As I would assume it is for many, funerals are my least favorite occasions. So far this year, I have attended two family ones, one on my dad's side and the other on Mom's.
To give a comparison, my grandpa's was the traditional Mass of Christian Burial. The other, I could say with some hint of irony, was a remembrance for my late aunt which probably took 15 minutes. I am not accounting for the processions to the cemeteries.
I came away from both pondering the solemnity and the intense sadness we associate with funerals. Experiencing grief, in terms of the religious and social elements which drive it, is part of being human. This is not what has bothered me about them, though.
For me, it is seeing the deceased in their caskets. It is also the sheer emotional burden families can incur to ensure their loved ones will have a "proper" funeral and burial.
To be clear, I am all about people having choices and doing what they feel is best for them. This is a crucial tenet of what I advocate with the Putnam County Hospice and Palliative Care Association. It is about how families and caregivers can be confident with carrying out a dying person's wishes. These are my observations and thoughts.
The reality is that everyone will die, and it has to come down to when and how. Still, there is a taboo with talking about death. It can be too morbid for polite conversation, or it is defeatist to acknowledge its inevitability, especially for people around my age.
Is it withdrawn or objectionable, though? What constitutes us having a "good" death? This will mean different things for different people. Having options is the focus for me.
But, as funeral home director and YouTube personality Caitlin Doughty provides, our culture is death-phobic. We will make something very introverted out of it. “The fear of death is why we build cathedrals, have children, declare war, and watch cat videos online at three a.m.,” Doughty says in her bestselling book "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."
Don't get me wrong, there certainly is a place for ceremonial elements, such as an end-of-watch call or a convoy for a first responder or military death. For the conventional funeral, though, I ask this at risk of perhaps sounding harsh: At what point does it feel fake? Maybe "fake" isn't the right word, however. Maybe it is "sterile" or just "creepy."
I think the trappings make funerals uncomfortable for me in the end. I don't think it's a matter of respecting the deceased. Rather, it is not letting the death be, so to speak.
I have been pretty well convinced that I do not want to be embalmed. I have become partial to a natural burial, just putting me in the ground in a wicker coffin. My family would set out the funeral. Still, I can make wishes known in some kind of a pre-plan.
I think it is important for people to have agency over that good death. It can be a time with a sense of both celebration and sorrow. Maybe we can talk more about the "Why."