I am of the belief that funerals are a special occasion. They are special because it is a time when we remember and celebrate someone’s life, as well as say farewell.
As Christians we don’t believe that death is the end, but merely a doorway to a next life, which is eternal and in the presence of our Creator and Source of Life.
The purpose of the Funeral Service
We need funerals to:
- say ‘goodbye’ for the last time
- provide a focus for our grief
- enable our family and friends to share our grief and express their own grief
- celebrate and give thanks for the life of the person who has died
- affirm our hope and faith at a time when we are vulnerable
Funerals are no longer the automatic prerogative of the church. More and more people are turning to Funeral Celebrants to provide the appropriate ritual for them at this particular time in their lives. However, we still provide funeral services for our own parish people and those who retain some remnants of previous church involvement and who want the church involved in this last stage of life.
It is important, therefore, that any funeral service is personal, relevant and appropriate for the people concerned. While the basic structure of the funeral is the same, the challenge is to work with a family to make the service right for them.
The role of the Minister or Funeral Celebrant is to empower and encourage the family so that they feel they have control of the situation. It may sometimes be necessary for the Minister/Celebrant to exercise a moderating influence and for this reason it is important that the planning of the Funeral Service is not rushed. My experience has been that people who have chosen to wait an extra day or two have never regretted it as the extra days have allowed time to consider the content and structure of the service especially things like special music or readings.
It is important that if there are children in the immediate family, that they are involved with what is happening and encouraged to contribute. Children are usually very matter of fact about death and are willing to be involved in some way. Encourage children to see the body and to put things in the casket if they would like to do so. This is easy if the body is brought home, but is also easily done when the body remains at the rooms of the Funeral Director.
It is important too that we don’t hide our grief from children. They need to know that we are sad when someone we loved has died, and they also need to be able to express how they feel. If we are open with them at the time of death, it will be much easier for them to broach the subject with us later when further questions may arise. When we hide our tears from our children we are reinforcing the idea that adults don’t cry and that tears are something to be ashamed of and hidden. This sort of attitude can make it much harder for them to be able to grieve well in their own adult life.
We also need to recognise that children may feel very differently about an older person who has died than we do. When, for example, an elderly relative, who has lived with family for many years dies, grandchildren may well be relieved because now their parents will be able to spend time with them rather than all the energy going into caring for the elderly grandparent. Allow children to express how they feel without passing judgment on them.
Designing the Service
I try to involve the family or close friends as much as possible in a funeral service. This is particularly important when I have not met the person concerned. I have found that, with encouragement, families are usually willing to speak about the person who has died or are able to suggest a close friend who would be willing to do so. An alternative is to get the family to write what they would like to say and for me to read it.
If there are family overseas or unable to attend the funeral, we can explore different ways to include them in the ceremony.
I always encourage families to get to know the local Funeral Directors. You will be working with them and their support and advice can be invaluable during this time of grief or shock. The Funeral Directors know the local scene including cut off times for newspaper death notices, suitable venues for both the service and for refreshments, what facilities are available at the cemetery including chapel or committal lounge, whether family are able to fill the grave themselves, types of headstone or memorial plaque permitted. They also know the time restrictions on Chapel use at cemeteries. I tend to work closely with them as this makes for the easiest way to ensure everything runs near perfect for the family during this time of loss.
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