Admit It … You Deserve a Funeral

If you’re like me you’ve heard many of the older people in your family say things like, “Don’t fuss over me when I die,” or, “When I’m dead just throw me in a ditch.”

We accept their statements as expressions of not wanting to burden their family with the planning, cost, etc … but what are they really saying to us when they throw these quips out?

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/AnsonLu I think what they’re really saying is … “I’m not sure if my life mattered enough … I’m not worthy of anyone’s time … Would anyone go to my funeral? … Will someone please tell me I mattered!”

At least, that’s what I hear.

I don’t know a soul that isn’t horrified at the stories on the news where a body is found in a ditch – it’s tragic, unthinkable, and disrespectful. So, is that what these people think they deserve? While I desperately hope no one feels that way, I know that some do.

These sentiments can become problematic for the person’s family as well. Many of our families are looking to honor the wishes of their loved one and when permission is not given to honor the body or “fuss” over them, the family can feel guilt when more is wanted or deny their grief-needs altogether.

From what I have observed, families who do want to have a ceremony of some kind have had moving or significant prior experience. There, sadly, seem to be more families who have had the opposite experience. Perhaps they attended a funeral where the officiant said the wrong name, or they just find the experience too boring or sad. They have been denied the experience of a “good funeral” and therefore skip all manner of ceremony. Their last act in honor of their loved one is a signature in an office when it could be waiting with the casket as it is lowered into the earth, or escorting their loved one to the crematory and being present for the moment of release.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mattjeacockSo why do we say things like “throw me in a ditch” and laugh? and what does it imply about our emotional approach to death?

I think at our core, there is a deep desire we have for others to make much of our lives. We have a need to matter and a great part of “being at peace,” I believe, is knowing with certainty that other lives were better because of ours.

Let me share a story I read in Doug Manning’s book “The Funeral” where he talks about his own father whose only wish was for the stereotypical pine box plus ditch. Doug comments that this is something “all men seem to feel the need to say, even though they don’t mean it.” He goes on to say, “I finally told [my dad] that the funeral was my gift to him and, if he did not mind, I would decide what kind of gift I would give. He was pleased and relieved. From that day on, we had to go through the funeral step-by-step every time I was with him.” (p. 19). He gave his dad the gift of knowing that someone would make much of his life, that someone wasn’t going to toss him in a ditch because his life really mattered.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/KatarzynaBialasiewiczI wonder how many families would come through our doors with a different mindset if they had only said to their loved one, “Look, we want to have a funeral for you, you’ve meant so much to us and we want to come together and remember you through stories, your favorite songs, and things that remind us of you. Please, let us do this.”

Wouldn’t that be a lovely conversation to have?

Beyond the fact that each of our lives (in my opinion) have mattered, it’s been statistically shown that families (especially children) who participate in a funeral ceremony for a loved one have a dramatically healthier grief journey. They are guided into acceptance through the ceremony vs. left in a world of denial without any signifier that the death has really happened.

I know blogs like these won’t change everyone’s mind but I do hope you will at least think about how each of our lives matter and find new ways to value and honor the ones you love.

|| what do you think?

–       Would a conversation like that change your mind?

–       Is there anyone in your life you have said something like this to or wish you had?

–       Do you want a service or nothing? How come?

Molly Keating

About Molly Keating

Hi, I’m Molly and I write for the blog here at O’Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who’s deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try.
Work at O’Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.
I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.

This entry was posted in Inspiration, Perspective, Planning Ahead and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Fitz

    Hey Molly,

    Outstanding blog! It has been proven to me time and again at the annual remembrance service we host for our families of the importance of ceremony. Inevitably each year, we have families that are experiencing complicated grief when they arrive to say that the remembrance service is the service they never had for their loved one. On one hand, it is good to see they are seeking comfort but on the other, it shows the real need to gather shortly after of death to reaffirm, realize and release. Gathering to honor your loved one and to comfort each other is required for a healthy grief journey of the survivors “new normal” without their loved one.

