The stiff, British upper lip, and that need to be ‘dignified’ during a funeral, may, at last, slowly be giving way to authentic grief. Unexpressed tears become acidic in the organs, and are of no benefit to anyone. Funerals, when done with a personal touch, offer a way to bring family and friends together to share in mourning that is honest and uninhibited.
Template, cookie-cutter style funerals are, bit by bit, becoming a thing of the past as people start to realise that they can create a ceremony which honours their loved one and their beliefs in a way that is true to them. Most funerals last for about 20-30 minutes. It’s no time at all to sum up a person’s life, let alone celebrate it, and yet, in many cases due to the choice of venue, this is what we must do.
Bringing personal, heart-felt ritual to a ceremony is vital if we intend to support the healing side of grief.
A funeral/memorial is a major part of acknowledging that a loved one has died. Gathering with others, we face our grief. A funeral somehow makes the death ‘more real’.
That moment, always so painful, when the curtain closes or the coffin is lowered, confirms what we have been experiencing. Our loved one is gone.
Authentic grief is when mind, body and soul align to understand that our life has changed, and our loved one is no longer here (at least in the sense we understand it, physically).
When we are participants and witnesses in a personalised funeral, we are given space to focus on the loss and start the process of living with the change.
Grieving is a time in which we have to adjust to the change of status, in terms of the relationship we once had with the deceased, to living with memories. One of the beautiful things that can come out of a funeral is the sharing of memories. We each have stories to tell, and when we share these with others, it helps to build a fuller picture of the deceased and how they lived on this earth.
At my father’s funeral, I heard many stories about him that I hold close in my heart. It’s always special to have other people’s insights into a loved one.
As an astrologer, I am interested in Saturn’s recent ingress into the zodiac sign of Sagittarius, for this is the part of us which seeks meaning. This is where we ask the big questions: Why? What is the meaning of this? Why did this happen? What happens after death? Perhaps over the next couple of years, during this transit, more and more of us will be seeking the meaning of life more than we ever have.
I do believe the ‘why’ questions become an important stepping stone for the bereaved.
Having said goodbyes to several people in my life recently, it only serves to reinforce that old calling card of mortality. We are all dying. Some of us sooner than others. Having three friends with major health issues has only amplified this message for me, and the need to enjoy every single day.
Death, dying, saying goodbye. These are as important in life as birth, puberty, graduation, weddings, and so on. If anything, they remind us to hold life as sacred. Being able to grieve authentically, at a funeral and elsewhere, is vital to moving onwards.
When someone we love dies, there can be an inner voice that wants to yell at the world ‘stop! Don’t you know (name) has just died?’ A funeral is one of the few times in our grieving journey when the world, or a small part of it, does stop for a short time…long enough for us to say good bye. Our attention becomes focussed on this dedicated grieving ritual.
When my father was killed in a car accident almost four years ago, I flew the long-haul flight to Australia. I was looking forward, in amongst the pain, to seeing my mother who I’d not seen for years. Although my parents had been divorced for a long time, I knew she’d be there. After all, she had eight grieving children. The only thing was: she didn’t come to the funeral. Her phone went off the hook. It was only after the funeral that she made contact again. My mother hates funerals. She’s not alone there, of course, but she lost a few siblings in childhood in war-time Germany and spent much of her childhood crying. Grief hurts. There’s no denying that. And, to be honest, even the less vain amongst us don’t want to be seen with red puffy eyes and mucusy noses!
A funeral is a way of not only saying farewell, but of welcoming in those in your community so they can love, support and nourish you. Of course, we can never take away another’s grief. That’s impossible. We can, however, say how sorry we are for the loss. We can bake a cake or make a pot of soup. We can bring flowers. We can offer to do housework or errands. There’s no end to the support we can offer. And perhaps, in losing our loved one, we have moments of gaining more love from elsewhere ~ if we allow ourselves to do so. Our broken, wounded heart needs tending, and it is too easy to close ourselves off to the love that is all around us. No one can ever replace our loved one, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find succour in other types of love and affection.
At a funeral I officiated recently, I overheard one of the mourners say to someone, who she was surprised to see there: “What are you doing here?” (The funeral was quite some distance from where the guest lived). Her reply was simple: “I’m here to support you.”
And that is why we go to funerals. To support each other. To symbolically or literally hold another’s hand and say “I feel your pain.”
There is still such a fear and taboo around funerals. The tide is changing, though, and if you ever find yourself at a funeral where it has been personalised and officiated with reverence, you might just come to see how deeply healing and transformative such a ceremony can be.