Celebrating a life after a loss is not easy.
I confess I am the son of a funeral director and yes I have heard all the jokes. (We lived above the funeral home for a while and no it was not as crazy as the HBO series “Six Feet Under”.)
Our father suffered from cancer for 7 years. I was young when he was first diagnosed and 23 at the time of his passing. I remember vividly how he approached his fate and never once outwardly seemed fearful.
Since it was his profession, he had everything written down in a letter to the family, which was sealed in an envelope that read, “Open upon my death”. In this letter, he outlined everything he wanted in his funeral, from the hymns to be sung, to the pallbearers that he carefully chose to carry his casket. However, the most incredible gift he gave us was written in three simple words, “Celebrate my Life”.
Even though my father died over 30 years ago, it feels like only yesterday he left us. Over the years, I have learned, shared and gained clarity on how to celebrate life after death. I hope this gives you some guidance whether you are working through a recent loss or helping someone close to you grieve:
Celebrate the life: An important step in the mourning process is to take the time to celebrate the life of a loved one. This may vary depending or your religious beliefs and customs, however here are some thoughts that may help you along with grieving family and friends.
You can do this in many ways; as we are in the digital age, photos are everywhere. Dig up as many as you can. Share them on your favourite social media sites. For example, posting pictures of your loss on Facebook can provide one of the most powerful support networks. It is truly remarkable how people will respond with kindness.
As best you can personalize the funeral. Bring photos/videos and mementoes to the visitation. Along with photos, I would suggest other items that made his/her life unique such as, their favourite handmade quilt, a favourite painting or even their golf bag if they loved the game. It really doesn’t matter as long as you humanize the experience.
Some religions require more formal funeral services yet others are more flexible. Eulogies are a gift to the living not to the deceased and play a significant part in the healing process. Sharing important accomplishments or just plain funny memories is all part of celebrating someone’s life. At one recent funeral, the family had a formal church service followed by a lively gathering at the deceased’s favourite pub, complete with a microphone, so that many stories could be shared. People appreciated this opportunity to contribute to the celebration.
Ministry of Presence: Being present for someone who is hurting is often enough. We all feel an obligation to do or say things that offer comfort to those who are mourning. Being present is the best offering anyone can give and don’t worry if you have a loss for words. It matters less what you say and more that you connect with those who are mourning. At the right time, you can always share a story or a good memory or simply say that you are sorry and feel for their loss.
Reach out more than once: The first few days and weeks have been described as a shipwreck with one hundred foot waves all around you. It’s hard to even breath at times. Nothing makes sense and you are mostly numb. Typically many of the notes and letters of condolence come in around the time of the funeral. These are touching, but what really matters are the weeks and months after the loss. This is when the grieving family members need support. Sending a note after everyone has gone back to their normal routines is kind and heartwarming. Consequently, don’t ever think your note or call is too late.
Grieving never ends: It comes and goes in waves so try to accept it and over time it may get easier. For instance, we have told our children during the loss of our pet dog that grief is the price you pay for loving him so much. So the equation is simple, without love there can be no grief. It is the unwanted badge of courage one must wear when love has run deep. Time does make it easier to cope with this sad and permanent event and yet after all these years I still miss my father. Finally some advice from a friend who says, there is no right way to grieve. It is a long walk down a dusty road.
Hold your memories close and revisit them often. A friend posted this on Facebook after a recent loss in our family. We can’t change the finality of death, yet we can continue the memory of a loved one for generations. Thus sharing stories is a powerful way to keep the memory of a loved one close and these memories will eventually promote healing. For example, my wife and children never met my father yet we talk about him regularly and it fills my heart with joy to know we are keeping our memory of him alive.
Have a funeral and trust the professionals that offer their services. It is time to reinvest in the funeral ritual. We have lost our way when it comes to the closure around death because a funeral ritual is as important as celebrating a child’s entrance into this world through baptism. This is not a time where you just look for the best deal to get rid of Aunt Bessie. The best deal is making sure you celebrate the life in a rewarding way to promote healing for the family and close friends. It also doesn’t have to be so expensive that it is a burden on the family. There are countless options to consider. Funeral Directors and their support staff are there to make your decision-making process easier. Ask them many questions and choose the option that best fits your needs.
Year of firsts: After a loss, there will be a first for everything. The first time for a birthday, anniversary or special holiday without your loved one. Yes some grief will fill those days and these moments will be harder than normal days, yet know that these are positive times to remember and reflect upon.
Bring your children. Exposing your children to the visitation, funeral and memorial service, is a personal choice but what may surprise you is that although they are exposed to grief first hand they will learn so much from that exposure. Especially, they will learn that life is precious. They will also be more comfortable in the future with the uneasy aspect of losing a loved one.
I have been to more funerals recently and will attend more in the future. There is one true guarantee in life. We all have an end date. We don’t have to fear it as much as we might and we don’t have to go through the loss of a loved one alone.
“Dying is a part of living”, although we never quite get used to it.