A ceremony celebrating life
Imagine looking forward to going to a funeral – looking forward to really celebrating a person’s life, even through your tears.
There are no set legal requirements or even procedures for a funeral ceremony; and anyonecan conduct a funeral. Actually, in Australia, there is no law that says a funeral needs to be held, it’s simply a convention*.
For many of us, the main purpose of a funeral is for the person’s family and friends, to say farewell in ways that enable us to honour the one who’s died, let them go peacefully and respectfully and for us to move forward in our own lives. It can be a profound opportunity to review the person’s life, our connection to them and ponder our own situation.
A funeral doesn’t have to be unbearably sad; neither does it require a simple lightheartedness or superficiality. Certainly there will be tears, because a death touches a very deep place within us. We automatically ponder not only this death but other deaths we’ve encountered and our own inevitable death.
Deep places are full of tears for some reason. A combination of tears and laughter is often found in funerals, as in life. There will probably be a certain solemn aspect at a funeral; yet it can also be uplifting and peaceful. It’s important to include children in funerals because, typically, they simply accept death and have little of the emotional baggage we carry. They too want to say something about the one who’s died and to farewell, the same as the adult family and friends.
A funeral ceremony works well when there’s a welcome, introduction, some poetry, readings or songs. The main part will probably be words about the person who’s died and the life they’ve lead; then words that are prayer-like, a blessing and good wishes and an ending that’s positive and honour-ing. It’s possible to use symbols to highlight aspects of the person’s life: like plants and flowers for a gardener, colourful decorations for an artist/craftsperson , even down to painting and decorating their coffin with aspects of their life.
Following a funeral ceremony there’s usually another gathering involving food and informal reminiscing eg a feast, a wake, barbeque or a lovely afternoon tea, a formal reception.
Candles work well at funerals because they put us in touch with the mysteries of life and the on-going nature of things. Candles are soothing and universal – a tray of tea-light candles somehow provides a sense of peace and clarity to a funeral; and lighting the candle/s can be part of the ceremony.
Many people make up a scrap-board of photos and paper clippings about the person’s life and talk about the significance of the photos during the ceremony.
The more you can be involved in the funeral ceremony the more meaningful it will be, even if there are lots of tears. We can talk through our tears. In this case, breathing slowly and deeply and holding someone else’s hand will give us a way to be calm and centred.
Together we can really create a ceremony that respects the persons life. The creativity is a significant part of our healing, our growth and the calming of emotions. We can incorporate ways for family and friends to give anonymous and private last messages to the person who’s died.
A funeral can be at a beach, in a park, in a community hall, in a backyard, in a loungeroom, at a place that’s significant to the person who’s died &/or to the ones who are grieving. If there’s a high place with a vast view eg on a mountain, that can have a great influence on everyone.
It’s possible to book a particular venue with the local council (as you would for any organised event). A funeral can be on any day of the week or at any time of the day or night; maybe the body and the coffin will be there, and maybe not.
* Official paper work must be completed ie medically certifying that the person has died (Death Certificate) and that the body has been buried or cremated. *
There’s a book called “Facing Death and Finding Hope” and others that help us find the deep qualities of this sometimes unspoken subject – dying. Another book is “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche.
OTHER THOUGHTS ABOUT FUNERALS
Organising and creating a funeral for a friend or family member is a momentous event. Just organising the ceremony is like arranging a dinner party for 50 people with only 3 days’ notice! Not a very easy task especially when you’re grieving.
Yet it’s a very worthwhile, especially as it can change your way of thinking especially around death and dying. By devoting attention to the funeral we are in fact respecting and honouring the person and their life.
Although painful, it can be done without hypocrisy, guilt or regret. Giving our attention to a funeral that’s honest, relevant and satisfying is a wonderful gift. And afterwards, you’ll probably consider that it was more a farewell than the sort of “funeral service” we’ve come to know.