A Lesson on Remembrance: Are We Authentically Celebrating the Life Lived?
Recently, in my cyberspace travels I came across the following status update which I found very interesting:
This issue of lionizing or canonizing the person who died is a very important issue facing funeral service. Our desire to provide a positive life picture of the deceased through restoration techniques and the extensive use of cosmetics has extended to the life story we develop for the funeral services.
When we do not authentically represent the life lived, we often do a disservice to the people closest to the deceased who knew him or her best.
Why we’re in the business of remembering
I believe our goal as funeral directors is to help the family remember the deceased authentically and to portray as broad a picture of their life as possible.
If we allow the family to focus on the death or the loss, we are missing an excellent way to kick-start the grieving process. It’s much easier to make sense of the loss if you can view many of the impacts this person had on others throughout their life.
Many of these impacts are a mix between positive and negative, helping us see the woven tapestry of life, and how we all make a difference to others.
My belief is that we should collect all these impacts and discuss them with the family and the appropriateness of remembering authentically. I have found that my perspective on what was appropriate frequently does not match up with family.
A real-life example of authentically remembering the life lived
A family came in and we were going through photos of the deceased. I picked out an image that showed the deceased with a garden hose between his legs which made it look like he was, well, urinating like a race horse!
While amusing, I did not know if it should be on the photo collage board for the services or the video tribute. When I asked them about it, they insisted that it should not just be included, but that it should be featured. I asked why, and they told me the story of that day.
The family was pouring a concrete pad for a backyard patio and apparently it was a day, typical of many construction projects, where nothing went right. One disaster after another led to short fuses and frayed tempers. At a key moment Dad had the garden hose, stuck it between his legs and cracked everyone up! Perspective was restored and the family could refocus on the project at hand.
Everyone in the family told me that this was exactly who their Dad was and that they wanted to remember him that way.
Needless to say, the photo stimulated many conversations and other humorous storytelling at the visitation.
My final thoughts…
With that story in mind, let the participation of the family guide you as you consider portraying authentic events in the life of the people we are striving to remember.
I have found that letting a family member or friend of the deceased tell the off-color story is the best way to go. People recognize that this person is not judging, just telling the story as it was lived.
While these stories are a little risky to use, they can be the source of a tremendous amount of comfort for the families we serve.
What would you have done in my situation? Do you think this is a big issue in funeral service? Share your thoughts in the comments below!