When Funerals are not appropriate

Funerals are for the living, those who are left behind when a loved one dies. Memorial services are for the dead. There is a huge difference.

At a funeral, the body of the deceased is typically either displayed, or the casket is closed, with perhaps a photo beside it. If the body is to be cremated, this is often done after the funeral itself. While some funerals conclude with all but the immediate family leaving the funeral home or religious site, some are followed by a procession of all mourners to the graveyard if a burial has been scheduled.

While for the living, funerals definitely aren’t for everyone. They especially aren’t appropriate for most small children.

When I was in elementary school, two relatives died. First was my maternal grandmother, who lingered for weeks in a small hospital, suffering from some type of hush-hush bladder condition. Even as a child, I figured it had to be cancer. Shortly before she died, my mother finally gave up trying to push me into the hospital room to see my grandmother, who was comatose and who no longer physically resembled the woman I knew. My screams about nightmares and monsters “getting” me in the night prevailed. At her funeral, the casket mercifully was closed.

My father’s brother was a lifelong cigar smoker who also happened to work in a plating factory during World War II, long before anybody had heard of OSHA. He developed a cough and was sent to the hospital. In the 1950s, it was not uncommon for health insurance companies (if you indeed had insurance) to pay for exploratory surgery and for the patient to remain in the hospital for up to a month after one even when the outcome was very positive.

My uncle had left word with his doctor and his family that in the event the surgeon found cancer, he did not want to be told. He wasn’t. He underwent several weeks of radiation for lung cancer. Eventually, none of the children in the family were permitted to visit him even though they met the age limits, as he was barely recognizable.

I will never forget the non-denominational funeral held several months after his surgery. I pulled my mother aside and asked her why they didn’t have a closed casket. His once-sandy hair had turned black from radiation, and an autopsy scar almost three inches in length was visible at the edge of his scalp. He had lost at least 75 pounds during his ordeal. Had I not known whose funeral it was, I would never have recognized him. Adults offered no explanation as to why there had been an autopsy.

Although the other children and I were almost browbeaten to go up and at least touch the corpse, I rebelled. And I had nightmares for nearly three years after that funeral.

Funerals are not for everyone, especially children. Family member should be sensitive to this fact and not force attendance on anyone who is reluctant to be there.