A friend or family member’s passing is always difficult and painful for those left behind. Funerals and memorial services are supposed to help with the grieving process and bring about closure.
What are some of the best funeral service traditions and how do they provide healing?
Many people plan their funerals ahead of time, often putting a list of directions in their will. Specifying things like where to hold the funeral service, whether there should be flowers, what music should be played and other details can make everything easier on family members. Besides funeral plans, people write letters, leave presents, and record messages on video or audio tape.
Another way to make one’s own funeral easier is to get price quotes from the funeral home of your choice and set aside that amount of money. Consider investing it in a CD account so that it will accumulate interest. Have it marked “pay on death” with your executor’s name. He or she will have immediate access to the funeral funds. These actions will bring peace of mind to all who must deal with the funeral arrangements.
Having a Visitation, Wake or Shiva
The ancient custom of gathering after a death is very healing. Family, friends and community meet to say farewell to the departed, share memories and lend support. The body may be present in a casket; this is called a “viewing”. If not, some photographs and memorabilia are usually displayed.
In Celtic tradition, the visitation takes place in the family home and is part of a traditional farewell party called a wake. It is a celebration of life, filled with song, stories and prayer. Smoking and even drinking are allowed.
Jewish tradition calls for the deceased person to be buried within a day, followed by seven days of sitting Shiva in the home. Friends and family visit and may bring food, but not flowers. It is a mitzvah, or sacred act, to visit and comfort the bereaved. The family abstains from the usual chores and much self-care other than sponge baths. Black curtains are hung over mirrors. Visitors do most of the cooking and cleaning, relieving the family of everyday burdens.
Flowers, Food and Gifts
Many people associate funerals with flowers. Close relatives often provide the larger, more elaborate arrangements, while distant relatives and friends bring vases and baskets. Before investing in flowers, make certain this is what the family wants. The practice of donating money to the deceased’s favorite charity “in lieu of flowers” is becoming increasingly common. Jewish custom forbids flowers in any activity connected with death.
Gifts of food are usually fine. Make it something simple and easy to reheat and serve. If at all possible, make it yourself. Appropriate food gifts might be a pot of vegetable soup, homemade bread, a roast chicken or a casserole. If you can’t cook or don’t have time, consider a ready-made mail order food basket. Many online gift shops and florists sell these. A visit to deliver food should be brief and respectful. In some places, people still simply leave food baskets on the porch in order not to disturb the family.
Besides food and flowers, consider giving live plants or trees, a set of wind chimes with the loved one’s name or a decoration for the grave site.
Consolation books first appeared in Victorian times. They were collections of sermons, Bible verses and stories of reunion in the next life. Often they were mass printed and given to mourners as a keepsake. Today’s consolation books could have photos of the loved one and family members, favorite stories and poetry as well as religious text. A homemade consolation book could be desktop-published for each family member to have a copy. Another idea is to create a scrapbook and have it on display at the visitation and funeral service.