Funerals have long been part of how we say goodbye to someone we love. Just about every depiction movies make of funerals has mourners in black, standing by a grave, often in the rain, surrounded by headstones and overlooked by trees with a man in robes reading aloud: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” It is far from the reality of how funerals really are today.
In a few short generations death has become most likely to occur in a medical environment and the funeral service taken by a celebrant rather than a clergy person, in a chapel rather than a church, if there is a funeral at all.
In this change we have untethered the funeral service from its religious moorings and this has left many of us feeling all at sea when it comes to knowing what to do when someone dies. In the absence of the formal ritual around death that religions offered, we are now making our own and in the process opening up opportunities for feelings of grief, sadness and joy around death to be expressed in a funeral service that can take place in a back yard, on a beach, in a garden or at a chapel or church depending on the wishes of the person and the family involved.
Funerals honour and remember the person who died. They also surround us with the care and support of friends and family. If you've been to a special birthday party, wedding or funeral, you've experienced the shared beauty of ceremony and the way it allows us to acknowledge milestones in life and also in death through elements and rituals that help us to express what everyday words and actions cannot.
The remembering, deciding, and reflecting that take place in planning a funeral service are part of the process of grief and mourning. And ultimately, this process of contemplation is what leads to a personalised funeral experience offering people the opportunity to express their feelings about the person who has died, to acknowledge them and their life and to let them go.
“With regard to our loved ones who are either passing over or have passed over; may it be affirmed that : Love is unending. The love you hold for another is greater than the physical body you know them by. Of course we will miss their physical presence and our every tear can represent that. However, love transcends the anguish, it will eternally hold all that was into all that is and will be”. Serge Benhayon , Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Vol.II, page 344
A funeral ceremony:
- helps us acknowledge that someone we love has died,
- fosters our memories of the person who died and encourages us to share those memories with others,
- offers a time and place for us to talk about the life and death of the person who died,
- provides a social support system for us and other friends and family members,
- allows us to search for the meaning of life and death and
- offers continuity in the midst of new beginnings for the living.
The funeral director:
- helps to to put it all together before and on the day of the funeral,
- assists with legal document – like an agent you engage to buy a house – who knows the processes and procedures involved and supports with expertise and experience and
- provides facilities, staff, equipment, vehicles and expertise to care for the deceased.
The funeral celebrant
- meets with the family to plan the service and organise the different roles people will perform during the service from reading a eulogy to saying a few words, placing a flower, lighting a candle, playing a song, compiling a slide show, making up booklets for the service to carrying the coffin,
- supports with bringing the elements of the service together, as they would do for a wedding and
- at the funeral is like the Master of Ceremonies or the ‘MC’ keeping everything flowing.
All these rituals and activities bring people together in a ceremony that honours the passing over of someone they have loved, and supports the living to accept this cycle of life and to move forward in their own lives without the weight of unexpressed grief and in the lightness of feeling and knowing that ‘love is unending’.
Adrienne H., Funeral Director, Australia