In 1963, Lesley Gore sang, “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to …” and soared to number one on the pop, rhythm, and blues charts. Today the catch phrase, “It’s my party …” is often used to express someone’s considered opinion that they should have their own way about something. Unfortunately, when you apply that to funerals, it doesn’t always work.
All too often, the person for whom the funeral will be held expresses wishes before their death that they really want their family to follow. Sadly enough, they do not realize that the funeral, although about them and because of them, is not for them. Funerals are for the living and serve as only one of many steps toward accepting the loss of someone you love. To be emotionally held to wishes that do not meet a family’s needs can cause even greater problems years after a death occurs. On the one hand, the family may feel an obligation to follow the wishes of their loved one and may experience a great deal of guilt if they do not. On the other hand, the dying family member may believe they are acting in the best interests of everyone involved, but they truly may not understand what their family needs once they are gone.
Is it easier not to meet with other family members and friends at a visitation, not to stand or sit for hours greeting people who share your sense of loss? Is it difficult to attend a funeral or memorial service and feel the strong emotions that come at death? Of course it is—in the short term, but in the long run, that greeting and sharing of memories and that reflection on a life lived offers a time of strength and support that reminds those closest to the death that they are not alone. Their grief is shared by others who also need a time and a place to come together and remember, to celebrate the life that was. We are not solitary creatures, we do not live in a bubble where our lives are only affected by our circumstances. To quote the English poet John Donne, “No man is an island.” In this instance, what is true in life is also true in death.