Three words: honesty + basic transparency. What do these describe? The mission motivating Josh Slocum, the Funeral Consumers Alliance national Executive Director. The FCA’s biennial meeting happened in Tucson this month. While attending a full day of the conference sessions, I heard Josh give two talks: ‘State of the FCA’ and ‘Going Green without Going Broke’. He has a dry wit that kills me (sorry), and he is wickedly intelligent. I am so grateful he strongly advocates for funeral consumers (both living and dead) across the country!
The state of the FCA is healthy and Josh happily reported the latest BIG news: his May 2012 interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes. The segment addresses the question: “Should you buy a plot ahead of time?” To which Josh consistently responds, “No.” If you want to learn more about his response and what kind of laws affect you locally, I recommend getting this book: “Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death.”Co-written by Josh and Lisa Carlson, it is an invaluable resource.
A new piece of Josh’s message resonated with me big time: bringing the FCA message about funeral rights to a younger crowd. By younger, I interpreted him to mean the two to four decades old crowd, rather than six to eight. I’m chewing on this idea and how I might be able to help my Southern Arizona FCA chapter achieve outreach to a younger set. He reminded us how the FCA founders were in their 30’s and 40’s with a purpose rooted in social and economic justice.
In the “going green” department, Josh says the best means is “maintaining the right to choose NOT to be a consumer.” So basic and honest, right? And so true. As funeral consumers, in nearly all states (41 to be exact) we can still be our own funeral directors. We can legally and naturally care for our own. Even in the states where a funeral director is required for some piece of the death care process, people can choose to be minimalist consumers with a lighter environmental footprint.
Yes. Most definitely, in fact! Observing simplicity while remembering a life may even foster more meaning and participation. And these happen to be two qualities I wholeheartedly encourage families to adopt during remembrance.
When people openly speak their own final wishes to me (and what a relief when they do!), I often hear this refrain: “I just want my funeral to be a celebration. Nothing big, just simple.” And likewise, families may be following either verbal or written directions for a ‘simple’ memorial. I help guide them toward supportive and unique ceremonial elements to meet this request.
Whether a funeral (body present), memorial (ashes present) or Celebration of Life (party with or without remains) is the ‘final wish’ you or your kin make known, the level of simplicity sought is a personal decision. Someone may even want a living celebration before they transition. Honoring a life legacy while the honoree is still living can be a poignantly wonderful experience.
Amidst these choices, please remember this: simplicity need not mean no ceremony at all. Because truly, any remembrance ceremony is held in support of those grieving. It is a supportive community effort. Ceremony gives us a chance to help carry what may be too big to carry alone: acknowledging loss. And doing so in relevant, personal ways provide deeply meaningful places to begin healing.
This article — highlighting the Celebrant Foundation & Institute where I trained and now instruct — explains an array of possibilities for personal celebrations of a life well lived. Yes, for mourners of a Tarzan enthusiast, it may prove a very cathartic ceremonial element for everyone to howl like Tarzan during a memorial! Or if you loved Big Band music with a passion, why not specify an actual Big swing Band to play at your Celebration of Life?
The more we enter this kind of free and creative final wishes dialogue before a death occurs, the more we may be able to face death humbly, as a natural part of life. Challenging? Maybe. Yet it can be a very healthy and liberating conversation to hold. And the more transparency about the choices, the healthier! A great tool to help families accomplish this sometimes elusive, yet always necessary conversation: Five Wishes. This document can really help serve as a catalyst. There is even a section about funeral or memorial wishes. Properly signed, it meets the legal requirements for advance directives in these states.
I believe we can transform the way we view end of life passages. Today. Not next year or a few years from now. As this article points out, in western culture we are making changes both individually and collectively about how we handle death and remembrance. Says Judith Johnson,
“People are choosing memorial services and celebrations in addition to or instead of a traditional funeral. This allows for a more personalized ritual customized to the particular beliefs and sensibilities of the deceased. It also allows for both mourning the loss of a loved one and celebrating the life he or she lived.”
And I add to her observation: people finding opportunity in holding Celebrations of Life as a support ritual for caregivers, family and friends. A celebration may occur prior to a final transition (aka a Living Funeral) or afterward. The motivation here is tapping into a mutual sense of connection – a safe place to pause, remember or celebrate – in whatever belief framework is relevant.
Image via Wikipedia
Often a person will request no funeral, no service, nothing – in their final wishes. Maybe this is due to being a very private person. It is more likely though, his or her request has more to do with having sat through one too many drawn out funeral services where afterlife of the deceased was the focus, not supporting the mourners through storytelling and truly celebrating the life of someone well-loved.
Here is where I see the opportunity for transformation: shifting our focus. Viewing death as a natural part of life and thereby choosing rituals or services that fit our stories, values and belief systems. It takes work, yes. And I’ll keep posting ideas and resources about why it is worthwhile.