Dearly Beloved, We are gathered here today…
Funeral planning is usually an afterthought for most people. Whether someone has died suddenly, or after a long illness, planning a funeral isn’t something that most of us consider until the need is upon us. Taking the time to plan will help avoid the possibility of a generic, going through the motions type of service.
When my grandmother died while on vacation in Paris, because, well, she was fabulous like that, it was clear that her funeral should be as fabulous as she was. I had never been part of planning a funeral, but I was interested in creating ceremonies, so together with a few members of our family, we made her celebration very special. We still talk about it all of these years later.
After becoming an End of Life Doula and Conscious Dying Coach, I decided to finally study to become a Funeral Celebrant. Just in the last year, I created and performed over 30 funerals. Here are some of the things that I invite you to consider
Decide where the Funeral/Celebration (I use these terms interchangeably) will be. You may have more options if the remains are cremated, aquamated or composted. If the remains are placed in a casket, the service will likely be at the place of burial or at a religious institution, then convening at the place of burial.
There are options when it comes to the burial of remains. Embalming is not required by law, although may be a good option for families that want or need more time before the burial. In most states, there is a requirement for the decedent to be buried or refrigerated after a specific amount of time. Many families now opt for home funerals, much like our ancestors did before burial or cremation. Where I practice in Florida, it is 24 hours. Know your area and its requirements. If a natural burial is in alignment with your values, find a Green Cemetery or Land Conservation Cemetery. Burial at Sea, Coral Reef creation and outdoor funeral pyre are just a few alternatives depending on your location.
What do you say at a funeral? Times have changed a lot. It isn’t as common now to have a personal relationship with your Priest, Pastor or Rabbi who will speak about your life from their lived experience of you. However, it IS common that in times of sickness and death to seek the comfort of our faith, even if it is the faith of our childhood that we didn’t practice as an adult. One of the reasons that people seek out my services as a Life-Cycle Celebrant, is to have a ceremony that is personal, heartfelt and sacred, with or without the inclusion of religion. Regardless of who will be leading the ceremony, take the time to share specifics about your loved one. More often than not, I have never met the person we are honoring or their families, and because death often comes unexpectedly, there isn’t a lot of time to prepare. So, I ask A LOT of questions. Here are a few…
What do you want to tell the world about your loved one?
What was their philosophy about life? What were they passionate about?
How did they contribute to the world and those that knew him/her?
How would they want to be remembered?
What did they teach you?
What was quirky or charming about them?
What sacrifices did they make?
What were their values and how did they shape yours?
What were they committed to?
What were their favorite places?
From here, I find the stories, poems and songs that reflect their personality and values to craft a ceremony. To me a well written ceremony includes a person’s history, memorable stories from different stages of their lives, sharing their humor and quirkiness, space to acknowledge the sadness of the loss and what their legacy is. I like to leave space to invite others to speak and to incorporate rituals. I try to connect to the person I’m talking about. The biggest compliments that I’ve received as a Celebrant is when someone asks me after the ceremony if I’m a family member., because I seem to know them so well.
There is no one size-fits-all approach to end of life celebrations. I encourage you to think outside of the box when creating the ceremony that you’d want for yourself or for your loved one.Sadly, there is a trend towards not having any kind of gathering. This was somewhat increased by COVID requirements. I wholeheartedly believe that even if it must be done remotely over Zoom, we all should be celebrated and honored at the end of our lives.
Here are a few details from memorable ceremonies:
Lynn Principe is an End of Life Doula, Educator and Life-Cycle Celebrant living in Dunedin, Florida.