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Let’s Do a Quick Memorial Service and Get Some Closure

-The wisdom of viewing your funeral from the perspective of your loved ones-

Bob Baugher, Ph.D.

How often have you heard the words in the title? Or how about this one: According to her wishes no memorial service has been planned. Perhaps you’ve had these very thoughts. When you imagine your death (you do know you will die, don’t you?), you may not want to dwell on your love ones in grief over your passing. Picture your children, your spouse or your parents, grandparents, your brothers or sisters crying over your cold, still body lying in the casket. Think of the grief that will be pouring out as people arrive at your funeral while organ music plays and the smell of funeral flowers fills the air. Imagine someone standing in front reading words that they hope will be of comfort to your loved ones. See your spouse or your children, voices shaking, telling stories of your life. Visualize someone closing your casket and pall-bearers carrying you out the door to an awaiting hearse. Try to feel the despair your loved ones feel as they watch your casket placed in the back of the hearse heading for its (and your) final resting place.

Consider the thousands of dollars that your family must pay for all of the following: funeral home drivers picking you up from your place of death, getting your body ready for the funeral, your casket, reserving the funeral home for a couple hours, the ride in the hearse, not to mention the cost of cremation and/or burial. Yes, doing a quick memorial is certainly the best thing when you die. Think of the heartache avoided, tears spared, worries and hassles eliminated, money saved. Instead when you die, you are immediately cremated or buried. If you are buried, you could have a brief committal service at the gravesite. If you are cremated, then, days or weeks later your family can have a “celebration of life” when they can spread you cremated remains at your favorite location. Family members could say a few words, perhaps sing a song or two. Following either direct burial or cremation, your family can then head to a location for a get-together with food and refreshments. Afterwards, people can head back home knowing you got what you wanted: something quick, easy, efficient. They might be envious that you saved all that money. They might even be grateful they didn’t have to sit through a couple hours of tedious funeral ritual. They might think how wise you were helping them to avoid all that unnecessary grief that funerals often bring forth.

They might experience all of those feelings and thoughts. They might. However, let’s look at it from another perspective: the true purpose of a funeral. Funerals have three functions: (a) to bring people together as a community—gather with friends and relatives who share a common bond—you; (2) to acknowledge that a life has been lived—yours; (3) to support each other in their grief and loss—the loss of you. A funeral means the body is present. A memorial service means the body is absent. You could have both a funeral early on for one group of people and later a memorial service for another. I saw this with the Art Instructor at my college. He had a funeral four days after he died and then a memorial service at the college lecture hall two weeks later. Some people attended both.

I must add at this point that I’m not a funeral director, I have no friends or family members in the funeral business, nor do I own stock in any funeral home. That said, let’s go through your death again, this time with a funeral. OK, you’re dead. Your spouse and/or your children or your parents or your brother or sister meet with a funeral director and sit at a table to fill out several pages of paperwork. Your loved ones are then escorted to the casket selection room. For many people, this is a difficult moment. For others, they know exactly what you would have wanted as they walk in and say, “Yes, it’s that one.” (Makes you want to consider informing your loved ones of your casket choice, if you want one. Did you know you can order one from Walmart or Costco, shipped to the funeral home with one-day delivery? Check it out online.) Your loved ones will need to make the following decisions: Location of funeral, who will preside, religious or not, pamphlet, flowers, music, readings, who else will speak, cremation (you can purchase a wooden casket that will later be cremated with you or a special corrugated, cremation casket) or burial, open or closed casket. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It certainly feels like a big burden to your designated loved ones. However, this planning session can be done in a funeral home (or in your living room) in less than two hour’s time.

But what about the cost? An average funeral including casket is easily between $8,000 and $10,000. Your loved ones are left with a large cash outlay. There is no getting around it, this is a lot of money. Enough money to purchase a used car, a nice vacation, a wedding, a couple months of college, or about 100 dinners for your family at an inexpensive restaurant. However, let’s put it in the context of lifetime earnings. If the average person earned, let’s say, just only $30,000 after taxes, then in 30 years we are talking about nearly one million dollars. Ten thousand dollars is one percent of this “average” person’s total earnings.

Let’s look at it from another perspective. What if a child died? Can you imagine the family not having a funeral or memorial service? Can you picture the family saying that they don’t wish to waste money on bringing people together to share in their grief, and to acknowledge the life of their child? I’ll be blunt here: If a funeral is good enough for your child, then it should be good enough for you.

Death is final. You know this. A funeral is a final tribute to a life lived. It is the gift of support for the family—your family. It brings all who knew you together for a one-time event that people will never forget. Yes, it is a lot of money. Yes, it is painful to prepare for it. However, not having a funeral does not mean your loved ones will avoid grief. It does not mean that your children, spouse, relatives and/or friends will avoid the pain of missing you. Eliminating a funeral or a memorial service means that, on the day you die, they walk in, see your body and walk out. Each person will then attempt to deal with your death by simply moving on with their lives: watching television, driving to work, going to school, going shopping, eating dinner, going online, going out with friends. They have missed a once-in-a-lifetime experience—one they thankfully will never forget, painful as it might be: the tribute to a life—your life. Of course it is your decision. And for you, the famous line means more now than ever as you decide to make your wishes known to your family: It’s your funeral.

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