First we must ask ourselves what is the purpose of a funeral? Is for the deceased or the ones left? Let's examine each before we decide:
1. For the deceased: The deceased is just that, deceased. Most people agree that the deceased are not aware of anything once they leave earth. So, if you believe this, then a funeral has no affect on the deceased. If you do believe the deceased are "looking down" from some celestial position, does it make them feel more loved to see people crying and upset at their passing? If they are aware, wouldn't they prefer that people would "celebrate" their life and accomplishments? Wouldn't they prefer to be appreciated while living instead of waiting until they pass to express your "love" for them? Personally, I don't think I will know anything. This is just my personal belief. If I am aware, it would disturb me to see my loved once distraught and weeping for my sake. It certainly wouldn't make me feel more loved.
2. For the living: If funerals are for the living, why? Does it help put closure to the relationship? To the death? I remember seeing my grandmother laying in her casket at the age of 13. It hurt me to see her lifeless body laying there. When I think of her today, I don't think of that, I think of her living and the things we did together or the things she did for me because she loved me. Did I need to see her dead body to realize she was gone? No. I know this because since then I have experienced other deaths and some of them I was unable to attend the funerals. I still know they are gone, I still miss them, I still think of the things we did together and things they did for me while living.
What about celebrations of life or parties? Is this better than a funeral? Possibly. It allows the goodness and accomplishments of the deceased to outshine their death. It leaves loved ones with positive and hopeful feelings. The reality of the person's death is still real, but the negtiveness is removed. This person accomplished a lot while living, they were loved by many, and they will be remembered not the funeral.
1. Celebrations or parties: If this person is allowed to see what is happening on earth after their death, wouldn't they be happier if the people they loved acknowledged their accomplishments and joys of their life, rather than the sadness of their death? Wouldn't they be happier to see their loved ones remembering them with happy memories and pride than with tears and regret? If, I am allowed to see the world after my death, I would want my family to remember me with joy and happiness. Keep me in their heart and learn from my life, not just feel sad because I died.
2. Congregational singing and special services: If you are a believing person (in God or some other higher being), this would be an excellent way to close the life of a loved one. Sharing the hope and promises of the afterlife, lessons from scriptures (or other text), missing that person but being reassured that you will see them again. Also, if non believers are present, the life of the deceased has the power to change a life even after their death. People who would never come to a church service or worship service would come to "special singing or service" in honor of the death of their friend or loved one. What a powerful opportunity!
No celebration, no funeral, no special service - is this better? Some people want nothing done when they pass away. They want to be cremated or buried with only their immediate family present and without any special arrangements.
1. For the family: This could be the best option. Quietly mourn the death of their loved one in privacy. Knowing that if people really loved the deceased they would have already shown that love while the person was living. Why wait until they pass away to show our love and appreciation for their life?
2. For the friends: While this may not provide an outlet for the emotions of people not in the immediate family, it doesn't prevent those who truly miss and are saddened by the death to express themselves to the family individually and privately. These mourners can show their love by visiting the family, taking food or flowers, or just sending a card or phone call.
Overall, it doesn't really matter which route you take. Death is never easy on those left behind. However, from my personal experience I find that the death of someone is easier to handle if I know that I expressed my love for them while they were still living. That the person died knowing that I appreciated them, was proud of their accomplishments, and loved them.
Make sure that you make your wishes known to your loved ones and the discussion takes place as to what will happen when you pass. Determine if you want to accomplish something with your death as in reaching non believers. Determine if you want people celebrating your life or mourning your death. Have the conversation with your loved ones before you leave this earth.
As a closing statement I want to share something I believe. No one knows when they are gong to die, except a Christian. I already know the date of my death - it was the day I was buried in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life. That was the day my old, sinful self died. My soul continues. The only thing left is my physical death and that is only a formality.
(NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are just that - opinions. Whether you agree with my personal beliefs or not is not important. The important thing is that this article causes you to think about your own beliefs and opens your heart to have important conversations before it is too late.)
How do you feel about funerals vs celebrations vs special services vs doing nothing? If you are a spiritual person, how does your faith and beliefs affect how you feel about death? Have you had the difficult conversation with your loved ones about the events following your own death? As an over fifty woman, I know that my time is limited. No one will get out of this world alive - physically - think about it.