All religions and cultures have ceremonies that mark the end of life. These come at the earliest stages of your grief; you will not feel ready for it. Despite this, of course you will have to attend to your loved one’s burial or cremation, funeral or memorial. This, too, is not an accident. These ceremonies serve to connect us and our loss to the love carried in our wider community.
The planning and organizing of the funeral or memorial can challenge the best of us in normal times, and normal left the day your loved one died. For the bereaved, the funeral is always overwhelming. Doing anything is difficult--it feels impossible. There is no way around this. Reach out to others; allow family members and friends to help you.
If you and your loved one belong to a religion, you will likely have a more traditional funeral. In the not too distant past, funerals were sober affairs that emphasized the end of life, the loss of the departed and transcendent hope. Memorials that celebrate a life well lived, which are now becoming more popular, are finally altering even the most somber, traditional funerals and in recent times, there has been a blurring of funerals and memorials.
Like poetry, funerals say the most with the least; the simpler and shorter the better. Ostentatious and elaborate funerals detract from what is meaningful in your loved one’s life and indeed what is sacred in their passing. Less extravagant and more modest ceremonies invite to the gathering what is consequential and profound.
If your loved one is cremated and the ashes are not to be buried in a cemetery, you choose between keeping them and dispensing them. If you keep them, you will need a special cinerary-urn. Artists who specialize in this offer many beautiful ones from which to choose. Keep the ashes in a special place in your home. This space should be uncluttered and separate from other things. Place a framed photo of them alongside the cinerary-urn. Fresh cut flowers can complete the setting.
Dispensing with the physical remains becomes a sacred task. Modern times present us with a myriad of different means to honor our loved one’s ashes: ceremonies held on a ship at sea where the ashes are given to the ocean; ceremonies where the ashes are mixed in the roots of a sapling that is then planted in a favorite place you can visit the rest of your life; ceremonies on mountain summits where the ashes are carried away in a steadfast wind. You will want to invite only those family and friends closest to your loved one for the dispensing of ashes. Like a funeral, each witness present will want to bid your loved one goodbye with a poem, a memory or two, an expression of love and gratitude for the deceased’s role in their life.
Memorials offer a compelling alternative to the old-fashioned funeral. Your loved one’s life is celebrated in love and joy by all who were touched by their presence here in life. The gathering can be as small as one other person or large enough to accommodate everyone who wants to participate, whatever this number is. These uplifting ceremonies unite our hearts in love. The best memorials remind us not just that we are all connected to the larger community, but that your loved one mattered to this wider circle.
Individual participation can take many forms of sharing with the larger group: a favorite memory, a cherished picture, the time your loved one’s kindness or generosity touched someone or changed a life. It can be as simple as a poem or your loved one’s favorite song. Ask all participants to write their contributions down and collect them in a memorial book or memorial web page.
This will become a treasure.
Be certain to invite love and joy to the celebration.