First, it is important to distinguish between grief and mourning. Grief is the profound roller coaster of emotions that we feel after a loss. Mourning is how we express those feelings in order to honor those who we have lost. Depending on our culture, we may dress in black, cover all the mirrors in our home and/or not attend to superficial tasks for seven days. Sitting Shiva as it is called, provides a specific time for spiritual and emotional healing when mourners join together usually at home to honor the dead. After seven days, it is then acceptable to get on with “the business of living”. In some Christian cultures, wakes are held and can last for days. The body may be brought into the home for viewing and people gather to memorialize their loved one prior to buriel. In some cases, this is done in a funeral home or chapel and the family will gather there. In cases of green buriels, the body may be shrouded and placed outside, surrounded by the beauty of nature and wildflowers before family and friends gather with shovels to help with interment.
And even with all of the choices we have available to us, sometimes family members are rendered speechless as they are met with only an empty urn to say goodbye to, having either not been privy to their loved one’s final wishes, or sadder still, their loved one’s spouse who vindictively and intentionally withholds information-and the body’s whereabouts- from the rest of the family. Using this type of malicious, passive-aggressive behavior can be psychologically damaging and is morally reprehensible, but legal.
It happens more than people realize.
Then, there are those who do not consider the possible harm that shocking others with their final wishes may have. Take for instance a young mother who died by an overdose when she was nine months pregnant. The family had many choices in how to honor her and her child. They chose to embalm them both and placed the child in her outstretched arms as if she were about to gently toss him up in the air on a fun-filled day at the park. He was dressed like a toddler-not a newborn, complete with tennis shoes, tiny jeans and a plaid shirt. She was adorned in a cheerful dress, sunglasses and sandals laying on a red and white checkered tablecloth on top of faux grass with a picnic basket full of flowers nearby. There was no casket. The family explained that this was their vision of how she and her baby would enjoy the afterlife together.
Hence, in death, as in life, there are many ways to honor and memorialize our loved ones. If we fail to make these choices for ourselves, rest assured that someone else will have the final say in how we will be remembered. It is never too late to write down your final wishes and let someone know where to find this information-with the full knowledge that these wishes can and will change over time. As always, the best place to begin is with the end in mind.
Real tombstones. Courtesy Pinterest.