    Thanks!
    Fitz

  • Joe Lavoie

    Hi Molly
    Since my own parents are at an age where I am thinking about how to best honor them , I have been very upfront and asked the question to both of them recently what type of ceremony do you feel would best honor your life. Funny, they both said to me don’t make a fuss just gather together and share stories . Thats when I said we will do that not to worry but I feel your life is more important than just a simple gathering at your home, we need to have a gathering thats worthy of all the joy and support you have given all of us through the years. All I got from them was funny looks and a don’t bother but I said oh no this will be a party as large as your life we will best honor you in a dignified manner and celebrate your amazing life, from there I did finally get an approving nod after expressing how important this will be for all of us in the family. I feel we will have a service that best represents their life well lived and I have thought about even my own service and let my wife know it’s ok to shed a few tears but also share the humor that has been part of my life and honor me the way that will be healing for you and our children. Everyone has a story to tell and what better storytellers to share those memories than the people that are closest to us.
    Sincerely Joe Lavoie

  • Jeff Turner

    Molly,

    What you have outlined and detailed in this writing is the great struggle of our profession as I see it today. Funeral professionals and some clergy share much of the responsibility for decades of perceived and real decline in value of viewing and ceremony. I am becoming evangelistic (in the best sense) relative to these messages due to the damage, depression, bitterness and general pathology of life experience that I have witnessed that in some measure, has been empowered by the avoidance of a significant loss.

    Thank you for your thoughtful treatment of this topic.

    Jeff

  • Anne

    Molly
    Great Blog! I strongly agree with you.

    We knew Lou would be cremated; that was his wish.

    I also knew the importance to our family to honor him with a fitting service, one that would allow people to know him more than maybe they already did, one with some segments they would continue to remember beyond the service, and one that would bring healing to everyone present. I wanted to give those who needed it a sense of eternity, that this wasn’t all there is. That was a tall order, but I think we accomplished all that.

    I truly thought only about 3 rows would be filled, but we were beyond capacity, which surprised and warmed my heart. It proved that people cared about this life and were willing to stop their lives for a few hours to show it. It proved that people indeed want ceremony.

    When our families decide to add a service after believing that a simple cremation is all they wanted, they are invariably surprised at the attendance of the larger community. People really do need funerals, both to honor the deceased AND to heal those that feel the loss.
    Hugs,
    Anne

  • Ty

    Not have a funeral and miss some of the most beautiful acts of love I have ever witnessed as friends and family honored the life and memory of their loved one…NEVER! Yesterday I received a thank you note from a family that I served as a Funeral Celebrant a couple of months ago…a family I shall never forget because of what I witnessed during the funeral.

    Chuck and Pat had danced together from the time they met over 60 years ago. If a song came on they enjoyed and there was an open spot of floor on which to dance they they took the opportunity. In the middle of Chuck’s funeral we played a Nat King Cole song the couple had danced to on their wedding day. Looking across the aisle Pat nodded to her grandson to come to her.

    Taking his grandmother by the arm he escorted her up the 3 steps to the front of the chapel. As Pat laid her head on her grandsons shoulder she softly sang the words to the song as arm in arm they danced. The look on Pat’s face told me for a moment in time she was transported back to her wedding day for one last dance with the man she dearly loved.

    There was not a dry eye in the chapel as we witnessed one of the most powerful acts of love I have ever seen in a funeral. Following the funeral I told Pat that I would never forget that moment. She replied, “You will remember me and my family?” I told her that I would tell this story for years to come. I share it with you today because if this family had chosen to not have a funeral Pat and Chuck would have missed one last dance.

  • Shasta Cola

    Molly,
    I agree with all you said here. Hopefully some people after having a conversation like this would change their mind about not having a service. Unfortunately I think a lot of people just don’t want to think about death at all and want it all over and done with without having been a part of any of it. I think that cost is also a huge factor. Even if people hear that there is value in ceremony, and believe it to be true, they may still opt for no services due to expense. This is so sad because it will have an affect on many lives, not honoring their loved ones in a way beneficial to their healing, but hopefully we can change that by bringing meaning back to services(especially with the celebrant piece!)

  • Joanna

    Molly,

    Enjoyed your blog post. I have actually had this conversation with my parent several times and now have recently had it with my in laws as well. Because they know I am a crematory operator as well, they joke that I’m just going to stick them in the oven and burn them. And that is it! I used to laugh about it when they used to say that and now I simply tell them that that is ridiculous. I have actually said to them what Doug Manning said to his father before I even knew of his book. As they get older, they are starting to understand what the meaning of having a funeral and honoring them would mean to us, especially, psychologically. My parents and in laws say they don’t want to think of it, death that is. Our conversations usually end with me saying, “Listen, the funeral service is not for you, it’s for us, for your friends, for everyone who had the privilege of knowing you!”. That usually end the conversation.

    Joanna

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Hi Molly,
    Thanks for another thought-provoking blog! I can’t help but be idealistic and imagine what a better world it would be if more people chose to have funerals for their loved-ones. We know through both current research and studies of civilization since the beginning of time that funerals do matter.

