As published in The Dead Beat, Summer, 2016.
From years of experience, I have found that personal wishes are one of the most common discussions I have when friends and family discover that I am a funeral and cremation professional. Recently during a conversation with a friend (who happens to be younger than I), the inevitable conversation came up.
“I don’t want anyone to be sad when I die. Just take my ashes and scatter them to the wind and throw a huge party.”
I sat looking at him in honest surprise. I couldn’t even begin to fathom the depth of the conversation that could have occurred in that moment, but the sheer overwhelming moment of argument passed gently through me. After all, everyone is entitled to their own ideas, their own wishes. I’ve heard the comment, but unfortunately it is more and more common.
Wouldn’t it be nice to never be sad when someone dies; plodding along through life unfazed by the loss of a friend or relative or coworker or other member of society? Make it a tidy affair with no muss and no fuss. Make the body disappear and the grief will along with it. Right? It really isn’t that easy.
While death is often met with grace and dignity by the dying, it is usually met with grief and sadness by the survivors. This is still so after thousands upon thousands of years of people dying, and recognizing that death brings sadness. It isn’t an emotion that we choose... it just is. The strange truth, however, is that sadness is normal. This unwanted, undesired, unappreciated, emotion is a natural part of the human psyche and an important part of the grieving process.
Unfortunately for the modern cremation movement, there are many in younger generations who think that cremation is an “out” for their impending sadness. It is erroneous to think that if we make the body disappear then the grief and sadness disappears along with the physical aspect of the body.
Renaming funeral and memorial services to “celebrations of life” is a wonderful idea, and the healing that comes through a positive celebration is immeasurable. Equally, an intentional outlook on the reality of death is healthy. Preparing one’s self and one’s loved ones for the inevitable is undeniably helpful and important for everyone who lives. We cannot say that there will be no sadness, and asking someone to not be sad at one of the most difficult times of loss is selfish and, quite frankly, impossible.
Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America wrote a really great piece that has appeared in several places over time – and her candor regarding the prearrangements of her parents is very enlightening. Her dad, who says “just cremate me,” is not aware of the desire by his loved ones to have a meaningful gathering of his friends, colleagues, and loved ones. She says my point so eloquently, “I love you, Dad, and I will mourn you and I will cry when you die. I need to be surrounded by family and your friends and former students… I want to respect your wishes, but I will mark your passing. I love you too much not to.”
I love you too much not to.
Love is the foundation of so many human emotions. When a heart loves, a heart grieves when it is broken. Saying goodbye gives us the opportunity for healing and moving forward. I love too much to not be sad when I am parted from friends and family. Face the sadness and let healing begin.
That's my perspective...