What Will Be Shared At Your Funeral?
By Cathy Nichols, Celebrant Coordinator,
Busch Funeral and Crematory Services, Cleveland, Ohio
Resolve to celebrate life while alive! Develop rich relationships with those you love! Deepen those relationships you have with the next generation! These are the folks who will tell your story when you pass away. Do they know you? What will their memories be of you?
Barry Baines, M.D., has written Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper. Baines states, “Legal wills bequeath valuables, ethical wills bequeath values.” He suggests the following simple, yet powerful exercise, linking the generations.
1.Looking back, think of someone who is no longer with us.
2. Write down the unanswered questions you would ask that person.
3. Now, fast forward to the future. Would your children, grandchildren be able to answer the same questions about you?
Celebrants are trained to meet with families for a time of sharing stories that will suggest a theme for the life tribute as they plan their loved one’s funeral. We ask about hobbies, interests, travel, accomplishments, personality etc. We encourage families to participate in the service with their personal reflections. We then design and conduct the service as a celebration of life either in the funeral home or other place of significance such as a favorite park or gathering place. A recent service held at a park gazebo attracted joggers and dog walkers exclaiming “I want a funeral like that!”.
One of the toughest services for me to prepare was the one for a quiet gent who never told his family about his childhood, never spoke about his WWII experiences, never allowed the kids near his HAM radio equipment or beloved classic cars which consumed his interest after his wife passed away. The adult children really could not contribute a lot of information about his life because they did not have much of a relationship with their father, but they wanted a life tribute. So, I researched his WWII records and told those in attendance about the dangerous, technical work this man had done during the war in a very remote part of the world. I could then draw a connection between his Army Air Corps assignment and his interests later in life. The family appreciated getting a better picture of their father and began to understand why he was such a reserved man. They came up to me afterwards stating, “I learned a lot about him!” They resolved to begin telling their life stories to their children that very day!
Using Baines’ suggestion we can begin to do this with our own families.
1. What are some meaningful stories from your past? Lessons learned? Regrets?
2. What are your values and beliefs? Expressions of gratitude? Faith community?
3. And, looking into the future, what are your hopes and dreams for the present and future generations? Advice and guidance?
These are suggestions of how to get started on this important task. We Baby Boomers like to personalize our laptops and phones according to our interests and our cars boast clever license plates, why not personalize your funeral by sharing your wishes with your family before they are faced with those tough decisions at a difficult time? Make it your goal this year to begin this process with your family so that your life and theirs can be celebrated!