Celebrating death

No service by request 

Life is a terminal condition. None of us get out of this world alive.

Death, dying, and grief aren’t the most popular topics in our society.

Each of us entered this world through the doorway called birth, and each of us will depart via the doorway called death.

So much surrounding death is misunderstood, and remains a mystery. We try to sanitize it, to make it more comfortable, wanting to move quickly onto more pleasant topics.

The fact is, while death is natural, it is hard because it represents loss. It’s an unavoidable fact.

Grief expert Alan Wolfelt captured it so beautifully when he wrote, “grief is love’s twin.”We grieve because we have loved.

As a nurse, minister, and hospice volunteer, I’ve become comfortable in conversations about death, dying, and grief.  I’ve learned so much, as I choose to move closer when the topic arises.

While I don’t want my family to get stuck in grief, I sure hope I’ve made enough of a difference that they’ll miss me and be sad by my departure. They’ll need support in this. I hope they hold a big party, play all of my favourite tunes, and tell Mom stories.

I’ve journeyed with many in the messy process of grief, and witness additional suffering of the bereaved because of an increasingly common trend of ‘no service by request.”

It’s becoming increasingly common to hear there’s no service at the request of the deceased.

While I want to remain sensitive on the subject, I think there’s more to consider.

People have many reasons for deciding they don’t want a service held to commemorate their passing, yet it’s those left behind who often bear the burden of no service.

I clearly remember the conversation between my husband, Tom, and his mother, when she told him she didn’t want a service following her passing. She was annoyed at the cost, and said most of her friends were already gone, so she preferred no service be held. Always a quiet woman, she didn’t want a fuss made.

Tom took a big breath, as he looked his Mom square in the eye and said, “At that point, Mom, it’s not about you, it’s about us.”

He explained, while she would no longer be here, those who loved her would remain behind. Her passing would make a big difference in our lives. We would need something, a reason to pause, to gather, and remember.

Mom understood, and so a compromise was reached. Her service would be small, only held at the graveside, and attendance would be limited. We would gather as a family and close friends, and hold a barbecue on her dime. And that’s what we did.

When this great woman passed, we did what we’d always done as a family:

  • we gathered
  • we ate
  • we talked about Mom
  • we cried
  • we laughed.

We paused and remembered.

What was most important for us, as we mourned the passing of a woman we loved so much, was to be together, to remember, to support one another, and to be supported.

I’ve worked with many people who feel stuck in their ability to grieve because there’s been no service; no reason to pause, to gather, to grieve, and to celebrate a life that mattered to them.

Some people end up having to do something, even years later, to support themselves in their process with grief.

Whatever’s held doesn’t have to be the traditional funeral service; it can be a simple family gathering, such as we did with Tom’s Mom. I’ve held services on sundecks, in backyards, in wineries, and in living rooms.

One family held a weekend camping trip in honour of their loved one. I love this idea. Some celebrate on a significant day, months later, in a manner fitting the personality of the person who passed. There’re so many ways it can be done.

If your loved one requests no service, be willing to have the conversation. Be willing to negotiate and find a solution honouring everyone needs, such as Tom did with his Mom.

I’m so glad he did.

I encourage you, whatever it is you decide upon, to do something. Find a way to pause, to gather, and to remember.

Being willing to consider this often taboo topic, to have the conversations, and to support ourselves when dealing with loss is important. It’s never too late to hold a service of remembrance.


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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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