    I love the quote “Funerals are about the deceased but FOR the living.” We are innately designed to be surrounded by community at a time of loss. Anyone who has experienced the death of someone close to them knows how that support lifts them up at a time when they feel they simply cannot go on.

    Yes, we have had these important conversations within my family and we all agree that we are a family who believes in the value of funeral.

    Becky

  • Christopher Iverson

    Molly,
    Wonderful sharing. My favorite quote came from my father who told me to “Chop him up and feed him to the squirrels.” I told him since squirrels do not (generally) eat people, he would have to suffer, in death, through a memorial service. Thankfully for my daughter, I planned out my viewing, funeral and cremation in advance. I WILL have a funeral even if no one but the mortuary staff are in attendance!

  • Elsa

    Hi Molly
    I hear this all the time from families I serve and even in conversation out side of work. It makes me sad when people say this because the first thing that comes to mind isn why would you not do anything. How can someone live an entire life and not have their life celebrated in one form or another. I am a strong believer of ceremony and service with viewing.

    • Elsa,
      You are in such a unique place to change people’s perceptions and help them see that ceremony matters. It is amazing to me how Funeral Arrangers like yourself can testify again and again to the power of ceremony and yet, we still see so many families who won’t trust your word. I’m s glad to have on our team believers like you, thank you for creating the ceremonies you do!

      Molly

  • Lori

    Molly,
    On some level, I think people throw those terms out there, “Don’t make a fuss”, “Throw me in a ditch”, etc. to wait to hear our comeback. If we said, “Okay, that is what I was planning anyway”, I think we would get some very surprised looks. I think, for some, it is a test to see if we will tell them we value them too much to go the easy route. They want to hear how much we love them and what type of ceremony we are planning.
    I also agree everyone has left a mark and should have their story told. Ceremonies for everyone!
    Thank you for sharing this…..
    Lori

    • Lori you are so right – it’s all about if their need to know they have mattered. If we can convey that to them, truly demonstrate that their life matters, that a funeral isn’t a “burden” to us but a “joy” I think then we’ve succeeded.

      Thank you so much for sharing!

      Molly

  • Amy

    Molly,
    I think people don’t want to be a burden to others so it’s easier to say don’t make a fuss or throw me in a ditch. The think about cost and what is involved in doing the service.
    When my dad recently died I sat with him for hours going over how I was going to celebrate his life. Hearing stories that I could share and learning things about him I never knew. It has really helped me during the grief process know that my dad mattered. He had an amazing life and it was meant to be shared. I make sure I share that story when I’m talking with people so they know they matter. Even if it’s just to one person.
    Amy

    • Amy,
      Your family absolutely lived out the principle idea that our lives are valuable and that they deserve to be on display. The video made about your dad just amazed me – it was so wonderful and allowed me to feel like I knew him even though we never met. Those are the best kind of funerals – when you realize that you have missed out on something really special by not knowing the person as well as you wish you had.
      You can share from experience the power of honoring others and you know what you did? YOU made his funeral not feel like a burden, YOU showed him how much it meant to you and I am convinced that that brought him tremendous peace, comfort, and joy. If we can alleviate that burden, we need to. Beautifully done,

      Molly

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Molly,

    Everyone deserves a party. We celebrate so much in our world, we should absolutely celebrate a life that has come to an end. I hope that when I am no longer here, on the anniversary date of my death, my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will light a candle and remember me. I hope they tell stories of me, like I do of my grandparents and great grandparents. I hope that they think back and wish I was here to make a meal, share a cup of coffee, make a holiday special or listen to them and impart some words of wisdom.
    Investing in our families and friends while we are here is so important, but remembering them in a special when when they’re gone and for years to come is such a tremendous gift. Generations to come can benefit from the gift of a funeral.

    oxox
    kari

    • So beautifully said Kari and such a unique perspective. I haven’t thought of the benefit before that a funeral provides on down through the generations but it is so very true. I know I got to be a part of my grandfather’s funeral, I was the representative grandchild who read out a few memories and list of things we loved about my grandfather. Getting to be a part of that was tremendous for me and I remember it each year on the anniversary of his death and am joined in my memories with my husband who never even met my grandfather. Had we not had a service, I don’t know what I would even remember from that time except his cancer.
      You brought out a story in me because of your wonderful observation, thank you for sharing & giving me a place to remember once again : )

      Molly

  • Jon

    Molly,

    Great blog and way to make people think about the importance of having a funeral service. Being raised LDS I actually did not have much experience in people not wanting a service to “Not to fuss about me” As it is part of our culture to always have a funeral service. It wasn’t until I started working here that I realized that not everyone does have funeral services. I think the more we get people to tell about their life and what they have done may help them realize there is a story to tell and a means for a service.

