February 17, 2010 // Uncategorized

The importance of ceremony

I have become curious recently as I read the obituaries as to what appears to be a growing trend toward no visitation or service after a death. “As per his wishes there will be no services,” or “A private service will take place at a later date,” they read. I suspect the thought of putting those left behind through the pain and cost of arranging and hosting a funeral seems futile to those who are near death.

Or perhaps this deritualization is due to our mobile and decidedly fast-paced culture that encourages efficiency and convenience for family members who now live across global boundaries. Making time for funeral travel in our busy world has become inconvenient and cost prohibitive.

It is becoming more common recently to unceremoniously dispose of the dead and return to normal life as quickly as possible. Many choose cremation, burial with no ceremony or a private gathering with no allowance for public grief.

Of course we must honor the burial wishes of our loved ones. But we must also acknowledge and embrace the fact that funeral ceremonies are for the living — those left behind to begin their arduous work through grief in an effort to eventually live and love fully again. Funerals offer a safe place to express sadness and embrace the pain of loss together.

Writing the obituary and arranging the funeral ceremony are the first affirmations of the reality that a loved one has died. The obituary notifies the community to come together to participate in the funeral that meets the family’s need for compassionate support, love and understanding.

Meaningful funeral ceremonies are not about closure, but rather are about beginning the grief experience. Experiencing the gathering of family, friends and community members allows the bereaved to begin to acknowledge and express the pain of their loss through story telling, the giving and receiving of compassionate actions and the sharing of tears and laughter. This is an essential part of healing.

In the days following my husband’s death, I found myself in a flurry of activity. Writing the obituary was a painstaking activity. And it was literally gut wrenching to choose the right casket in which to place my husband’s body. But that experience led me to the next step and the next in creating a meaningful tribute to him. Such began my grief journey.

Showing Trent’s body was of sacred importance to me. The viewing encouraged visitors to confront the reality of his death and begin to say their last goodbyes. I made sure there was ample private time in which my two young daughters could say their goodbyes to their daddy as well. My desire to give testimony to the value and meaning of Trent’s life with those who loved him most led to significant music, memorabilia and even eulogy choices, the symbolism of which was not lost on any who attended.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that so many people from all areas of my husband’s life came to honor him and support his family. I recall telling a friend during the visitation, “If Trent were here today, this would be the best party. Everyone I love is under one roof.” Trent’s funeral gave my community a way to unite, remember and support his family. And the show of support gave me hope for the future.

Grief expert Alan Wolfelt teaches that “When words are inadequate, have a ceremony.” And I have found that it is never too late to create a meaningful ceremony that can lead to healing on the path of grief. My girls and I continue to participate in rituals that are meaningful to us on special anniversary dates. And I delight in their inspired ventures when they create a new ceremony to honor their dad.

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