We often hear that “we should give <person’s name> a good send off…”
If we don’t manage to give them a ‘good send off’ will that affect their departure? Is it like catching a train?
Obviously not, we don’t catch the 1023 from Leeds always wearing a dark suit looking sullen, so what do we mean?
When we die, the funeral directors are called to take the body away. They will allow the family time to ‘be’, to allow time for those last words to be said, even though the person has died. It is an important time for the family. How would you describe those moments?
The body is then prepared, possibly embalmed. We often dress the body in the clothes the person may have liked to wear, and purchase a coffin in which they can be laid to rest. We might make further plans.
Might I ask a question? Why?
Is it for the sake of the deceased or for our benefit? We may say that it is in accordance with their last wishes, but is it for them or for us? Surely they have gone, for they have died? To reflect that they might be looking down upon us is to recall ancient Hebrew imagery of Heaven as a shell over the Earth, with God and the Angels above.
Funeral Directors can charge approximately £4000 for a funeral package, perhaps you may have already purchased a ‘plan’ which you have pre-paid for your funeral. Some providers would suggest that it costs even more (data from 2017).
Many folk may not be able to afford such sums of money and might wish for a cheaper funeral. What might this entail? Well, the quality of the coffin might be less sturdy, or have a different finish, not so many brass handles but simple wooden ones. The number of cars the family can utilise on the day may be reduced. The list goes on.
Might I suggest that we have missed the one question amongst the many already offered here?
Why are we doing this? Is it because, traditionally, we have always done this and “it wouldn’t be right if we skimped”.
If we believe that the person is going onto Heaven to be with God, then do we perceive that God’s admission rate is dependent upon the price we might pay for the funeral? If we believe the King James version, that Jesus declares that he is preparing many mansions for us in Heaven – even if the original text suggests that God will be with us – then do we get a better mansion if we spend more than the going rate?
I am tending towards thinking it is appease our own feelings, to bring us peace that we are doing our utmost to send them on their way. This sounds very much like the Egyptians who would provide so many rich artefacts in the pyramids to support the deceased on their journey.
For some, the reason we still perpetuate this rite of passage is grief. Lydia Kiernan suggests:
Grief is a fierce and unpredictable emotion and with few opportunities to overtly express it, the environment of a funeral offers release for dormant grief or shadowy emotions. A funeral provides a space for the community to gather and offer support, assisting the living in navigating their transition from life with the deceased, to life without them. Through offering the mourners relief and assistance in accepting death, they can then safely explore their love and recent separation of that love, through the new lens of loss.https://www.thejournal.ie/readme/funeral-grief-support-1644039-Aug2014/
She argues for the continuance of rites on passage, citing puberty and becoming elderly. She has a case to argue, an agenda, as her role is as a change catalyst.
Maybe the reasoning to support those who remain could be valid; however, it is premised on being unaware of the future. The Church in the past may have focussed on the pain and anguish of the loss of a dear one, albeit for many families it might have come as a great relief that the suffering had ended, to the deceased and/or to them.
For the Church, those of faith, there is an answer. I have written before about death being merely “a transition not the terminus”. If the fear of reaching death is enhanced because of a perpetuated focus upon the end of the life, then that fear is exacerbated. If we believe that our life moves, transitions, from one realm to another – whether you think or believe that that is Earth to Heaven I’ll leave to you – then a send off is no longer absolute, the great expense of a funeral to satisfy those who remain can be modified, nullified, by focussing entirely upon the grief and not the appendages of the funeral. Those memories of the deceased may be the focal point, the family which remains can be at the centre: and not the deceased body or coffin or gravestone.
I am not suggesting that we no longer need funerals but that the expense of such is not absolutely required. Yes, spend those amounts if you feel you need to do so – it is your money now – but I wonder if you might ask yourself the question – why? – before we get to that day. This is 2019, and we might wish to rationally explain our motives, our decisions. If we have faith, a belief, then we may rationally articulate what we are doing, but to follow tradition without thinking through our actions may be accentuating the grief, for we expect, we desire to experience the traditional levels of grief. Grief is natural, and we will all proceed through the unpredictable period of grief, but we may wish not to allow our past traditions to be able to magnify that grief.
What are your thoughts?