    • I 1000% percent agree with you Jon. It’s wonderful that so many of our religious traditions maintain this need and validate the importance of a ceremony, what’s sad is the church message (that I’ve heard in evangelical services) which can sometimes leave out the person who died and speak only about the religion itself. This seems like one of the clear reasons why we have so many “non religious” people avoiding services, they think that they are just for the religious and who would want a sermon for a eulogy anyway?

      I love that the LDS community so strongly believes in giving a place and time to the family, the community, and the departed. It’s a beautiful tradition and I think the more who follow their example the better.

      Molly

  • Erin Fodor

    Molly,

    Thank you for this very insightful blog. I have to say that I have not had this conversation yet but maybe will one day. For myself, I would absolutely want my family to have a service for me. I think that celebrating the life of a loved one is very special and a great honor. I would do the same for my family.

    Thank you,

    Ern

    • “A great honor” – I love that phrase, thank you so much for sharing that Erin, I couldn’t agree with you more.

      Molly

  • Lauren

    Great post Molly! I love that story you shared from The Funeral; if everyone could have these kind of conversations with their loved ones.
    I would like to have a big ceremony over dinner for myself. Maybe have a good steak dinner with a memorial service. Something that is cheerful and filling!
    Thanks for writing this post and to get to the nitty gritty of why most people don’t want to have a service.

    • Lauren, what a great idea! I don’t know a soul that doesn’t love gathering for a good meal and a great story – why not both? I think innovative ideas like that are the direction we are quickly heading in and you’re on top of it. I love it!

      Molly

  • Chuck RIcciardi

    Molly,
    It is always interesting when people say things like “Do not fuss over me, put me out with the trash” they think they are doing their family a favor, when in fact, if the family followed those wishes they are doing more harm to their family than good. There is a reason we have these rituals and that these rituals have been performed since the dawn of man. We celebrate milestones all the time, births, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries etc. Why should we not celebrate and create a ritual for one of the biggest milestones that exists, death. What else is more important in this world than the relationships we have with each other as fellow human beings. Personally, I want the biggest, baddest funeral there ever was. I want people to cry, I want people to laugh and I want people to remember. Thanks Molly for reminding us.

    Love,
    Chuck

  • Carrie Bayer

    Molly, thank you for addressing this topic. I start this conversation with the families I serve & many times they end it quickly. I try again a bit later in the arrangement meeting & in a different way, usually with the same result. The third try has to be very creative so I don’t upset them, but I have actually been successful at times in this last attempt to explain the reason a ceremony is so beneficial to the surviving family & friends. I so appreciate you shedding light on this subject as it is very needed in our society. I believe this conversation happens in the home because of our death phobia- nobody wants to think about it, let alone talk about it. This response is mostly because we just want the conversation to end immediately. This makes me sad. We truly need to find a comfort level in these conversations so that we can gain the benefit of ceremony. Thank you so much for shining a light on this need! Love, Carrie

    • Carrie,
      I know how hard you work to help families understand the benefits of a communal ceremony that doesn’t exclude or leave out anyone. Can I just tell you that I don’t know if there are many things more worthy of fighting for in our profession? THAT ceremony is a gift to so many if they will only take it.

      You touch on the interesting problem of the “conversation”. Why are these so difficult to have? What makes us want to end them rather than consider or debate the facts? Your point makes me wonder about the difficulties of “talking” when it comes to death – perhaps a future blog post for us ; )

      Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, I so respect and value it!

      Molly

  • Oh Glen,
    Your story gave me chills. What a poignant and tragic example of a woman denied an experience she would forever treasure. One of the hardest things about funerals is as a society, we treat them like weddings where you really only have “one shot” at making it happen. It grieves me to hear of people left bereft of something that would have given them so much. Her husband, no doubt thought he was caring for her with his words but instead left her unable to find a place for her grief and need to make meaning.

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing your story – it’s so powerful and quite the testament to your point, “Funerals are (and always have been) for the living.”

    Molly

  • Oh thank you Rosemary! I think it’s such a nice and accurate way to think about what the funeral is. If the dying person realized the funeral is for the living – a way to let them celebrate and mourn in public the person they loved – I think we would see more healthy grief in our world.

    Thank you so much for reading, I’m glad it resonated with you.

    Molly