When families and friends get involved in the activities around the funeral and take charge of it, something happens. By reclaiming the funeral they can make meaning of their loss, of that someone who is precious and is gone.
Chat to your funeral director about this. They should be open to working with you on this.
Family involvement can be applied to traditional, contemporary and green funerals. There are lots of ways to be as involved as you wish and feel able to be. You can be involved in making the arrangements, caring for the body, preparing for the funeral ceremony, choosing words and music, decorating the coffin or the space. We describe some of these below:
Listen to an extract from a radio interview with Simon Smith of Heart & Soul Funerals and Green Fuse talking about Family participation:
I want to say how much I appreciated all your support. You helped us to create a beautiful and moving celebration of L’s being. You achieved a fine balance in your guidance and you eased the interactions between the family and friends which was so important. We all truly came together on the day for L. may you continue your extraordinary work with grace and blessings.” BB (client of Heart & Soul Funerals / Green Fuse)
Involve family and friends
Not only family, but also friends may like to be involved in helping to arrange the funeral, providing food for the gathering after, bearing the coffin, decorating a space, saying something, making a slide show, looking after the family with food, shopping, solace. This is a real opportunity for a community to be involved and we would really encourage you to allow people to do things for you because they want to. One family with 5 children had a meal cooked for them by a variety of people every Wednesday for 6 months after the father died. Not only was the food welcome, but the feeling of being cared for and loved was very important and appreciated.
It is a good idea to encourage bereaved children to be involved in the preparations for the funeral and the funeral itself, without making it an obligation. A close death is unsettling and can make a child feel powerless.
There is often a dilemma as to whether children should be put through the ‘ordeal’ of attending the funeral of a parent, grandparent or sibling. Research has shown that children do benefit from involvement.
Children and funerals – This article looks at the results of the ‘Iceberg’ project: a UK study of 100 individuals who suffered the bereavement of a parent before they were 18.
It is generally not advisable to ‘protect’ children from the reality of death, but instead to give them clear and factual information suitable to their age, avoiding confusion and scope to imagine things and to discuss the funeral arrangements with them.
- make pictures or notes to go in the coffin
- make a posy of flowers to go on or in the coffin
- make a drape for the coffin or help to decorate it
- be present at a viewing of the body or vigil, having prepared them with clear information about what they will see
- choose a poem, reading, music or song for the funeral
- read, sing or play music at the funeral
- make petals from flowers to go in the grave
- help to decorate the funeral venue
- give ideas for the design of the ceremony sheet
- be involved in the scattering or internment of the ashes
Holding a vigil
You may wish to spend some time with the person who has died to say your last goodbyes. It is a time when you can gather, take your time and reminisce as a family, or just sit quietly with an open or closed coffin. Or if you wish you may hold a vigil at your home, or in church or where the funeral is to be held. Keeping a vigil the night before the funeral is an ancient ritual and a powerful experience. It gives a chance to say goodbye, reminisce, laugh and cry, and often enables mourners to be more present on the day of the funeral. The coffin can be open or closed.
Talk to the funeral director beforehand so that they can let you know what to expect.
Research has shown that people rarely regret seeing the body of the person who has died, even in challenging circumstances, if they can talk through what they are going to see.
Including children at the vigil
Consider having children come and see the person who has died. You could set up the room with the coffin at a height they can see over, have lots of drawing paper and coloured pens available to them. Having pets around can also help, so they have a distraction if they want.
Actually seeing the person, especially if their last experience was of Granny or Mum with lots of activity, tubes and monitors around her, can allay their fears and stop their imaginations conjuring up frightening images. But it is important that the child has choice. If the child is offered the opportunity to view the body but chooses not to, then this must be respected, the important thing being given the opportunity gives some control over a life which at that point feels chaotic and out of control.
Bearing the coffin
Many families and friends choose to bear the coffin to the funeral or the last resting place, as a final act of love. When asked, most people feel honoured to participate. It keeps the funeral intimate and close to those who loved the person who has died. Depending on the weight of the load, there can be 4 or 6 bearers, and of course women can participate too.
Do different heights matter?
If you want to carry on your shoulders, then as long as there isn’t one person much shorter or much taller (say 3 or more inches) than everyone else, this should be fine. The important thing is being able to organise yourselves in equal height pairs.
And if you carry low (by the handles – and make sure that you ask for a coffin with weight-bearing handles) then different heights makes no difference.
Family and friends bearing a coffin low
Carry me upon your friendly shoulders and walk slowly to the deserted field. Take me not to the crowded burying ground lest my slumber be disrupted. Carry me to the special field and dig my grave where violets and poppies grow not in each other’s shadow.”
Some families want to take total control of the funeral, making all the arrangements, transporting and caring for the body of the person who has died themselves, devising and holding a ceremony. There is a burgeoning home funeral movement in California.
If you wish to do this, you will need to find a funeral director who is open to these ideas.
Also you may find this book, We Need To Talk About The Funeral, a useful resource.
You can download a free copy from Heart & Soul Funerals web site. Click here for details.
I found doing everything ourselves very therapeutic and uplifting. Thank you for your help. Go on encouraging green DIY burial!”
Angie (client of Heart & Soul Funerals / Green Fuse)