put my loved ones through the ordeal. I want to be cremated, with just my very closest family members and friends sending me off. I want them to remember my life, not my death. I don’t want the last memory my grandchildren have of me to be one of my lying in a casket.

Funerals are definitely not for everyone.