Sunday, October 18, 2009

Celebration of Life, really?

This is going to be a bit of rant. I will try to make it a gentle rant. There is a new wave of expectations surrounding funerals and grief and mourning in our society and the after effects of it are walking through my office on a daily basis. It is something we don't think about until we ourselves are affected by it. I hope this rant will get the conversation flowing about death, funerals and the realities of grief and mourning.
Have you ever been to a funeral where everyone was telling everyone else that it was not a funeral but a celebration of life? Did you look around that room, was everyone celebrating?
Have you ever experienced the death of someone where the family decided not to do a funeral and said they would do a memorial sometime down the road? And you are still waiting for it to happen? Was the next gathering filled with conversation about the deceased?
Have you ever said to your family and friends that when you die you don't want people to be sad, you want everyone to have a great time and remember you?
Have you ever said that when you die, you do not want a funeral or memorial, you just want to be buried and be done with it?
The above scenarios have happened to me, in fact, I have said some of the things that I listed above, with the best intentions of course, not realizing the hurt that I potentially caused or will cause.
Death is an inevitable part of life, but it is distinct from life as life (as we know it) has ceased. When we make a funeral a celebration of life, we take the death out of it in our wording, in our avoidance and in our mannerisms. We are a death denying society and even in our funerals we are denying death. A funeral is a ceremony to acknowledge the life (yes) but also the death of that person and give people an opportunity to acknowledge that that person has died through seeing the dead person's body or casket (I will keep opinions on that out of here) and to begin grieving that person's death. By saying we are celebrating it can make people feel weak or wrong to not feel ready to be joyful or happy and that in turn starts the message that grief and mourning are a sign of weakness and are wrong.
So you can imagine the impact on a community when there is no funeral, memorial service, nothing to give family, friends or the community time to acknowledge the death of someone that they cared about. Immediate family is overwhelmed with shock, possibly the dying person them self had expressed that they did not want anything after they died, making the family feel that they should honour this wish. It is so important to recognize that as much as we love that person in our family a funeral/memorial is not for the deceased person, it is for the family, friends and community that need to grieve and mourn and recognize that the death has happened. It is a time that they can express their love for that person and how they contributed to their life. It is part of their healing, coping and managing the grief and for the immediate family it can be so helpful to hear the love and stories of the person that died where mourning can be expressed and is accepted.
So then why do we say this to our family and friends? Why do we want them to love and care for us but not to grieve or remember us? I know that is not really what we want, we probably do not recognize what we are taking away from them. When we tell them that we do not want them to be sad we are again attributing weakness to grief and mourning. Grief is as natural to a relationship as love is and as necessary as breathing.
And do not take the ceremony away from the death. People need to acknowledge death, to help them make sense of it, to accept its reality and to begin to grieve. More than just the immediate family; friends, co-workers and the community need an opportunity to acknowledge, share and grieve as well. Without a ceremony they may never get the chance to talk or remember that person or they may not feel that it is wanted. By the way if they really need the opportunity to talk and grieve that person, next family gathering, next big event will turn into a mini memorial event when you least expect or even want it. People need the opportunity to normalize and recognize death.
So a final thought. Funerals/memorials do not need to cost an arm and a leg. It does not have to be about how much money you put into the after life (unless that is a cultural custom), it needs to be a time and opportunity soon after the death when the community can come together and grieve and mourn together the death of that person they cared for and loved.


  1. Wow,,,so well done. I am so searching for whatever it is I'm supposed to be searching for. My wife will inevitably pass(soon)from her colon, ovarian, lung, bone cancer. It will be two long years since diagnosis, Oct 30-07. We are both 51 yrs. We have older, younger friends, relatives, workers etc....... How do I handle the funeral if I decide to donate her body to science, cremation ....etc? You've helped me so much. Her body is going to science, I'll rent a casket and funeral parlor room, and we will be sad in her passing.
    glenn ezell

  2. Glenn thank you for reading my post and leaving a comment. I am saddened to hear of the hard journey your wife and yourself have had to endure. There are so many times through out a long illness that we grieve, as losses compile while we lose the person we love in front of our eyes. Take care of yourself and do what feels right and best for you. Grief is a life long journey of adjusting and coping but if we take care, make ourselves priority and ask for help, coping will happen. There is plenty of support out there when you are ready, you don't have to do it alone.
    You will be in my thoughts

  3. Thanks so much Lis,
    We are leaving on a trip of a lifetime to Bora Bora, Nov 4. Drained my IRA, but what the hell, everyone else has drained it for me and I'm not going to let Connie go without enjoying the fruits of my hard earned career.I had to cut a business trip to Chicago short by 2 days because of complications she is having. Some pain in her side suggested she visit the Oncologist to make sure the fluid on her lungs has not reared its ugly head before we leave on our trip. A quick Xray shows one tumor on her spine may be causing nerve issues. An MRI today will tell us more. Regardless, she will have to start radiation, just don't know if will cancel the trip or can wait. Funny, saddly, today is two years to the day she had her colon removed. The surgeon then told me she has two years, maybe a few more if lucky. Please, please let me get her to the beach,, not going will be devastating,, to her,, and I'm not sure how much more I can take.
    We will both be 52 yrs old in Dec,,I hope.

  4. Sorry Lis,, that last comment, if haven't guessed, is me, glenn.
    If you would like to take a peak into our life,, FaceBook 'glenn ezell'. You'll know me when you get there,, my son of same name has a page also.
    We live in MO.