On Funerals  

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Last weekend I attended a funeral. Death is difficult, but all the more difficult when it occurs to someone young. My brother's wife died quietly in her sleep at home last Friday. She had cancer for a long time, even before my brother met her, but she stayed strong through several bouts of treatment and remission before the disease finally ate through her entire body, except her brain. In the end I suppose that was kind, that she never lost her sense of self, even as her body became foreign to her.

It wasn't that we didn't know she was at the last of her strength, but I don't think anyone expected it at that moment. I wasn't particularly close to my sister-in-law although I liked her and enjoyed her company when I visited family. But I mostly felt sadness for my brother, who will have to live without someone he loved. Whenever he broke down I felt like a puddle of tears. My brother is more of a softy than the strong, silent type, but seeing the emotion so plainly on his face was more than I could take.

Since my grandmother died when I was in high school I've had trouble with wakes. That was the first death that was personal to me. While maybe good for the brain to realize that person is irrevocably gone, I don't want to see the body in the casket. I'd rather remember someone in life, moving with expression. They never look like they're in peaceful repose to me. They're just not there anymore. Not because they've gone on to a better place, since I believe we only have one life, but because the without the brain functioning, the person isn't really there.

But the funerals are worse. I was prepared for a religious service after reading about the funeral of Philly Chief's aunt. It's something I didn't notice much when I was a believer. But I was still shocked by the grab for souls that the preacher made during the eulogy. He never once praised my sister-in-law for the person she was or the things she did in life. He claimed he didn't know if she was saved or not. He even alluded that she might be at that very moment burning in hell. But he was only too happy to claim that she would want each and every person in the audience to receive Christ.

As angry as I was I stared straight at him and feigned boredom during his altar call. I even managed a yawn. After all, it wasn't my call to make. My brother and her family had the funeral they wanted and despite feeling sick about it, it wasn't my place to say one way or another what kind of funeral she should have. But it didn't stop me from feeling his sermon was inappropriate. Even my brother-in-law, though I'm sure he considers himself Christian, complained afterwards that there was too much brimstone.

It only makes me that much more determined to not let that sort of thing happen at my funeral. I never really cared about my own funeral before. I won't be there to see what happens so why should it matter? Except for the thought of my loved ones being manipulated at at time of vulnerability I wouldn't give it a second thought. But now I have an overwhelming desire to plan out my own funeral. Is that healthy or normal?

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11 comments: to “ On Funerals

  • Mamacita Chilena
    Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 5:32:00 PM CDT  

    I am so sorry for your loss, or I guess I should probably say your brother's loss. I would feel the same way as you if someone close to my brother died. That really sucks that the funeral was like that, and especially that it was so impersonal.

    I have only been to one funeral (or at least one in which I was old enough to know what was going on). It was for a friend who committed suicide. We were not best friends or even close to it, but we ran in the same circles, sat at the same lunch table together, were in the marching band together, if we ran into each other in the hallways we stopped and talked. We were on the same bus for band (in our 200 person band you could sign up for a bus with your friends) which meant he was close enough that I would have rather sat by him than a lot of other people. I went to the wake but it was closed casket because he shot himself in the head. And even if it weren't I don't think I could have looked. I was with his sister for most of the night, along with our entire cheerleading team (she was on it, a year older than me). We all just huddled together and tried not to cry. I didn't go to his actual funeral, but I did go to his memorial service. I was DISTRAUGHT. I don't remember what was said because I was too upset, but I don't think it was too fire and brimstone. I mean, there were easily over 600 people at it. Also, I don't really think they could've been too fire and brimstony because that would have meant talking about the fact that a lot of people there probably believe he was burning in hell since he committed suicide. The pastor was someone who actually knew him too, so it felt good to listen to the joy we all felt in knowing him alive.

    After that moment, I have frequently thought about my own funeral, so I don't think it's really abnormal. Or at least to me it isn't, because that's been somethign on the back of my brain every since. Having a friend die so young has always kept me on my toes, hoping that I am touching as many lives as possible and living each day to the fullest, as cheesy as that may sound.

    And I definitely know that I don't want a religious ceremony. I'd rather just have people that know me and loved me talk about how I was when I was alive.

    Sorry, this may be the longest comment ever.

  • Tonyia
    Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 5:40:00 PM CDT  

    My first husband died at age 35, and it was, perhaps, my last attendance at both funeral and visitation after a death.

    As I aged, I began attending only the visitation.

    Now, I attend neither. I support the family with food, words, etc. But I do NOT go to public places of, well, what would we call these places?

    I'm still pondering why, and I can't exactly express my reasoning yet. I don't need to LOOK at the deceased. It is not important to me that people know I was present. I only get more stubborn and angry with the 'pat' phrases that people pass on as comfort.

    It is not a helpful place for me to be. I'd rather do my condolences privately.

    As my family ages, I'm trying to decide what I will do when my parents or in-laws die. Lots of potential awkwardness in that situation.

    My own plans are clearly spelled out, in writing, and I've spoken to my husband and kids. "Burn me up, toss me off a mountain. No funeral, no visitation. If you really want to, have a hell of a party and celebrate all that we have been to each other."

    Of course, I have had more time than you to contemplate these things. And being widowed at 31 rather forced my hand...

  • the chaplain
    Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 6:20:00 PM CDT  

    I'm sorry for your loss. I share your anger at the way some preachers use times of grief to manipulate people. I don't mind Christian funerals that celebrate the life of the deceased, even if there is quite a lot of faith-talk. The important thing to me is the celebration of a life well lived.

