Why We Do What We Do
The Holiday Season in funeral homes is a bittersweet experience. The wounded families of loved ones, who have been unable to hold onto life, succumb to the numbness of reality. In the midst of ?Joy to the World? they traverse the mall buying clothes for the funeral. If someone had torn off their arm, the bleeding would be a testament to other jostling shoppers ? but because their heart has been torn out, no one can see the wound. By force of habit the clerk who has just sold the benumbed widow a dress ? follows up with a ?Have a Merry Christmas? before tackling the next in line at the checkout.
During holiday times funeral professionals are hard pressed to do much more than ?be there? for those they serve ? and that is O K ? that is all we are really compelled to do. Why then do you find an inordinate number of funeral professionals who volunteer, donate to charities and provide special services to the community at this time of year? There is no single funeral director who knows the entire scope of what is needed in the broad spectrum of the grieving community, but as parts of the whole we pull together to ?do what we can do?.
Connecting Directors offers a vehicle for sharing experiences ? some successful ? others not so successful, but turning failures into learning experiences. As an important addition to the social networking landscape of the internet, Ryan is gently (and patiently) guiding us towards new ways of communication. I have no questions at all that in the next few years even I will explore the many options of online meetings and other things available. I am still amazed that there isn?t a token membership fee to help him cover expenses ? I fully expected one this year.
Anyway, I digress ? back to my point. ?Why do we do what we do?? I can?t speak for you, but I can speak for a 20 year old tradition at our funeral home. Back then, inviting the families served during the year back to the funeral home for a remembering time was pretty radical. Now it is the norm. Many inventive names have been attached to the service ranging from ?Blue Christmas?, ?When Christmas Hurts? and ?Lost Christmases? to name only three. Our family began providing that gentle service of music and readings in our chapel every night of Christmas week. It was time consuming yet rewarding.
Other funeral homes asked why were killing ourselves for people who had already paid their bill. After ten years we settled on providing the service on one night at the beginning of December. It was still a lot of work but our attendance grew to encompass the entire community. Local talk shows and news media covered this little family giving back to the community in our small way ? small to us ? but huge to the rest of the world. We now have people who call us about the dates. To them, our offering has become as much a highlight to their Christmas experience as watching ?What a Wonderful Life? or ?Scrooge.? I celebrate that reality.
I know that this is probably ?old hat? to many, but I am going to share the service outline I drew up almost twenty years ago. By necessity it had to encompass elements with nondenominational proportions and it has changes as the community changes.
I offer this format to the struggling new funeral home owner out there to consider for next year.
I offer this format to those who have always attended a similar service at their local church and never thought of bringing it home to their chapel.
I offer this format to my ?competition? and hope that they best me in all that I do because it is not about me ? it is about providing good within the community we serve.
We call ours the Candlelight Christmas Service. Insert your name in the blanks since this format works best when the funeral home staff make the offering and have the presence.
CANDLELIGHT CHRISTMAS SERVICE
WELCOME. My name is ????? and I am honoured to welcome you this evening to share with us in what is for you ? and for us at the Funeral Home ? a Christmas service of personal and loving remembrance. Please stay and join us for a time of fellowship and refreshments following the service in the Fireside Room, which is down the corridor to the right.
Many of you are here for the first time. Some of you have come again because you find that this evening is a good way to begin the Christmas season.
May tonight be a shared time of healing and renewed hope. Each of you personally ? and all of us together ? are here in this season of loving, to honour the ones deeply loved who have died to this shared life here on earth.
There will be an empty place this year at your Christmas table. And your loved one will not be there — to receive the present you have bought, or intended to buy – or would have liked to buy – to put under the Christmas tree. We hope that our time together tonight will give a new meaning to Christmas for you.
This evening we light a candle to remember those who make a difference in our lives.
We reflect together on the meaning of this season, as we sing three of the familiar Christmas carols, and, as we – within the theme of Christmas – honour and remember the ones we love who have died.
