There seems to be a growing trend amongst families that, when a loved one dies, they don’t have a funeral. Why is this? Is a funeral an old outdated tradition that isn’t necessary anymore? Is it too expensive? Maybe it’s too ostentatious for a humble person who never wanted to be the centre of attention.
I would like to address these questions and explain the importance of a funeral ceremony, for emotional, psychological, religious, and spiritual reasons.
1. We don’t go to church anymore so it would be hypocritical to have a church funeral.
Many families have disconnected from the church, either on purpose, or it just happened. When a death happens then, families rarely think of church. The funeral home is contacted, and then when the decision of some type of service is brought up, the family is at a loss. I cannot say this too many times: It doesn’t matter how distant you have been from the church, you are always welcome.
Now I’m not trying to force you to have a church funeral, merely to get you thinking of what you are going to do when your loved one passes on. I know this is an uncomfortable topic because when we think of funerals, it necessarily means that someone we love has died. Unfortunately, death, no matter how we try, is unavoidable, so why not prepare for the inevitable and #mementomori? In fact, preparing for the inevitable helps us in many ways. A. We appreciate every day with them as if it could be the last. B. We say I love you more often. C. We allow ourselves to prepare someday for a life without them. I’m not talking morbidly, but honestly.
A funeral service then allows us to celebrate the life of our loved one, it allows us to accept that they have died, to say the final farewell, and to commend their soul to God.
2. Funerals are too expensive and too long!
It’s true that funerals are expensive. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into them, and a great effort to not skimp, in order to make them dignified. A typical objection is, why spend money on a dead person. Setting aside the argument that a funeral is an efficacious commendation of their soul to God, it also brings the family together, it allows them to pool collectively their memories of their loved one, and it allows friends and the community to come together, to mourn together, and to comfort and care for one another. I find it hard to put a price on this.
And yes, funerals can be long. To agonize in a hot church for 30mins to an hour is too much for anyone to bear. I mean, surely your loved one has never agonized more than 5 minutes in a boring and uncomfortable situation, for you, ever, right? Funeral prayers are long and important for a good reason. They are incredibly meaningful and powerful, if you take the time to listen.
3. I don’t even want a birthday party, why would I want a death party?
Again, it’s not about you. We celebrate a birthday, not for you, but for us, because we love you. It’s a type of selfishness actually to deny others the opportunity to show their love for you.
4. I want my ashes scattered in a pig pen, because that was my life.
Ok, gross. And I’ll be honest, I may be exaggerating this request a bit. The point I’m trying to make is, even if you have a funeral service, the final resting place is something to be considered. There is a choice between a traditional casket service, and a cremation service with an urn. While the Catholic Church now acknowledges the validity and dignity of both, she still insists on a final resting place, in blessed ground. There are many obstacles we encounter when wanting to scatter ashes: do we have permission? Will we own the land in 100 years or will someone come later and dig up the ashes? If it’s in a body of water, wouldn’t it just get washed away?
A final dignified resting place is necessary for family to gather, weeks, months, and years after the funeral, to pray and to remember. Sure the lake may seem a romantic idea, but why not gather at the cemetery with family to pray, and then make a day trip to your loved ones favourite spot in memory of them.
I hope this has helped you think about some questions that you may not have even knew you had. May God grant you many years and, when your time has come, may he bring peace and comfort to your family as you enter safely into eternal rest.
Fr. Travis Myrheim