Funeral directors are an interesting bunch. On a professional and personal level they’re following a lifelong desire to serve the dead and help the living. Here are three things funeral directors wish you’d embrace when you’re dealing with life, death and funerals.
Death is part of life so let’s talk about it.
Our culture is impatient with grief. We live in a fast-paced, mobile world that encourages us to “get over it” – the service and the grief – as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s not that people don’t care when someone we love dies or when a person is grieving, it’s just that they don’t know what to do. We live in the world’s first death-free generation and the symbolism of death is lost to most of us. (Not only do we deny our mortality, we’re fighting hard against aging too!) Margaret Mead, the renowned cultural anthropologist noted, “When a person is born, we rejoice. When they are married, we celebrate. When they die, we pretend nothing happened.” A funeral is a social statement that says to the community, “Please come and support me. My family is sad and scared, and we need your help.”
Yes, absolutely. An open casket is tough.
The collision between heart and head is never louder than when we look at the body of someone we love. “Well, the body is just a shell” might sound like an empowering (perhaps spiritual) mindset but is in fact an attempt to make the dead body irrelevant, which it is not. Our hearts recognize that our loved one’s body no longer contains the essence of that person and everything we loved about them. But our mind seeks proof. We do not want to believe that our beloved has died and that we will never see them again. Body-absent “parties” or services encourage a clean, swift break from a kind of sorrow that we can only move toward, not away from. There’s no avoiding our sadness. By seeing and spending time with the body, our mind can begin acknowledging the reality of the death and help mend our broken heart.
Feeling lost does not mean you’re doing something wrong.
One of the most earnest questions families ask when someone dies is, “What should we do?” Underlying that question is a deeper concern that goes unspoken: “What should we feel?” As bereaved people move from what grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt calls “head understanding” to “heart understanding,” they often encounter social cues that diminish feelings of grief. Comments such as “You just have to keep busy” or “God would never give you more than you can handle” are well-intentioned but people who are grieving and heartbroken are not helped by hurry-up-and-feel-better platitudes. Death has changed life forever. When families make the courageous choice to authentically mourn – to honour their grief by expressing their thoughts and feelings – they begin to make their way back into a world that is forever changed. Mourning is life’s new compass, promising new terrain, challenges and strength.