A few weeks ago I shared an article about how David Bowie has been cremated without a funeral service and without any family or friends present. There is also to be no memorial service.
Have his family truly honoured him by carrying out his wishes?
This option, to allow someone you love to leave without any acknowledgement sits a little uneasy with the vast majority of us.
There are essentially two purposes to a funeral.
1. (Put rather crudely) To dispose of the body; the mortal remains.
2. To help those who love the deceased to grieve, give them some form of closure and to help them to say ‘goodbye’.
Essentially, it would appear that a funeral serves a greater purpose for the living who remain than for the deceased person.
Quite often when faced with a family who are in dispute or feel bound by the wishes of the deceased, I will ask them ‘What do YOU want?’ Some get so caught up in the wishes of the deceased that they can end up arranging a funeral service that is completely detached from the way that they’d normally choose to grieve.
Quite recently it was reported that over the last 5 years 547 organ donors have been prevented from donation by their living relatives.
Now, in comparison to the number of successful donors the percentage is only slight, however this does mean that there have been 547 people that have chosen to donate their organs when they pass away, only to have their family decide at the time that they don’t want to carry out their wishes.
My comparison here is diverse in its circumstances but ultimately the same and for all intense and purposes, completely the wrong way around.
Both examples given are to benefit the living and with no real benefit to the deceased.
Even to ‘Honour’ the deceased, grant them respect and dignity are still benefits and actions for the living. Having carried out these acts will help the grieving to know they’ve done all that they could and the very best for the deceased. It will elevate and potential guilt and help them to grieve peacefully. The deceased person knows nothing of any honour, dignity or respect that they’ve been given. (That said, I will always treat any deceased person that is in my care as though they are there with me. As though they do know.)
For someone to say that they want to ‘go without a fuss’ sounds initially to be a pretty selfless individual.
Is it rather that they hold very little value of themselves and their lives, and underestimate the value they hold to those who love them? Was David actually telling his family not to bother, that he’s not worth the fuss? Because, if someone I love said that to me, I’d really struggle to carry out their wishes; wishes which appear to be born out of low self-esteem and low self-worth; a lack of own importance in the lives of others.
With all this in mind, is a funeral service not purely for the purpose of the living?
Let’s think about what actually happens on the day of a funeral.
Aside from possible prayers, hymns and any other religious practices or observation of faith –
The coffin (the body of the deceased person) is usually present.
Often there is music chosen specifically by the family and friends. Music that is usually important to the deceased person and their family. Music that reminds those present of happy times together.
It is usual for the deceased person to be spoken about. A brief biography of their life, highlighting a few struggles but predominantly joyful times. And then there’s after the funeral service. Many will gather for a reception, a ‘Wake’ or a ‘Bunfight’. Some food and drink plus the opportunity to meet with old family and friends and continue in sharing stories and memories of the person who has died. People will come together for a funeral and nothing more. Family and friends will go years without seeing each only, coming together when one of theirs has died – making promises to make time for each other – Stating that ‘life is too short’. We all do it! This shows clearly that our purpose for a funeral service is to unite. To bring together all those who may have just one thing in common, and bring that common element back to life again, if only just for one day. To laugh and share together, to break and cry together, to love and remember that one person who is like no other and on that very day is the most important person in the world.
Personally, I don’t want a fuss when I go. I’m not worth the expense and bother. But for those who I love and those who love me in return, if I can be responsible for bringing them all together for just one day and allow them to bond like that, to eat, to drink, to remember and have fun… who am I to stand in the way of their day?
Because let’s face it, on the day of a funeral, it’s not just the life of the person in the box that we’re remembering, it’s also the lives of each and every person they’ve touched, inspired, encouraged, loved, lost and cherished. A little bit of them will live on in the life of each and every person in that room and beyond… and that alone should be celebrated!