Changes in The Last Send-Off

What do you mean we can't bury Grandma in red?

What do you mean we can’t bury Grandma in red?

I’ve been absent  in the name of research, spending time with morticians and gravediggers. Thank heavens no one died. It was for a novel …not a horror novel. It’s a coming of age story, but one of the things that became wildly apparent to me was the CHANGE in the way we treat death over the last 50 years.

Like any newsy research, an author doesn’t get to use everything she’s discovered, but I want to pass along a couple of fascinating observations…

GROWING UP in the ‘50s.

Save the dress:

My grandparents (and every old person I knew), had one good dress or suit in their closet which they might wear on special occasions, but they’d be sure to let their nearest relative know, “This is the dress you need to bury me in.” It didn’t matter that the clothing was twenty years old or two sizes two small. The mortician could fix that. Even before people were dead, they were planning what to wear.

And then there was a wake:

But because we’re Lutheran, we didn’t call it that. It was visitations at my grandparent’s house, and all of us kid-cousins (who’d been banned to play in the yard) were constantly in trouble. These were the days before attentive parents provided toys and activities, so we hooligans made our own amusement: digging for worms, having dirt fights, or sneaking under the fence to explore the crawl-space beneath the Baptist church down the street. If we were caught and scolded back to the yard (to continue flinging dirtballs), an adult would come out of the house and yell at us for being too rowdy or noisy.  “For the love of saints! Be quiet out here! Your uncle is dead! Have some respect!”

We couldn’t figure out why a dead man would care about our ear-splitting screams. And why did the adults get to laugh and tell stories that carried down the block?

Funeral Parlors

We don’t call them funeral parlors anymore, but that’s what they did…provide a safe pest-free place to sit with the deceased. When funeral homes bundled their services into packages, many of our family activities went away—moved to a more professional, air-conditioned, padded-chair visitation room where there was nothing for us kids to do but kick each other and dare the youngest cousin to go touch dead Aunt Mildred’s hand.

And then the popularity of cremation brought an end to even more childhood exploits.

CHANGES FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY…New traditions are beginning.

Living Funerals:

Who isn’t curious what people will say about you when you’re gone? These ceremonies are mostly being embraced by folks with a “fatal” illness. A small group of friends or family family gather to tell the dying person the heartfelt things he/she wouldn’t have gotten to hear at their funeral. The benefit is that it breaks isolation. Lots of folks don’t feel comfortable visiting a dying person. They don’t know what to say and feel uncomfortable about visiting.This ritual has become about gratitude and closure for the living and the dying.

Pre-Dead

Newspapers such as the NY Times have “advance” or “draft” obituaries of famous pre-dead persons, so they’re ready to be published the moment the notice comes across the newsline. They’ll even phone the pre-dead for an interview. Now you can write your own obit and have it on file so you can “make sure the paper got it right.” (No guarantee anybody in your family will use it, though).
Video Messages/Obituaries
Here’s a dandy DIY project. Folks are making videos and delivering their own obits to be watched at their funeral. Or…maybe you’d like to leave someone a message  that you would’ve never uttered in life?  A company will allow you to create any message you choose and they’ll send it for you after you’re dead.

There are other changes in the “send-off to the great beyond.” But for now…tell me your stories.

What’s a ritual you REALLY dislike at Funerals?
The food? Noisy kids? Speeches? Let’s talk.

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About Barb

I escaped from a hardscrabble farm in Oklahoma. I'm not sure why people think I have an accent. I miss the sunshine, but not the fried foods.
This entry was posted in Change, Humor, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Changes in The Last Send-Off

  1. I dislike the expectations of open casket funerals: you WILL pass by the casket, you WILL either look at the deceased or share a quiet conversation with the deceased, you WILL cry as you scrabble back to your seat. And the expressions on the Funeral Directors’ faces – I know they care but they just look so…..sad. Like Bloodhound sad. I choose life! I choose to remember the individual as they were, full of joy and movement and spirit! So I have started to avoid the caskets. They seem as waxed representations (and poor ones at that) of the individual in real life. Aunt Bessie was never without a smile on her face and was never still – THAT lady is NOT Aunt Bessie! “Memorials” (aka “funerals without the deceased attending via body or ashes”) with a focus on a celebration of life are WAY better. And since you are asking, I’d like to wear the teal dress, please.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      I agree. I recently attended an open casket funeral and was struck by how unreal the person looked. But…after doing the research on this, I realize that it’s really important for some folks to see the body to have final closure, and I get that. I think if it’s your funeral, you can wear whatever you want…oh heck…wear whatever you want even if it isn’t your funeral. You go girl!

