Funerals are for the living
Planning it with your family ensures your funeral is help for them.
Contrary to what you might think, planning ahead for your own funeral doesn’t spare your family grief when you die. They are going to miss you no matter what. Instead of making it easier, planning it without them could be making things more difficult.
Funerals are not for the dead but for the living. All the activities at a funeral are intended to benefit those who are left behind. The opportunity to express a heartfelt good bye in words or gestures. The benefit of receiving the support and comfort of family and friends. The sharing of our hope for the future now that our loved one has died. All these things don’t impact the one who has gone, but rather all of us who remain.
This means a shift from planning it for them, to planning it with them. When you share your thoughts, cares, aspirations and even disappointments with those closest to you, you begin a conversation that shapes what would be helpful and appropriate for your funeral.
Since funerals are for the living we should talk about them with our loved ones, while we are living. It can make all the difference.
Your confession shapes your funeral.
Death challenges you to make a statement about what you believe.
The presence of death challenges you to consider the meaning of life. When you think about your mortality you are on a personal journey of faith as well as a communal one. It forces you to consider what claims Christ makes on your funeral, and what message you want to share with those left behind, from our closest loved ones to our most casual acquaintances.
The promises of the gospel make the funeral event make sense, and it therefore should be well thought through and discussed with your family and minister or elder. How do you regard the body at death? What is the best way to show what you believe about the resurrection of the dead? Who should be involved in the funeral? What should be said or sung? The funeral itself is like a last profession of faith.
This does not mean that every Christian funeral needs to be exactly the same. It does mean that it should speak to the same truths. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. This is the bedrock of faith for all Christians and beckons you to make a clear statement about this new reality as you leave this earth.
Having a funeral that makes a clear faith statement will take some careful thought and open discussion. Talking about it together can make all the difference.
There can be real comfort at the graveside.
It’s helpful to acknowledge how difficult it is to say goodbye.
The graveside service can be an important, final part of the funeral experience, and a very difficult one. This is the spot you say your final goodbye and leave your loved one to rest. It can feel hard to walk away–to really leave them. Having words of comfort that acknowledge how difficult and sad this feels is vital.
It’s easy to get caught up in making things convenient, thinking of others and putting the funeral reception as a main priority, instead of focusing on gathering together and preparing for that final goodbye.
Sometimes, families wish to have the graveside service first to get the hard part ‘out of the way’. Whatever the reasons, families will benefit from talking more about the final goodbye. It’s important not to rush it, and to be prepared for how it will feel. Having a funeral service, hearing words of comfort and sharing memories is a good preparation for that last goodbye.
Making the graveside service public is an opportunity for the whole community to say goodbye and express their own grief. One person can touch many lives and so inviting the community to come together to support the family at the grave, and then taking a step back to allow the family to just stand and grieve together privately, is a good way to address the difficulty of laying a loved one to rest.
These are not easy decisions, and can be difficult to figure out what will be best for everyone. Talking about it ahead of time can make all the difference.
Everyone loves to talk about those they love.
A funeral is an opportunity to say the hellos and goodbyes.
Often, getting together as a family to plan a funeral service brings up stories and memories and thoughts about who the person was. There is usually laughter and tears, all mixed together. This is the beginning of figuring out what the family wants to say, but doesn’t yet know how. It can be quite therapeutic.
Sometimes the service is called a ‘celebration of life’ and is thought to mean that no one has to be upset. A celebration can focus on the good times and happy memories, but that’s only one side of the coin. That’s “saying hello” – talking about the person, their accomplishments, their relationships, their character.
There’s also a need to acknowledge that life must go on without them. That is hard and real, and it’s okay to be sad. In fact, if life went on the same after the person died, what does that say about the person? Shedding tears is not a sign of weakness, but a symbol of the profound relationship that is forever changed. That is “saying goodbye”.
