As fewer and fewer North Americans seek what was once considered the norm, the ordinary funeral (often on the more “traditional” side) appears to be nearing the end of life. And there are many reasons and theories as to why this is occurring. We live in a more transient society, where families and friends may be dispersed from one another, making coming together difficult. We are increasingly becoming more secular, causing people to forego traditional end of life services that look like those from organized religions. And people are more cost conscious: information is easily accessible and we’re savvy consumers. This may explain the rise in cremation, which has allowed for more disposition options and time flexibility.
But I believe there’s more to it than that.
When I was growing up, I was encouraged to fit in and follow the crowd. In fact, when I came home after my first day of high school, I announced to my parents that I had to purchase a pair of Jordache jeans, a pink Lacoste polo shirt, Treetorn runners, and a bottle of Chloé perfume. Why? Because in my (possibly insecure) world back in 1980, looking, sounding, and even smelling like all the other girls was my #1 priority.
Sad, I know, but my goal was to blend in and be just like everybody else: Ordinary.
Thankfully, times have changed and being like everyone else is not only considered boring, it’s completely undesirable. Diversity is beautiful and instead of trying to fit in and conform, society encourages us to live our truth, to celebrate and embrace the qualities that differentiate us from others.
The new goal is to stand out by being your unique self: Extraordinary.
So it stands to reason that same old ordinary funerals are on their deathbed. With so much emphasis being placed on living an authentic life, there is little to no value in ending it with a cookie-cutter funeral. You’ve probably been to one of those funerals. You know the one I’m talking about: The one you couldn’t wait to be over because it just felt wrong.
And perhaps as you drove home, feeling uninspired, cold, and empty, you decided that having no funeral at all would be better than making your friends and family endure what you had just sat through. So when you got home, you told you family to do nothing when you died.
But with that request, you could unknowingly be denying your family what they need after you’re gone. Because a funeral is not a gift we give ourselves, it’s a gift we give to those who love us.
Just because same old, ordinary funerals are on the way out, that doesn’t mean we should do, or ask our families to do, nothing at all.
There’s a different way – an extraordinary way. Even my ultra-conservative, British parents in their eighties have jumped on the authentic ceremony bandwagon. For instance, my mother loves music – all kinds of music but especially music that makes her want to dance. But her most favourite sound in the whole wide world is the magical “POP” of a champagne bottle being uncorked. When she hears it, she says the same thing in her little Scottish accent every time: “Oh how I LOVE that sound!” And we always laugh.
It goes without saying that there will be lots of bubbly consumed at my mother’s funeral. But what if I told you that we were going to include a champagne popping ritual in the ceremony? Well, that’s a little different, isn’t it? Picture this: Beside her casket there will be a tray holding two bottles of champagne, two glasses, and a pen. My brother and I will each open a bottle, creating the magical sound that she loves so much. And we will do our best to giggle, like she does. We’ll pour each other a glass and toast to a life well lived and loved. Then we will use the pen to write our names on the corks and place them beside her in her casket – all while Donna Summer sings “Last Dance” in the background.
We will be sad. And we will cry. But we will not feel cold and empty. Because we will be surrounded and supported by people who care and we will honour and celebrate my mom’s life in a way that’s all about her.
Funerals should not be cold and empty – and they don’t have to be. All you need is a little thought, a little creativity, and the right officiant, someone who can guide you, listen to your stories, and create a ceremony from scratch instead of trying to fit into a pre-existing template.
So rest in peace, ordinary funerals. Saying goodbye to you means we can say hello to authentic, meaningful, extraordinary funerals that are as unique as the lives we live.
* * *
AUTHOR: LINDA STUART
Linda Stuart is a Life-Cycle Celebrant/Officiant and Speaker located in Toronto, Ontario. Specializing in funerals and weddings, Linda’s passion is bringing stories to life through meaningful ceremonies.