Doug was a free spirit. He had a gypsy soul and his heart overflowed with boundless curiosity, humor and genuine goodness. Life was an adventure for him, and he feasted on every moment of his all-too-brief 36 years. After Doug’s sudden and tragic death, his family had to decide how to best remember, honor and grieve his unique personality. A traditional funeral was out of the question because, well, that wasn’t Doug’s way. He was spiritually expansive but not religious.
Doug’s family reached out to me, asking to help them craft a fitting Service of Remembrance, a funeral alternative. Since it wasn’t practical to gather in the mountains or at the ocean, the family opted for a funeral home.
The overflowing crowd spilled out onto the floor of the chapel. A table of beautiful crystals sat near the casket, emitting loving and healing energy to all present. A friend played the didgeridoo, hand made from the wood given to him by Doug. Stories abounded, and laughter and tears were shared. Music from the band, Phish, played in the background. His parents smudged his body with sage, and we drummed together and called upon the Four Directions and various animal spirits to help Doug move safely to his new life. It was a sacred time of healing.
At the end of the service, the funeral director said, “Well I’ve never seen anything like this before!” In the following months, designated family and friends spread Doug’s ashes in the places he loved.
Times are changing, and the way funerals are conducted reflects a shift in attitude about death. One size does NOT fit all. Some folks find great comfort in a traditional funeral, which is more formal and solemn, and is often prescribed by a certain religious tradition.
Funeral homes are becoming very adept at helping to personalize the Memorial Service (not as formal as a funeral but still a bit on the more reflective side) or Celebration of Life (more like a party). You can also do it yourself. You can skip the church and the funeral home because a service can be held anywhere, at any time, with any theme that suits the life of the one you hold dear.
There are no hard and fast rules. The options are limitless: a living wake, a tree planting ceremony, a memorial reef, picnic in the park, sea burial, a sports sendoff, creating a memorial scrapbook, hosting a tea ceremony, a music fest, gathering in a favorite restaurant, a home funeral, a green burial. The important thing is to do something meaningful.
I will never forget a very informal service held in the deceased’s back yard where family and friends told funny stories and then raised a glass of beer after each one! You can Google “alternative funerals” for further research into nontraditional farewells, such as this one or Doug’s mentioned earlier.
Sometimes after a death, people want to forgo funerals altogether. When hard things happen in our lives, it’s natural to want to move away from the pain. However, the cultural wisdom of previous generations reminds us that there is great healing power in a meaningful funeral. When these services are done well, they create a container strong enough to hold all the feelings of grief, and this sets the stage for the healing process which follows.
Having an alternative funeral can be a timeless gift of love for those who are left behind.
How do you envision YOUR farewell?