I think I’m going to gatecrash a few funerals when I feel like being cheered up. This in response to the excellent article written by John Kelly and published in the Guardian. It reflects the move in recent times to see a funeral as a “time to be joyful” and a “celebration of life”. The atmosphere is “Happy rather than mournful” and “celebratory rather than sombre”.  After all, we’re all going to die some time so let’s just crack on and have a party when the next one goes. He had a good life, he was always a positive person so we’d better be positive as well on his death. I’ve been thinking about how this applies to my “Treasured Ceremonies” Funerals. 

Can you mourn and laugh?

The trouble is, we’ll miss him and the world won’t be the same without him. And we want an occasion on which to grieve. This, surely is also the purpose of a funeral. It’s the time when we can show outwardly how much we would rather our departed didn’t have to go right now, and that we’ll miss them. Malcolm says “I don’t want them mourning, I want them laughing”. You can do both, and both are necessary.

Smile if you need to

I’ve conducted a ceremony through which the widow instructed me to allow laughter the whole way through. She was bent over with grief on entering the crematorium, but the wacky choice of music and stories about her funny husband’s life soon had her, and her friends and family, laughing. And that was fine for them and we all felt we’d sent him on his way appropriately.

A Funeral to reflect a later love

Of course the modern funeral will often have the fun and happy side of a person’s life reflected, if that’s what those left behind feel is appropriate, or what the departed expressly asked for. This is achieved through the words being said or, indeed, the shape or colour of the coffin, the way it’s transported and so on. Another funeral I officiated reflected the 25 years of love between the widow and her husband. Here was a celebration of a late romance (they’d got together in their 50’s), a celebration of time shared. There were some rueful smiles, but “happy”? I don’t think so.

It’s really not an “either/or” situation (“solemn rather than celebratory”), the two sit well together within one ceremony in the hands of a skilled celebrant who cares what the family wants, and has listened to what they have to say about their departed.

Grieve in the Way That’s Right for You

Unusually, I seem to agree to some extent with a catholic priest on this one. Without belief in the afterlife, we’re struggling to deal frankly with grief. Where we disagree, of course, is that belief in the afterlife is necessary in order to deal with grief. Neither can I concur that “we are all sinners”, a good number of us just don’t buy that any more. Death Cafes, knocking down of taboos, and the option of having a secular service all mean that society is finding different ways to deal with grief.  Non-religious funerals certainly don’t have to be “insipid”. We need to ensure that we’re not pressurised by any parties, be they media, church or funeral directors, to do anything other than get the funeral which will help us grieve and celebrate the life that has been lost.