Song: Away in a Manger
REFLECTION … Christmas is colour and lights, and evergreen trees, and gift giving and receiving … Yes, and Santa Claus and reindeer, and story-times. It is good food and family and friends, coming and going, but the heart of Christmas is something more … and it is that something more that we need to share tonight: The Story of Christmas is the beginning of a human story and its ending includes death and fear and loneliness.
At the heart of the meaning of Christmas is the meaning of Love. It is, first of all, a very human story: It is the story of the birth of a child within a small family, in very humble circumstances, and in an isolated corner of the ancient world now embroiled in turmoil.
The Christmas story is the beginning of that human story.
The difference in this human story is: Jesus, Born in Bethlehem lived a life that expressed the Creator’s love for us, and became a way for us to love the God of Many Names and to love one another.
The Story of that Love did not die…
Love in our human terms is a flowing stream in the mystery of Creation … And the Creator?s love for us as humans and for all created things is inclusive of all religions.
The primary colours at Christmas are Red and Green. Red is for the Loving that gives of itself — in shared and suffering sacrifice – and Green is for the Evergreen, to remind us that the Creator?s Love for us is eternal … and, that our own loving flows beyond the bounds of death.
In giving love, we are true and real, giving from ourselves and receiving from others.
Tonight near the end of the service we will remember… those we love? who in death, have left us.
Our loving goes on for them, as does their love for us.
We will light candles to honour that on-going love,
And we will remember each of them.
May what we now do together and alone, draw us all closer, for we share the common bond. Death, held within the mystery that is life, links us in the truth that love does not die.
Song: The First Noel
May the loving God of many names,
Help us find times of happiness and of laughter this Christmas;
Give us some peace and strength when we are feeling lonely and sad.
Give us time to remember Christmases past, when those who are gone from us were loving and laughing and caring and sharing with us. And through the tears that may come, help us to trust that the ones we love are near to us … in their love. And may that pain that is present in this Christmas be eased with a new Peace and a new Hope as the New Year begins. Amen.
Song: Silent Night
FUNERAL DIRECTOR 1:
Music is very important to our family. As long as I can remember, it has been part of our family?s Christmas. Remembering loved ones who have died has also been part of our time together. As a small boy, I can remember hanging Nanny?s watch, Grandpa Nielsen?s wallet, Granny?s key-ring, and Grandma Peggy?s Bingo Markers up beside the angel ? We never knew some of the family members, but each Christmas we heard the stories of who they were as we hung the decorations. Year after year, their memory lived on through that simple act.
FUNERAL DIRECTOR 2:
Now we come to my favorite part of this service … lighting the candles honouring the ones who are no longer with us. As we call the name of your loved one, please move to the side aisles; Bring the candles you were given. Come to the front where ?????.., will assist in the lighting of each candle. Place your candles on the stands ….Take all the time you need to nurture your private thoughts…..Please be mindful of the coverings on the floor protecting the carpet from wax drips.
Organist/harpist/String Quartet/Taped music softly till the end of the lighting which is read from information people provide at the door and from funeral home records.
FUNERAL DIRECTOR 1:
We light a candle for (Nicholas) and for all those who have died with no one at all remembering them this Christmas. (Candle then lit by firefighter, armed services personnel or community figure ? mayor etc)_
We light a candle for our funeral home family, including ??..name all funeral home staff losses and all directors participate in the lighting ? (This also lets people see the way it works so they feel comfortable when their loved ones? names are called.)
Funeral Director 1 and Funeral Director 2 share in calling people forward with phrases like
Would the family of ?N? please come forward.
Tonight we remember ?N?.
Let us join together to remember ?N?.
Would all those come forward to pay tribute to special loved ones whose names have not been called.
Silent Night played quietly (not sung) as lights dim to leave the lit candles as the only source of light in the room.
After appropriate time ? bring up lights and quietly move to the reception.
This is what has worked for us. Please feel free to adapt it, change it and make it work for you.