Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thoughts on NZ funeral culture

Attending funerals hasn't been high on my list of things to do in recent years.  My medication tends to make me pretty poor company at such times. But we went to one recently with the Village Barbershop chorus in honour of the man who founded our little group before we came here.

Once more I was reminded how I feel our NZ funeral practices fail us. I am all in favour of so-called "secular" funerals if that is appropriate for the bereaved family. But when the event, whether "religious" or not, highlights only the life of the deceased and seems to not even notice that s/he has actually died, that's nothing to do with being "secular", it's a terrible way to treat death. And although the bereaved will gain a lot from a worthy celebration of a well-lived life I am disturbed that sometimes they are assured that their loved one is still around them, watching them. 

There's a kind of dishonesty about this. We are kidding ourselves. The reality is, "Sorry, everyone, somebody has died here. S/he may have had a wonderful life but is now gone. Part of the reason for our getting together is to acknowledge that fact. And the awful sense of loss that follows from it.

The funeral ceremonial must also address death.  It needs to answer some of our questions. And, hopefully, it might offer some strategies by which people could begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and move on. A good funeral will set a climate in which grief can be properly expressed. Just getting together to share a bunch of happy memories doesn't always do that.

We watched the award-winning animated feature UP on television the other night. It offered a stunning insight into the nature of bereavement and learning to live again without a partner. The bereaved hero spent most of the film trying to fulfil his dead wife's lifetime dream, but in failing, he learned that he needed to move on with a new adventure instead. I wish some of that insight could seep into some of our lamentable funeral culture in this country.

Of course it's not easy. So we need a funeral to help us all accept the reality of death and loss and, having done that, move on. 

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