By Johanna Munson
“I won’t be there, so why does it matter?!”
You’re not alone if this is your response when asked if you’ve thought about what you would want for your funeral, celebration of life, or memorial service. Sometimes the ritual elements are laid out based on your culture or religion, and that’s a good place to start. If you are not part of a tradition that specifies some or all of the elements, however, it can feel overwhelming to even know where to begin.
Yes, it can be hard to face our own mortality, the fact that at some point we will be the one whose life is over. Western culture celebrates youth, being active and productive; “staying alive,” so to speak. We avoid talking about end of life until it’s a crisis situation, and then we suddenly have to get into action and make decisions without the input of the one who really matters.
Losing a loved one is one of the hardest parts of being human.
Grief can become overwhelming and take away much of the zest for life that we previously experienced. If there is no gathering of those who knew you, whether it’s 5 or 50 or 500, those who are missing you may be stuck in their grief for a long time. Coming together as a community provides solace for the bereaved, connection and re-connection for extended families, and creates memories for all involved.
My own mom was diagnosed with acute leukemia at age 74, and died 5 weeks later. We had never had any conversations about what she envisioned- why would we?! Her mom lived till 91 so of course she would too… It was an awful strain on my sisters and dad and I put together a service that would do justice to her in such a short time. But we brought her love of gardening into it by setting up mason jars along the path to the place of service. We invited attendees to bring flowers from their gardens (it was a mid-summer service, and she really disliked formal arrangements) and line that path with love. It was so meaningful to us to reflect her values that way.
Outlining even a few basic elements provides much-needed guidance at a traumatic time. Maybe you’re a sports team fan and want people to wear that team’s gear. Maybe ritual is really important to you so you might have a table set up for an impromptu altar. Or your religion has guidelines that you want to follow, and also want to add an element of “you.” Here are some stories that clients have shared with me:
“My mom loved the color purple, all shades from violet to fuchsia to deep magenta, so she asked that everyone attending her service wear some version of the color. The stories that were shared because of this request were priceless, and the photos bring us joy every time we see them. It really felt like she was present.”
“Cocktails were an important ritual in my dad’s life, having grown up in the 1950’s, and he wanted his memorial to be a celebration of his life. So he requested that we set up a full bar with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for the reception! His favorite was a Manhattan, and there was a beautiful moment where we all paused and raised a toast to him.”
And from a husband who initially said “I won’t be there so why does it matter”:
“After talking about this with my wife and Johanna, I realized how much it would mean to my family to have a gathering that reflects my unique presence in this world. I’m a Dungeons and Dragons player, so I’m going to bring that theme into my plan. I don’t want a formal service but I now recognize what a gift this will be to my loved ones.”
Where to start? Pick one unique thing about you and write down 3 ways that it could be part of your service. Then share it with a family member or friend, and ask them what they would want- the conversation will flow from there!
Article written by:
Peace of Mind Guide
End of Life Resources, LLC