Grief Is Good

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When someone you love dies, an avalanche of tasks customarily follows: You must meet with the funeral director, select a casket or urn, fret over final attire, write an obituary, choose service music, greet relatives, and assure everyone that, yes, you’ll be all right. But still, somewhere under the crush, there’s time for grief.

Increasingly, though, deep mourning is being suppressed or pushed aside, whether by prescribed medication or by the trend to choose upbeat celebrations over traditional cry-your-eyes-out funerals. Understandably, the bereaved want to save money (the Federal Trade Commission estimates the average funeral costs over $10,000), they want to honor the deceased, and they want to feel better faster. But in The United Church Observer, associate minister Kenneth Bagnell writes that we should give old-fashioned grief a chance.

Diminished funeral customs are admittedly less expensive. But some grief specialists warn we may be eroding helpful rituals of bereavement, the loss of which we may not notice at first.

Such specialists often question the trend to replace words like “funeral” and “memorial service” with “celebration of life.” They see it as a subtle attempt to avoid the reality of death, which we ought to recognize even when painful. Their skepticism…strikes me as understandable, especially in regard to some funerals I’ve conducted and can never forget: the young child who died of cancer, the 20-year-old who hanged himself, the actor stabbed to death in his home. In such tragic circumstances, the word “celebration” has, to me, an inappropriate, even offensive ring.

According to Bagnell, dismissing traditional rituals, such as viewing the body before the funeral, is harmful to our grieving process, our acknowledgment of death’s verity, and our profound need for closure. “In my own life,” he writes, “I’ve lost friends but (for reasons I’ll never fully understand) have had no chance to pay my respects.”

Two were friends whose obituaries mentioned a celebration of life at a place and date to be announced. I watched. There was no announcement–certainly none I could find. What I missed, apart from the theology of it all, was the chance to say goodbye.

Source: The United Church Observer

Image by jpockele, licensed under Creative Commons.

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