Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Alternatives to Traditional Religious Funerals

In today’s world more and more people are looking for ways to remember and celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died in more personal and non-religious ways. Sadly, some people actually forgo services altogether because they are not aware that their funeral or memorial service does not have to be a religious one.

When I was younger I used to think funerals were no big deal, I didn’t think I’d even want any kind of farewell ceremony. I really had no idea of the significance of this important rite of passage not only for the individual who has died but for family and friends who are bereaved.

For some reason in our culture there seems to be a kind of denial of death and grieving. People often want to just gloss over their losses and pretend it’s no big deal; I was one of those at one time.

Death, however, is one of the great mysteries we all live with in some form or other every day. Whether it is a far away event or right in our own family death is a constant, as are all the changes we undergo in a lifetime. Birth and death are inexorably tied to one another just as love and grief are two sides of the coin called sharing our lives with one another.

When we lose someone who is dear to us it changes us at a fundamental level. We don’t just get over that kind of loss; we learn to live with it. A farewell ceremony is not only about remembering the loved one lost; it is also about honoring the grief that is being deeply felt by those who are left behind.  It is a time to acknowledge that the relationship we’ve had with our loved one while it isn’t over, certainly has changed. 

Today there is a growing trend toward ceremonies that are more celebrations of life where the focus is on the person rather than on religious beliefs. A good celebrant can customize the service to suit the beliefs and desires of the family rather than obligatory traditions. Sharing stories and pictures, speaking of life and death, coming together to support and be supported in community are all part of the farewell ceremony as well as being important parts of the grieving process.

Even though religious ceremonies have traditionally been the format for this important passage, if you are not religious it doesn’t mean you have to forsake your beliefs to have a service and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. Most funeral directors have a list of funeral celebrants who can assist families who prefer a non-religious service or you can look online to find celebrants in your area.

Don’t forgo this most important aspect of dealing with loss. Every life deserves to be celebrated and every person experiencing loss deserves to be acknowledged.

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