A funeral is for mourning the death of our loved ones and celebrating their presence on this earth. We gather together to remember the different aspects of their life, to be filled up with the complex qualities of their being, to express our joy in knowing and loving them and to grieve our loss of them, in community.
Sometimes the person who has died stipulates that there be no funeral. Of course their needs and requests must be honoured and observed. However there are also the needs of those who mourn and live after them, to pay their respects to their beloved one, to honour their life and remember them. A funeral, or a memorial, is an opportunity to hear things we had not known about those who have died. We can learn of their family, their ancestors and their culture, illuminated by the research of the eulogist and the contributions of friends, colleagues and family as different aspects of their life, history and times are brought forward. Everyone may be enriched thereby. Such occasions are a golden opportunity for the stories to be told, so they may be passed on to the next generation, our children and our children’s children. So they will know where they came from. The term ‘eulogist’ need not be used. They could as well be called ‘the main story teller.’
Funerals and memorials, like weddings and the naming of children, are opportunities for families and communities to come together, share old stories and new and renew their connections. Ruptures can be healed, new family members and friends introduced and included, and the warp and weft of the social fabric mended, renewed and extended.
Families and friends can gather together in community in many ways. They can call their gathering a memorial, an honouring, a celebration: whatever best describes their purpose. The important thing is to make a time, and a plan, a structure, with a leader who will hold the ceremony, and to think of who needs to be there.
The purpose is for us to honour our dead, to comfort each other and to share the stories of this dear one who has departed from this life so that they may be passed on, from one generation to another as our forebears did. The essential thing is that the person does not die in silence: that their people make music, poetry, song and story, literally and metaphorically, whatever is required to mark their life and their passing. That all who knew them are filled with the spirit of their being and life on this earth, and that they let themselves grieve. And so the stories are shared and passed on.
Stephen Jenkinson, in “Die Wise” writes of the intertwined nature of loving and grieving:
“Grief is a way of loving what has slipped from view. Love is a way of grieving that which has not yet done so … Grief is a way of loving, love is a way of grieving. They need each other in order to be themselves.”
With a standard funeral ceremony the funerary service will deal with all documentation. Should you wish to care for the body and conduct the whole or part of the funeral yourself, there is good advice and assistance at The Natural Death Centre, NSW
Unlike weddings, secular funerals have no statutory requirements. Any person chosen by the family can lead them and they can take any form. I know of a woman who, with her family, was very clear there was to be no funeral or any other marking of her death. She was beloved of many. Her grieving friends gathered informally, over tea or drinks or at picnics, in the places which held her memory, and shared stories, tears and laughter on many occasions in the weeks and months following her death.
Funeral and memorial ceremonies can be held anywhere, with the body or the ashes or without. I have conducted them with the body in a home garden, a huge park, in a clearing in the middle of a cluster of houses and a reserve overlooking a lake. All that is required is a helpful funerary service to transport the body and even that can be organised by family and friends as long as legalities and health regulations are observed. The Natural Death Centre provides free downloads on their website to de-mystify the process and provide practical advice, information and assistance. Conditions vary between states and local governments need to be consulted regarding burial grounds.
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