      Like

  2. I’m not a famous pre-dead person, but I do like the idea of writing my obituary in advance. Who knows what old grievances and complaints my family might include if I leave the obituary to them.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      Who says you aren’t famous? I know you and that’s enough. Leave it to me, I’ll write up a humdinger tribute if you just say the word (which is “No”).

      Like

  3. colonialist says:

    I dislike funerals. Period. As for the thought of a ‘still-living’ one … *shudder*
    As for ‘closure’, I think that should come with the death certificate.

    Like

  4. nrhatch says:

    I’m amused at funerals where the deceased is elevated to “sainthood” because they died.

    “Um, sorry, don’t you remember the time she pushed her 87 year old mother down the stairs and called it an accident . . . ”

    I prefer Memorial Services held after disposal of the body.

    Like

  5. Sharon White says:

    I really don’t like to attend services which load praises on to the deceased which as I knew the dead one doesn’t fit at all. “She was the greatest, most caring, most generous person I’ve known”–when indeed she was a miser, angry, always negative. Or in the case of my brother with whom I’d been estranged because of his anger–when I arrived late and started listening turned to my husband and asked if perhaps we had entered the wrong service since nothing sounded like the man I was raised with and had had limited conversation with as adults. I hate feeling obliged to say something nice when I had mixed feelings but am there for the benefit of the family. I do ralize that the service is certainly more about the living than the dead
    I also hate being a captive audience for some preacher who doesn’t even know the deceased to pontificate on the love of God and how to escape hell by accepting Christ as savior. That hellfire and damnation is just not appropriate for a good bye service.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      You’ve just hit on my most despised part of a funeral. I LOATHE it when they pass a microphone around and EVERYONE feel compelled or pressured to say something. I usually just pass the mic on and say what I needed to say privately to loved ones.

      Like

  6. I don’t like anything about them full stop. Recently heard from a friend they were attending a ‘Celebration of Life’ ceremony, which I asked about after. As she explained it, the funeral portion was a family only thing and the actual celebration sounded more like just that.. the guests who gathered shared stories and seemed to revel in the person’s life. There was sorrow, but it did sound as if it wasn’t intended to be sad.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      It does seem more, healing to celebrate a life than death. Sometimes the celebration even makes others realize they have some “items” they’d like to change about themselves before it’s too late. Thanks for dropping by.

      Like

  7. Elyse says:

    Can I go on the record as strongly uncertain? Both of my parents had open caskets. Horrible, horrible tradition. Neither body looked like they did in life. They were creepy looking, like out of a horror show.

    My sisters were both cremated. I was with Beth at the end, and know that she is gone. I didn’t see Judy’s body beforehand. I keep seeing her wherever I go. She died suddenly, unexpectedly. I dream at night (around her birthday) that it was all a mistake …

    So I think that the viewing (in whatever way it happens) helps folks accept that the person is truly gone.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      Elyse, what a motivating testimony for open casket. All of the research I did indicated that he funeral rituatl was EXACTLY for that purpose: to help the living get on with living by acknowledging THIS IS DEATH. It seemed strange, but as you so willingly shared, there seems to be a purpose to it and it sometimes works. Thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wait… They’re not called ‘funeral parlors’ anymore? When did that change? And living funeral? Good grief.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      Great question, Jaqui. I had to look it up. It seems that when Americans began hosting funerals outside the home and the front sitting parlor was no longer used, then that room slowly morphed to “family living rooms”. And the funeral industry changed too, since few people had “parlors” anymore, they became funeral homes. More palatable I guess.

      Like

  9. Alice Lynn says:

    You seem to always hit on a subject that brings up a lot of emotion, thought, and memories of funerals past. I’m deciding which pre-paid cremation package I’m going to buy in advance so the family won’t be left trying to figure it out when they’re dealing with the issues attendant upon a death.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      Hey, Alice. Just a heads-up on a piece of research I ran into. Read ALL of the fine print on the pre-paid package. Some places only supply goods and services at the “contracted market rate.” So let’s say you buy a package today, but go the the great beyond ten-fifteen years from now..some places will only allow a casket (cremation or whatever) at the 2016 rate and the family must make up the difference. It’s the funeral home’s way of accounting for inflation. Make sure you’re locking in prices if that’s what you want.

