Admit it - you matter to a lot of people and deserve a funeral
Have you ever heard an older person say something like, “Don’t fuss over me when I die,” or “Just throw me in a ditch when I'm dead?" We accept their statements as expressions of not wanting to burden their family with the planning, cost, etc … but they may really be saying something else to us. Have you ever thought that what they're really saying is “I’m not sure if my life mattered enough ... I'm not worth anyone's time ... Would anyone even go to my funeral?" In other words, they are crying out, "Will someone please tell me that I mattered?!" Everyone is horrified at the stories on the news where a body is found in a ditch – it’s tragic, unthinkable, and disrespectful. So, is that what these people think they deserve? It's hard to believe, but some people do. These sentiments can become problematic for the person’s family as well. Many families are looking to honor the wishes of their loved one and when permission is not given to honor the body or “fuss” over them, the family can feel guilt when more is wanted or deny their grief-needs altogether. Families who do want to have a ceremony of some kind have had moving or significant prior experience. There, sadly, seem to be more families who have had the opposite experience. Perhaps they attended a funeral where the officiant said the wrong name, or they just find the experience too boring or sad. They have been denied the experience of a “good funeral” and therefore skip all manner of ceremony. Their last act in honor of their loved one is a signature in an office when it could be waiting with the casket as it is lowered into the earth or escorting their loved one to the crematory and being present for the moment of release. So why do people say things like “throw me in a ditch” and laugh, and what does it imply about our emotional approach to death? At our core, there is a deep desire for others to pay attention to our lives. The need to matter is a big part and knowing with certainty that other lives were better because of ours are big parts of "being at peace." In Doug Manning’s book “The Funeral” that describes his own father whose only wish was for the stereotypical pine box plus ditch, Manning comments that this is something “all men seem to feel the need to say, even though they don’t mean it.” He goes on to write, “I finally told [my dad] that the funeral was my gift to him and, if he did not mind, I would decide what kind of gift I would give. He was pleased and relieved. From that day on, we had to go through the funeral step-by-step every time I was with him.” Manning gave his dad the gift of knowing that someone would make much of his life, that someone wasn’t going to toss him in a ditch because his life really mattered. How many families would come through a funeral home's doors with a different mindset if they had only said to their loved one, “Look, we want to have a funeral for you, because you’ve meant so much to us and we want to come together and remember you through stories, your favorite songs, and things that remind us of you. Please, let us do this.” Wouldn’t that be a lovely conversation to have? Beyond the fact that each life DOES matter, it’s been statistically shown that families (especially children) who participate in a funeral ceremony for a loved one have a dramatically healthier grief journey. They are guided into acceptance through the ceremony instead of left in a world of denial without any signifier that the death has really happened. We should all think about how each of our lives matter and find new ways to value and honor the ones we love.