In every funeral gathering there is a tension between joy and sadness. Tears should be encouraged along with laughter. Emotions are messy and unpredictable, and it is okay to be full of joy for a life lived, but also full of sadness that the person is gone.
Understanding all this opens the door to talking about your funeral together with your loved ones. It can make all the difference.
Funerals are a community event.
When someone dies, the loss creates a ripple effect.
When you live in community everyone’s lives are connected in some way. You may know someone’s family from grade school or from scouts. Everyone knows the people from the post office or bank, and the same family ran the local variety store for years. When a person dies it has a ripple effect across the community and there is a strong impulse for each person to claim that grief personally and find ways to share it with others. There is always a strong community presence at a funeral.
Sharing losses together is one of the healthiest ways for a community to stay strong, thrive and help each other. When one person suffers, the others surround them to help carry the load. It’s important then to consider your community when planning a funeral. That requires some thinking and discussion about who will be most affected when we die.
Talking about it together helps create a meaningful funeral event for everyone affected. It can make all the difference.
Funerals are for the whole family.
Including children of all ages can be helpful to everyone.
Children young and old, have feelings that need expression.
It’s often our instinct to shield children from death. But including children confirms to them that their feelings are important too. Their individual sadness is a part of the family’s sadness together and so allowing children to participate can be helpful to them and everyone else too.
Children will participate willingly, as much as they can for their age. It’s not true that “they don’t understand” and that it’s best “not to scare them”. In fact, shielding them can make death seem like something they should be scared of and that fear can carry on into adult life.
Grief is not something to be avoided, it needs to be shared. Including everyone in the funeral planning and events is important.
Talking about it together can make all the difference.
Funerals are a “faith family” affair.
Being a faith community means sharing each other’s joys and sorrows.
To share the bond of faith and invite your community in to experience your grief with you brings a special kind of support and comfort. Often, many people come to visitation hours to offer their sympathies because sharing each other’s joys and sorrows is what being part of a faith community is all about. We are all united in Christ, and so we look to him together, and we also look to each other so that we may be Christ’s hands and feet to our brothers and sisters.
It’s important to find the right balance between the family having adequate time to say goodbye to their loved one, and inviting the community in at the appropriate time. Families will often come on a separate day or evening before the public visitation for a private time together. Or sometimes an announcement is made at the cemetery for the friends and extended family to make their way back to the church before the family, so they can have some final private time at the graveside.
Families need time alone, but the community of friends and church-family need to grieve the loss as well. It is helpful to think about and have these conversations ahead of time, so the family knows what to expect.
Talking about it together can make all the difference.
We all need to take time for loss.
Opening the door to grief now, helps you do it later too.
A death, sudden or not is a shock for the whole family. Afterwards, it can feel like time stands still. This is the natural way for the mind and body to get you to slow down, absorb the moment, and help you through a life-changing event.
You naturally know that you should take time for your loss, yet there is so much pressure to speed up and move on, to close doors to grief rather than open them.
But slowing down provides the space for loved ones to be together, to focus on what has happened and consider what to do about it. Taking that time together, slowly prepares the family to also meet the grief of an entire community of people. It takes time and energy to meet them all, but spirits are often lifted by all the love and support that is received.
Discussing what would be most helpful for everyone ahead of time is a healthy starting point. It can make all the difference.
Loved ones appreciate a funeral that fits.
Talk about what they want instead of focusing on what you don’t.
Some people start their funeral planning with a clear idea of what they don’t want. They might want to avoid what was done in the past for another loved one, or dislike something they saw at another funeral. When people begin their planning with that approach, they may actually be signalling that they are unsure of what they do want.
One of the benefits of talking about it ahead of time is that you can look at it together with your family. Rather than backing into a funeral arrangement by moving away from what you don’t like, you can move forward by considering things like who the funeral will be for, what is important and meaningful, and what best represents the shared thoughts and beliefs of the family.
These are helpful conversations for a whole family to have together creating the best fit for a funeral. It takes a little time and effort but talking about it can make all the difference.