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.
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.