    I hate Christian funerals that go beyond celebrating life, or ignore it altogether, and focus on reminding people that they, too, will die and they want to be sure of where they will be going in the afterlife. That's crass and disrespectful of both the deceased person that should be honored, and the mourners who should be comforted.

  • Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D.
    Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 9:14:00 PM CDT  

    Condolences to you and your brother.

    Is it worth writing to the pastor and expressing exactly how you feel?

  • Vistaluna
    Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 10:54:00 PM CDT  

    I think that is completely normal, especially given your experience. You saw something you didn't like, and you don't want that to be the last thing people remember about your funeral either.

    When my brother died, I received a real shocker: they buried him next to my mom. For all kinds of reasons I can't get into, that was NOT cool. I had no say in the matter.

    So that inspired me to do a lot of legal wrangling to make sure I don't get buried even in the same STATE as any of my other family members (Kentucky and Tennessee)

    I'm an Atheist, but the symbolism in death matters to me. If all that's going to be left of me is a tombstone, then I want that tombstone to be where I really lived my life....which is in Kansas! :)

  • Lifeguard
    Friday, October 10, 2008 at 7:42:00 AM CDT  

    Sorry for your family's loss, OG. I think it's not only completely natural to plan your own funeral, it actually provides a tremendous relief to your loved ones to know your intentions. The American Humanist Association actually sells a book from their web page about planning secular funerals.

  • Venjanz
    Friday, October 10, 2008 at 9:19:00 PM CDT  

    I'm sorry to hear about this. I hate funerals, and pretty much refuse to go them anymore.

    One thing about funerals, however; have you ever been to a military one with full honors?

    It's about the most somber and sad thing you will ever witness, especially when "Taps" is played, and it's even worse when the folded flag is handed to the next of kin.

  • The Ridger, FCD
    Friday, October 10, 2008 at 10:33:00 PM CDT  

    It's perfectly normal to plan your own funeral, especially after a bad experience with one.

    It's possible that your wishes will be ignored, but at least you'll have made them known.

    My mother's funeral last summer was in her church, surrounded by people who loved and honored her. It was religious, but it wasn't proselytizing or threatening. I'm very glad of that.

  • aprilbapryll
    Sunday, October 12, 2008 at 12:04:00 PM CDT  

    I hate funerals, mostly because I feel self-conscious for not crying at them. I cry at silly things, like when Warrick died on CSI, and not big things, like my step-mother's funeral or my wedding.

    Condolences though. It will get easier for your brother, and she'll always be in his heart.

  • suchlovelyfreckles
    Monday, October 13, 2008 at 9:58:00 PM CDT  

    I believe it is healthy. I have a very clear idea of what I want my "funeral" to be like, despite my atheism. It just feels right to let them know what would be the funeral of my choice. :)

    I'm very sorry for your brother's loss. I'm still not over my grandma's death almost a year ago. :(

  • Ordinary Girl
    Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 1:54:00 PM CDT  

    First off, thanks to everyone who was thinking of me. I really appreciate your well wishes. I should have responded sooner, but I kept putting it off because I knew this would be more than a few minutes worth of time to do. But it certainly wasn't because I don't appreciate all of you.

    Mamacita: Thank you for sharing your story. I can understand. It's not just the loss of a friend, but the loss of the potential of who he could have been combined with not really knowing or understanding why he did it. It sounds like the ceremony was a good thing in that it helped you and others deal with your grief.

    Toniya: I'm so sorry. I know it was probably some time ago, but I still can't imagine what you must have gone through. I think your plans for your own funeral are exactly as I'd have it. I don't want them to go through expense, but I don't want to hinder them from grieving. I want them to remember me how I was.

    Chappy: Thank you. It's good to know that not all Christian funerals are like this one. Maybe this is the first I've experience, but I don't remember. It never struck me before like it did at this one, but maybe that's due to my change in personal beliefs.

    Sean: I've thought about writing the pastor, but I'm afraid he'd say something to her family and I don't really want to involve them. And it's not really my concern. If she had been my family then I would have felt differently. My own discomfort isn't really an issue. I can vent without involving the family. Really though if they wanted the funeral to go that way, who am I to say it was tasteless, except how it relates to me?

    Vistaluna: I'll have to find out what you did to make arrangements. I don't even know where to start.

    My parents are terrified of being cremated. I've told Matt that it's what I'd prefer, unless it's more expensive, but I don't know if he'd be willing to go against their wishes when he's dealing with death, if he outlives me. Of course we should both outlive my parents so it may never be a concern.

    Lifeguard: Thanks for the condolences and for the reference. I'll definitely look into that as well.

    Venjanz: I've never been to a military funeral. I'm sure that it would be much more preferable though. I imagine that religious references, while still there, aren't overdone.

    Ridger: Yeah, that's why even though this funeral bothered me, I didn't say anything to anyone except in this way anonymously. It wasn't my place to say how it should be done. I just don't like the idea of it at all. But that's my issue, not theirs.

    April: Thanks. I haven't been able to reach him since I've been back, but I fly back again in about a week. I should send a letter just to let him know I'm hear, but I have been crap about doing that as well.

    Suchlovely: I am really sorry about your grandmother. It was tragic because it didn't have to happen. I don't think she'd want you to be sad though, but I know thinking of her keeps her memory alive, and I don't think that's a bad thing.

    P.S. Mamacita, now this is the longest comment ever. :)


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