Not very long ago, when a death occurred in the average middle-class family, the drill was as follows: be sad. Really, really sad. Prostrate with grief preferred.
Back in the day, a total shutdown and withdrawal from the general public was appropriate—and expected. If you were the unfortunate surviving spouse (particularly if you had the misfortune to be female), you were socially required to wear the itchy black full mourning dress for up to a year. From there you were allowed to wear the slightly less itchy black mourning dress for another year. After that period you were allowed, for the remainder of your life, to vary your attire in shades of grey and brown, but generally only if you were fortunate enough to have procured a second spouse.
At the funeral, children were not permitted to play, smile or talk; they had to sit quietly and watch the adults speaking in hushed tones. They were simultaneously forced to be included in the parlour with a deceased and yet excluded from any explanation as to why their family member had inexplicably “gone to sleep.” Is it any wonder that generations of people are so terrified to have, or attend, a funeral?
Enter the Celebration of Life. Whether it was a rebellion against starchy tradition for tradition’s sake or an empowering movement led by the Jessica Mitfords of the world, families have been taking back control of how, when and why they choose to commemorate their loved ones after death. And in the world of self-expression, anything goes.
We now live in a culture that reinforces and encourages the sharing of laughter as well as tears at a memorial. (Tears of laughter are accepted and even encouraged!) We can celebrate a life in conjunction with grieving, which gives a more balanced emotional support network for the bereaved to rely on. Never before has “doing something” provided more opportunities for comfort and acknowledgment of a life lived.
The uptake of cremations has also allowed families greater flexibility in when and where a gathering can take place. Now, more than ever, a “funeral” is designed around the personal side of a person. Quite a concept!
It’s now possible to have your remains made into vinyl records, writing instruments, diamonds or even shot into orbit or deep space! Now that’s putting the “fun” into funeral!
It’s a changing world. How will you celebrate your time on it?