Thursday, May 24, 2012

Art of Saying Goodbye

A friend and I were discussing the cultural differences from country to country in funeral practices. This weekend my daughter will be attending a funeral for one of her husband's family members. And this brought to mind some of my thoughts regarding funeral customs in America.

The first funeral I ever attended was my mother's funeral when I was ten. Some of those memories are as bright and sharp today as they were fifty-two years ago. She died May 28th in the middle of the night in a car accident in the lonely deserts of New Mexico. On June 1st she was buried in a sunny cemetery outside of Mesa, Arizona after a packed funeral at a Baptist church in Chandler. There were so many people attending that some stood outside for the service.

Much of that day is a blur of impressions. For me, they could have skipped the service, sang a few songs, and moved right to the graveside service. Actually, I'm still wondering after all these years why there's a long service at the church or funeral home prior to the graveside service?

How many ways can you say goodbye?

My favorite family story from a funeral was when my Grandfather Martin died very suddenly from a stroke during surgery. After the church service and graveside service there was a huge family picnic (because we are a numerous family--Grandmother was one of nine and Grandfather was one of thirteen--plus progeny). After the picnic they organized a softball game. AND Grandmother was the umpire. I was very little when he died but I have no trouble envisioning my Grandmother umping this family game after the funeral.

I have no doubt she grieved. None at all. But she had a spine of steel. And her grieving would have been done in private.

I can count on one hand all the funerals I've attended. For most of my married life, I've lived very far from my family--too far to attend most funerals.

I have some questions...

Why do we wait until someone's dead to make them a priority? Why not visit them when they're alive, instead?

Why, why, why is there a big service before going to the graveside? Why not just go there and be done with it?

Why not have a small graveside service for those who live nearby and then a big memorial get-together a few months later where people can relate their favorite memories of their loved one? Maybe even a picnic or barbecue...

How is one more respectful than another?

What do you think? How do you say goodbye to a loved one?



  1. Why the big service? I suspect it's because it gives those who could have done more for someone in life to redeem themselves somehow in the eyes of whatever cosmic deity they worship.

    I do like, and have thrown, some fine Irish style wakes where everyone had a bloody good laugh, lots of drinks and food and celebrated the life that was in fine style. One person, on leaving one of my wakes said to me, this has been the best time I've had in a long time. Now that's how to celebrate life and remember mortality and get on with living without excuses.

  2. Exactly. I think that would be much better all around!

  3. I don't know. I hate funerals. Love weddings, births... hate hate hate funerals.

  4. I like flowers !!! it i a great blog. thanks for sharing us.

    Funeral Flowers