The Other Side of Grief
Funerals today are not as morbid as they once were, which is healthier for all concerned.

     by Elaine J. Roark

My FRIEND HAD JUST TELEPHONED TO ASK if I would meet her for coffee.She needed to talk. I knew her father-in-law had just passed away, and I assumed that was what she wanted to talk about. I was right.

Jennifer was in tears when I arrived at our favorite doughnut shop. Her father-in-Iaw's funeral had taken place a few days ago, and her husband's family had refused to speak to her since that day.

Jennifer had talked to her children about their grandfather's death. Johnny was only four, and Cindy was six. Jennifer had explained death as a part of life-its conclusion. She had given religious explanations in keeping with her Christian faith and teaching. Then she had explained to the children what the funeral service would be like, and had allowed them to choose whether they would attend.The children chose not to go. Jennifer, knowing her children's temperaments and level of maturity and understanding, felt they had made the wise decision. The children were not required to view their grandfather's body.Jennifer arranged for the children to be present only at the grave-side service.

John, Jennifer's husband, was in full agreement with thechildren's decision not to attend the \iewing. He and Jennifer had tried to explain their position to the family. The family argued that it was disrespectful for the children not to attend the viewing. They said that Jennifer and John were trying to protect the children from the facts of life. The young couple felt that their family was more concerned about what other people would think and say than they were about the children's welfare. John and Jennifer wanted their children to remember their grandfather as he was in life. They felt that the children were showing respect for their grandfather by being present at the grave side.

Christian Funeral Should Be a Memorial Service

"The old traditional funeral service is such a morbid and depressing affair," said Jennifer. "It is like a pagan ritual in many cases. The Christian funeral should be a memorial service, an occasion for giving thanks for the person's life. It should provide family and friends an opportunity to give thanks for their loved one's life. We should be given an opportunity to share all the good memories we have of them with one another," she said."Many of my memories of Grandpa were humorous ones. He was a man with a delightful sense of humor, and I loved him for it. Yet, when I recalled a humorous incident in his life to a friend while Grandpa was lying in state, my sister in-law thought it was distasteful for me to cause someone to laugh at a time like that." .I was sorry for Jennifer. I told her that funerals did not have to be morbid and despairing affairs. I think that many people today share Jennifer and John's view of what a Christian memorial service should be. I see a welcomed change occurring.

The last three funerals I attended have changed my whole attitude about attending funeral services and what a funeral service should be. All the funerals I had attended before were the morbid and depressing kind Jennifer described. I used to avoid going when I could. Then I attended the memorial service for my brother-in-law.

Funeral Service of Brother-in-Law

His body was cremated so there was no viewing or lying in state. Instead, all the family and close friends met at a memorial dinner hosted by the wife of the deceased. After dinner one of the family gave a tribute to Harold and recalled some of his memories of him. Then he invited others to share memories as they wished. Many shared memories of times he had helped in times of need, and times when he was there to be a friend. There were stories of his generosity, his caring, things they had learned from his example or life-style.

All of the memories were happy and good. Many were humorous, and everyone laughed freely. Each memory revealed an event in his life or an element in his personality that gave each of us new insight into his life, and renewed appreciation for him. The whole effect, more than being one of grieving for our loss, was one of being thankful for his life and our opportunity to know him.

Another Brother-in-Law's Funeral

Later, when my husband's brother died, there was a viewing. He lay in state for two evenings, but on the second evening there was a service ofhonor given by his fraternal lodge in memory of the services rendered to his country
while in the U.S. Army. This was a short service. Following this presentation was a sharing of memories of his life. His wife, daughter, brothers and sisters, cousins, and friends shared memories of his life. There was a lot of laughter, as again, our grief was overshadowed by our thankfulness for his life and what it had meant to each of us.

Funeral of a Young Man Who Died a Tragic Death

Surprisingly, the most memorable of the three contemporary style services was the one that had been the most tragic death. The young man was only 22 years old. The casket was never open, except for a short private viewing for those of the immediate family who wished to view. A picture of the deceased was placed on the casket.

On the evening before the burial service, friends and family met at the mortuary for a memorial service. After a short tribute by a family member, family and friends were invited to share memories of the young man's life. The memories revealed a life of vigorous energy, fun, and good humor. Everyone laughed and cried together. It was a service of thanksgiving for his life.

After the memorial, a small group of close friends were invited to the home of the young man's parents. Some of the young man's special friends from his school days had been invited to share their memories and their sense of loss. They shared warmhearted stories of childhood pranks and lighthearted fun of youth. We laughed until our sides ached. Tears from laughter and for loss ran down our cheeks. But we rejoiced in the gift of his life that we all shared.

The formal grave~side burial service was conducted by the family minister who told of the gifts of joy the young life had given to all the community. The entire three days we spent with his family were special. There were no bad memories of a broken and bruised body, and people dwelling on gloom and morbidity. Instead, we left with pleasant memories and a deep sense of appreciation for having shared his life.

To many of us, this is what a Christian funeral should be. We welcome the new form, and those who have been innovative enough to bring it about. Some of us, like Jennifer and John, may have to stand for our beliefs in the face of social pressures, but isn't that the way it has always been with those things that are important to us?

This article appeared in the December, 1991 issue of Home Life Magazine