In our family, we have long spoken about what type of funeral we each want, and how we would like our final goodbyes to be. After attending many events that were too somber and mournful, with not enough laughter and remembrance of the better times, we spoke of honoring a life, rather than mourning a passing. That is not to say that we wish to celebrate someone’s death, but rather that we choose to focus on how they had positively impacted our lives.
I’m not sure where we first heard the term “Celebration of Life service”, but they are definitely becoming more commonplace, with many individuals choosing to have a “happy funeral.” Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, and there are some traditionalists who may find it crass or disrespectful, and that’s fine, because how one chooses to mourn is an individual thing. But that is not the way we see it. We feel that there is already so much sadness surrounding one’s death that there needs to be a balance, that healing begins with laughter.
Following the death of my husband’s brother two years ago, he spent an evening with friends reminiscing about all the shenanigans his brother had gotten into over the years. There was a great deal of laughter remembering what a larger-than-life character he had been and my husband later expressed that it had been the most helpful in his grieving. It had reminded him how full a life his brother had lived, rather than the fact that it had been cut much too short. And so he wanted laughter and good memories at his own “funeral”. He didn’t want everyone to dress in black and spend hours in mournful silence or sobbing and painful wails.
We discussed the pros and cons of burial vs. cremation and decided on a more practical approach for us. First and foremost, cremation is less expensive by far than a casket and cemetery burial. Cremation is also more earth-friendly; the chemicals used to treat a body for burial, along with the chemicals used to treat the wood on a casket these days are poisoning our soil. Our cemeteries are becoming poisoned with arsenic. Seriously. And we are just plain running out of land space for cemeteries. There are more choices for “green burials” these days, and if you opt for a traditional burial, I encourage you to look into them for the sake of our planet. [For the record, these are also my wishes – cremation and a Celebration of Life. My children know this, as do my close friends and family, and now all of you do, as well. Not everyone agrees with the cremation (I’m looking at you, Mom), but I believe they will be carried out anyway.]
My husband’s Celebration of Life last weekend was exactly what he had hoped it would be. Those who loved him came together and celebrated what a great man he was. Old friends came together to share stories of a younger A with his son, and at one point D was surrounded by his father’s high school buddies and I’m not even sure what kind of stuff they were filling his head with. (I somewhat cringe at the thought, hoping they didn’t give him too many ideas…) We had fresh flower leis flown in from Hawaii to hang on his portrait and for the kids and me to wear, including the young man who seems destined to be the newest member of our family. We had a “Message in a Bottle” set up for guests to write down either a favorite memory of A or a word of encouragement for the family. And the space was filled with decorations made of starfish and seashells and sand. It was beautiful.
There were tears, to be sure, but there was also a great deal of laughter. The venue was an outdoor covered pavilion by a small pond, with plenty of room for the children to run around on the grass. They blew bubbles, and giggling, chased them around. They played and laughed as the sun slowly set and brought joy to everyone, myself included.
One small boy, who came with a friend, approached me with his mother (whom I had never met before) after I presented an emotional tribute speech. She said, “You don’t know me, but my son would like to give you a hug, if that’s OK. He’s very concerned that you’re so sad.” She went on to say that she had tried to explain what was going on, and she wasn’t sure if he understood, but he really wanted to give me a hug, again reiterating that he wanted to make me feel better as I was “so sad”. So I bent down and got a hug from a 4 y.o. boy who already has more compassion than many adults I know. He returned a few minutes later to tap me on my arm. When I turned around, he presented me with a freshly-picked daisy and a smile. This is the same boy who I learned from a friend, raised his finger to his lips while I was speaking to quiet down his playmate; she laughed and said they did not stop their sword fight, but did it silently after that. I have since communicated with the woman he came with asking her to express to his mother what a wonderful boy she is raising; it speaks volumes about her, as well. Later in the evening, a 2 year old boy, a friend’s grandson, approached me with a smile and a daisy, as well, and allowed me to give him a quick squeeze before he ran off giggling. There is nothing sweeter than being presented with a wildflower from a small child.
At one point, I sat to talk to a cousin who had given her time and resources to help pull off the event without a hitch, and her son (who just completed the 5th grade, if I’m not mistaken) looked at me with excitement and exclaimed, “I want to learn how to punch a hole in a wall!” referring to a story I had told earlier in the evening. I laughed, amused that that part of the story had made an impression on him. (I was unable to offer him any advice on the matter… but perhaps someone else could teach him one day. He really wants to know how!)
I was also introduced to one of my newest (second?) cousins, a wee, little elfin creature with the daintiest features and sweetest cry. She was just about 6 or 7 weeks old, but is so teeny-tiny that when I asked my 25 year old daughter if she would like to hold her she held up her hands with widened eyes, shook her head and said simply, “Too small! Too small!” So I held her for awhile and simply reveled in the joy an infant brings until I had to (sadly) give her back to her mother.
Toward the end of the evening, my cousin approached me with her niece (another cousin of mine, although I get confused on the second cousins, and thrice removed stuff) who is 5 years old, I think. She looked up at me with beautiful little blonde pigtails and a grin in the middle of a chocolate-covered face. She was there to tell me that she had had some cake, and I asked her how she liked it. She ended our little interaction with a toss of her pretty head and these parting words – “It’s alllll about the cake!” She’s not wrong.
Anyone who has been around babies and small children knows that their joy is contagious and laughter infectious. It should also be known that their innocence and love have great healing powers in the grieving process. They are the living embodiment of hope and vitality. They are proof of the circle of life and show you that things will get better in time. They are a celebration of life!
[Photo credits to Myndi B Photography –MyndiB.com]
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