      And how smart of you to deal with these things. Most of us want to deny or not think about them and leave others with the task. You’re a good woman.

      Like

  10. jono says:

    Toast me and toss me. Cremate me a put my cremains somewhere symbolic. I don’t want to take up any room when there are so many who need the space.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      Sweetie cat, I think you deserve some space. At least, please take some digitally. It’s people like you who need to be remembered long after you’ve jumped off this planet circling the sun.

      Like

  11. Roxie says:

    I want my body donated to the med school. Mostly they get homeless men, They will be glad to have a middle-class female to work through. And instead of a funeral, I want people to have one more tea party. Everyone bring cakes and cookies! And take home your cup and saucer.

    The part about regular funerals I like the least is the viewing. It just creeps me out. I don’t have any last things to say to the deceased. Every time I say goodby, I do it knowing that life is uncertain and I might never see you again. I don’t need to see your painted shell to accept that you’re gone.

    Like

    • Alice Lynn says:

      Yeah the viewing is creepy. I’m always afraid that image will be the one that comes to mind when I think of the deceased.

      Like

    • Barb says:

      Painted shell. I love that image. So true. Fifty-six percent of Americans are expected to choose cremation by 2020. It rises to 70% by the year 2030. So the viewing /painting process will most likely become a rare ritual unless you’re the leader of a country. And truly, you do give a good-solid goodbye hug. Ten seconds long, right?

      Like

  12. I really, really hate it when either the person I knew is invisible. Either the clergy officiating didn’t know them, or they gloss over the complete person to the point where I wonder whether I should check that I am at the right funeral.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      How weird is that? And did you stay or walk out? I attended a “cowboy” funeral once and there were fiddlers and a big empty dance floor with lots of people sitting around the edges looking confused. The music was so loud I couldn’t even have a good visit with people. The grown children of the deceased explained, “Dad always said to throw a big party when he died.”

      His kids took his words literally. I guess no one ever told them the after-ceremonies are for the grieving living–not the dead. Strange how funerals aren’t a SIMPLE process anymore.

      Like

  13. I used to hate funerals with a passion when I was a kid, but when my mother died 20+ years ago, my perspective changed. For the first time, I realized and appreciated the importance of the healing process provided by the caring of family and friends. However, I refused to let a minister who had never met my non church-going mother to give the main talk. I did it myself, and found solace in knowing my words were a balm to the people who knew and loved my mother.

    Me? I’m going to be cremated, and don’t want any muss and fuss. The muss and fuss is for the living, and if anyone wants to do or say anything nice? Let them do it while I’m still breathing.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      How amazing that you were able to deliver the eulogy. That’s a powerful load to carry and help unburden others. I hope–if you’re cremated–you consider leaving some trace that you walked the earth: a headstone?, a plaque?, a building with your name on it? One my other readers quoted her father as saying: “Someday, someone will want to stand in front of your grave.” I think that may be true. It seems the older we get, the more we want to know “where and from whom we came from.”

      Until then…I hope everyone is fussing over you now.

      Like

  14. JSD says:

    Like everyone I know, I don’t like funerals at all. I especially dislike when the hell-fire and damnation talk has absolutely nothing to do with the deceased and given by someone who has never met them and is not familiar with them. At one funeral where this was the case, the minister who was brought in to speak made a point of meeting before the service with any of the family members who wanted input. He got to know the deceased from their perspective and realized the somewhat dysfunctional dynamics surrounding the deceased. The minister was then able to offer a talk that really was appropriate and comforting to the family.

    Like

  15. Mary jean rivera says:

    I really dont like when the preacher gives a hell fire and damnation talk (not even my denomination!), especially when they obviously didnt know they deceased but some pious relative made arrangements. I am very uncomfortable for Jews and “unaffiliated.” A d at Catholic services when communion isnt given to everyone. On the other hand some hymns are tear jerkers.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      I recently attended a funeral and, like you say, it was obvious that the clergy didn’t know the deceased OR any of the family. So he spent 90% of the homily talking about his own mother who had died the previous month. According to my research, the structure of a funeral makes the eulogy/homily a time to share memories. It moves folks deeper into the grieving/healing process. (That’s the purpose of the hymns, too). So in this case, it sounded like the clergyman was still really grieving for his mother. I didn’t know who to feel more sorry for: the deceased’s family or the the grieving priest.

      Like

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