Somber. Sad. Dark. Gloomy.
When we think of a typical funeral, these are the moods that usually come to mind. But, is there a way we can turn a funeral into a joyous event? Can we think about a funeral as a celebration of life and lighten the mood while still maintaining the level of mourning necessary to process such a huge life event?
According to Kel McBride, end-of-life and legacy consultant and founder of Clearly Depart, it is absolutely possible to introduce new elements into our traditional funerals without being irreverent or disrespectful. “Funerals are about the dead, but are for the living. While many want a funeral that is ‘just a big party,’ we must always remember that those left behind will be grieving the loss of the person in their lives. Grief does include sadness, and we should allow time for that in our mourning rituals, no matter how modern and joyous,” she says.
What are some of the elements we can change or add to traditional funerals to keep them more upbeat?
Kel suggests searching online for lists of upbeat songs that can add liveliness to a funeral, such as My Way by Frank Sinatra or Always Look at the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python. Most importantly, Kel encourages her clients to think back to moments in their lives when music was playing and they felt most alive — especially the songs that were playing while they were with the people they love. “The trick, you see, is to choose lively music that is also personal. One of my clients wants Smells Like Teen Spirit played at her funeral because she and a few friends saw Nirvana live in the ’90s. It was one of the best nights of her life,” she says. “Nirvana songs typically won’t show up on a Google search for ‘upbeat songs that can add levity to a funeral,’ but in this case it was her idyllic place and will now celebrate her release from the cycle of life and death.”
Location is another element of the traditional funeral that can offer a more celebratory mood. “Just like weddings have moved out of the church, funerals are moving out of the funeral homes,” Kel says.
Where are they moving to? According to Kel, funerals are held at event centers, social clubs, modified barns, mountain tops, museums, beaches, and even boats. “One of my clients has made a requirement for her funeral to be in the forest. She will be cremated, mixed with a special compost solution, and have a sapling placed ‘in her’ at the ceremony. She said her best memories were in the woods walking among the trees, and she wants to share that love of the forest one more time with those she loved most.”
With grief comes the need for comfort, and many of us find comfort in the food we eat. Food selection can be modified to be more representative of the person we are mourning. “For those who feel that emotion can be put into food, it can be viewed as being filled with either sadness or love — perhaps some of both,” Kel says. “I encourage my clients to note in their wishes what their favorite foods are so their loved ones can share in that when they are gone. Whether it is M&Ms in the candy dishes at the ceremony or a big ol’ spaghetti dinner afterwards, food is often better when personality and joy come through.”
Music, location, and food selections are all pretty obvious elements that could be altered, but what about items sent off with the body? You can always add a little personality to this ritual as well. Kel mentions some ideas for items to send off such as notes from loved ones, golf balls, an artist’s brushes, a mechanic’s tools, iPods, car keys, drawings by children, eyeglasses, harmonicas, and bats. “Batesville Casket Company designed their memory drawers (a small drawer placed into the casket) to fit this memento,” she adds.
By Brittani Dick