What will our children do without an outlet to express their grief?
Confronting death head on is often difficult and unpleasant, and attending the funeral of a loved one is never an experience to look forward to. However, it is an essential step on the path toward a complete and healthy grief recovery.
At a funeral, our deepest emotions rise to the surface, and we are able to confront them in the company of friends and family, with the guidance of a seasoned, ministry-driven funeral service professional. We witness with our own eyes that someone has truly died, and everyone around us witnesses the same thing, making it impossible to deny. This forces us to truly accept the death and creates an opportunity for us to purge our emotions and start to heal.
The traditional funeral is a time-tested method of allowing people to begin healing and avoid keeping their emotions bottled up inside. For countless generations, people have relied on this practice to help them grieve. Sadly, though, there has lately been a shift away from traditional funerals. When planning for death, a growing number of people are choosing to forgo a funeral service entirely. Instead, they look to memorial services, celebration-of-life services, and even simple cremation services. Of course, many families find solace in these kinds of tributes. After all, healing can occur any time people come together for a shared remembrance. However, the circumstances for any final earthly tribute should always be carefully considered by all involved.
Some people make the decision to avoid a traditional funeral for economic reasons. We are living through a time when many people are struggling to find stable jobs with opportunities for advancement. When meeting basic needs becomes an everyday struggle, we are likely to reduce our spending wherever we can. This means that even in times of loss, people are likely to put financial concerns ahead of the need to cope with grief. Many people also believe that they will spare their family and friends from pain and suffering by avoiding a traditional funeral. They think the loved ones they leave behind will simply be able to move on with their lives as if nothing had happened.
Despite the good intentions of the people seeking alternatives to traditional funerals, they could be doing a disservice to the family and friends they leave behind. Without the chance to gather with others in the presence of the deceased’s body, people are unable to fully process the death of their loved ones. The loss can be trivialized, and survivors are left to carry their emotions with them for the rest of their lives, buried deep inside. People who express their feelings and truly deal with them, in any situation, do better in life than those who keep everything bottled up. The attempt to save money and avoid pain will lead many to end up paying a far greater cost in the long run.
It is also worth noting that the perceived advantages of cremation societies and other alternatives to traditional funerals are not always as strong as they might seem. A cremation society provides just a single simple option, and a traditional funeral home is often able to offer the same service for roughly the same cost. However, if a family later has a change of heart and decides to hold a traditional funeral or some other kind of service, the funeral home is able to offer additional options. Those who elect to employ a cremation society are often stuck with their decision.
As a fifth-generation funeral director, my career has given me the opportunity to draw perspective from almost every walk of life. Additionally, as a baby boomer, I’ve lived through a time when face-to-face human connection was the norm. Birthday parties, sporting events, weddings, backyard barbeques, impromptu end-of-the-driveway discussions, and yes, even funerals were all important ways to form bonds with friends, relatives, and neighbors. True independent funeral professionals are inextricably linked to the communities they serve, and their responsibilities extend far beyond funeral, memorial, or celebration-of-life services. They know their actions affect the way an individual, community, or society will evolve as a whole.
Today, I don’t see people making these kinds of personal connections as much anymore. The world is changing. People are spending more time on their cell phones than talking face to face. They are becoming more and more isolated. It is easier for rifts to form in society as people discriminate against each other and become absorbed in their own pursuits.
With such division in society, it is more important than ever to join together and share something in common. Sometimes, it takes tragedy for people to realize that everyone is connected, that everyone is human. At events such as traditional funerals, people can make the kind of connections that are becoming so rare. Human beings have an inherent need to be together. When you walk into a chapel to honor the memory of a loved one, it doesn’t matter who you are—you’re a person, among other people.
I have seen firsthand the cumulative effects of a properly conducted final tribute. The many families who recover from their grief and go on to live their lives to the fullest speak for themselves. On the other hand, I have also witnessed the long-term effects suffered by those who tried to spare their families the heartache and expense of a funeral. If trends continue and more people reject the one real opportunity to express and share their grief, our children will inherit a society where the appreciation of human life and the sorrow it brings at death is no longer considered important. The question will no longer be: What will our children do without an outlet to express their grief? It will be: What value does society put on a human life?
William Gladstone once said, “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.”
We can see changes occurring right before our eyes. People are becoming more separated from each other, both in their everyday lives and in the way they cope with the loss of loved ones. They feel stress constantly, making it difficult to enjoy each day for what it is. But take it from a funeral director: regardless of any obstacles we face, we should all try to live each day to the fullest possible extent. Our nation is in crisis, and the division is palpable. The only way to solve this is to come together for a shared cause. By knitting our nation together through the recognition of loss, we can become more human, humble, and kind.
Written by Jeffrey M. Dames