Death – Funerals

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Funerals

Funerals are not high on anyone’s list of favorite social events. Well, there may be a few exceptions. One of my sweet aunts, who will not be named here, lived a block or two from the funeral home in her small town. When she saw activity indicating visitation or a pending funeral service at the establishment, she would dress in her Sunday clothes and walk to join the mourners. She was not being nosy, there was every reason to expect she would know the deceased. She had lived in this rural Kentucky County her whole life and knew just about everyone. She especially liked the young funeral director who always welcomed her with a hug. 

The funeral home industry and its traditions have changed greatly over the years. There was a time when the deceased was embalmed at home and “laid out” in the parlor for the wake which usually lasted three days and nights. Just as the wake was transferred to a formal “funeral parlor” the venue of the funeral itself has moved, in most cases, from houses of worship. Today an abbreviated period of “visitation and viewing” has become the norm and funerals are “celebrations of life”. When visiting a funeral home today one likely encounters videos of the deceased on flat screens strategically placed throughout the parlor. Often there are photos and collages and posters honoring the life that has passed. So called “theme” funerals may focus on the deceased’s favorite sports team, hobby or profession. The coffin is often closed or not present at all or there may be an urn containing ashes. The memorial service can be planned for a time in the future that is more suitable to the family’s circumstances as it is no longer necessary to have all this occur immediately after the death. This delay allows the family to be passed the initial shock of the loss and to more fully receive offerings of support and sympathy. 

So, there are traditions, there are religious cannons, local laws and there are one’s personal preferences. Your preference, what would you like your final event on this earth to be like? While you are reading this, still capable of making important decisions is the time to communicate your wishes. This can be part of the discussion when you have “the talk” with your family. It is also helpful to have a few things written down, such as favorite poems, music, speakers. If there are things you feel strongly about clearly document those and if you have reason to doubt your wishes will be honored, they should be included in your Will, which is binding. 

Many people complete their plans formally and even pay for their funerals in advance of need. Whether planning your own funeral or a loved one’s it is critical that you ask questions of the funeral home staff and have concrete information. One common misconception is embalming is required by law. It is not in most states and electing to not have embalming can save a significant amount of money. Embalming is a mysterious process to most of us and because of our reluctance to think about death, we often do not want to know what actually takes place in order to preserve the appearance of a corpse for just a little extra time. Further, the impact upon the environment by use of toxic chemicals can be significant. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) embalming provides no public health benefit. It also has no roots in most religions, including Christianity. For more information on the actual process you may reference http://www.fcasocal.org/embalming-facts.html

The funeral or memorial service, besides reflecting the life that has ended, should be a comfort for survivors. Those who are part of a religious community are comforted by common beliefs and the expectation of an afterlife. Music can be heartbreaking or inspiring. November 18, 2016, The New York Times asked readers what their deathbed playlist preferences would be. The range, not surprisingly varied from hard rock to classics. Probably the same music we would enjoy hearing in our last days or hours of life, would be appropriate for our service, too, as long as it would not be offensive or hurtful in some way to others.  Most of us recall fondly at least one song from each of our loved ones’ funerals. Poems are frequently read that reflect the deceased’s philosophy or special interests. A eulogy may be provided by a close friend or family member. Such a tribute should be written out so if the person delivering the words becomes too emotional to proceed, the minister or other person officiating can be prepared to read it. 

This is the eulogy I delivered at my stepfather’s funeral. I was pleased to be able to honor his memory and after all these many years I still feel his life can be a lesson for those of us living today. 

We are here to honor Leroy’s memory. Each of us knew him on a different plane. He may have been your neighbor, your customer or friend, a relative, by birth or by choice. 

Whether you knew him for eighty years or eight, you no doubt, knew him to be a good person, an honest man to be trusted and one who loved the land and took pride in his profession of dairy farmer.

He was many other things too. SECURE IN WHO HE WAS, holding no old fashioned gender roles – the same hands that worked the farm washed dishes and cooked a mean casserole.

GENTLE – he watched birds, fed kittens, loved to see magnolias bloom. Small children were given his full attention, whether playing a silly game or observing an earthworm on the sidewalk after a rain.

TOLERANT – he had convictions, but allowed us ours.

A ROMANTIC – taking his bride to Niagara Falls and each anniversary giving her one red rose for each year of their marriage.

FAITHFUL – to his church and more importantly to his Lord. 

And he was, of course, many other things, but there is one last attribute I want to share with you. I learned this about Leroy after the death of his only son, Bobby.

He was a very PRACTICAL person. Even though he grieved his losses, he did not allow those losses to steal the happiness he was offered by each new day of life. He did not deplete his energies agonizing about things he could not change. I think he would remind us of that today. 

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Next time we will look at one more remaining decision, disposal of remains. This will not conclude the list of things that must be decided upon at the time of one’s death, but will have covered the most crucial ones. 

8 thoughts on “Death – Funerals

  1. Celebration of life is such a nice way to pay your respects.
    I’ve attended one such celebration for my brother in law. It was so nice for
    everyone. Family and friends told nice stories of good times together.
    Pictures, movies and yes, even a toast to their love one and dear friend.
    A celebration my brother in law I’m sure enjoyed..

    Thank you Sue for your help on this difficult subject.
    Yes, I have sent for my Living Will forms because of your encouragement.

    Like

  2. As I have attended many funerals and
    have seen how funerals have changed, I have placed some thoughts,concerning my personal day to leave the earth.
    One thing that I have decided, I do not desire sadness. I desire laughter
    from my life.
    I desire for my funeral to be very
    casual. If weather permitting, outside
    in the beauty of my earthly home.
    I desire my funeral to be a Praise service. I love contemporary praise
    music. I think of a service praising
    my life, and praising my Heavenly Father.
    I desire people to leave with a smile,
    instead of a tear.

    * Thanks for the Info concerning embalment. 👍 Will place the non request within my wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your aunt reminds me of my mother. She knew so many people in our small hometown that she was often at the funeral home.

    Having given several tributes for family members and co-workers, I found yours to be very thorough, descriptive and concise. Usually when preparing one, I think of the one characteristic that pops to mind when I remember the person and try to build around that.

    The plans for my funeral are briefly written down, but with lots of latitude for my survivors— things that bring them comfort. However I know how difficult it is to plan a service and it is helpful to know what the deceased person would what.
    One story about Kaye’s service– She started taking piano lessons at age 40. I asked her piano teacher, Linda Bader, to play at the service. She asked me what was some of her favorite music and I gave her some ideas, including the Big Blue fight song. I was very surprised as the casket was wheeled out, in the midst of My Old Kentucky Home, to hear some brief phrases from the U.K. song. It brought a smile to our faces.

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    • Kaye’s service sounds very special and reflective of her life. Thank you for sharing so many personal experiences as we have looked at this, sometimes difficult, subject. Your input has been invaluable.

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  4. As a family member it was very nice to read the tribute given to Leroy. Finding some way to save these written tributes for family in shock might be something to add to the list of things to do when a loved one dies. I have seen many things given in memory but a nice typed version of the speaker’s words would be just as nice a momento – perhaps placed behind a photo of the loved one to get out when desired.

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    • Thank you. I like your idea. Also, I was very glad that I had kept this tribute to my Stepfather, because even though I had written it, I did not remember all that it said about him and it brought back fond memories.

      Like

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