Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Funerals, I had decided, are for the living.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

This is probably a bit morbid of a post, but ever since I read The Fault in Our Stars and encountered the quote above, it's frequently been on my mind how true that is. Not just that, but I've started thinking about how people view funerals in general.

I've dealt with death more than I would have liked over the course of my lifetime. I'm not just talking about people I was close to either. I've had more than my fair share of relatives die, but I was also an altar server at my church and had to serve at complete strangers funerals while in elementary and middle school. Those funerals were always awkward. I was always acutely aware that everyone around me was mourning while I didn't know the person at all, and I was always horribly afraid that I would screw up and mess up the person they loved's funeral. Looking back on it now that fear sounds somewhat ridiculous. I don't think anyone there was very considered about what one of the servers was doing at any given time, and I'm not too sure you can screw up a funeral unless you do it purposefully by interrupting or causing a scene. No one's main concern during a funeral is whether or not it's going perfectly. In fact, a priest at our church once told my dad that he prefers presiding over a funerals than weddings. He said the reason was that everyone at a funeral knows exactly why they're there while everyone at weddings is up-tight, on edge, and completely forgetting the point of the entire thing. You're most certainly aware of the point at a funeral.

To me funerals have become a strange concept though. Theoretically, they're for mourning. You use the funeral to grieve over the person you've lost, but I can't say I've ever really used a funeral that way. In my lifetime I've cried at exactly one funeral I've attended, and it was the one for my great uncle. I've lost grandparents, a cousin, an aunt, more people than I would care to think about, but my great uncle was probably one of the more distant ones on the list. So why did I cry? My great uncle passed away about a week or so before my Grandma Ambs. At his funeral, she was basically on her death bed, and I was extremely aware of that throughout his entire funeral. This makes me feel like a bad person a bit, but I was crying more for her than I was him. Yet when it came time for my grandma's funeral, I didn't cry a bit. I'd already done my mourning.

In fact, I didn't even cry after learning my grandam was dead. I was at my friend's house at the time when my mom called. My friend's mom didn't tell us what was up, but I knew my grandma was dying and we could hear my friends mom giving my mom her sympathies in the other room. I knew what had happened. I remember looking at my friend and saying, "My grandma's dead," much more matter-of-factly than you would have perhaps expected from a fourteen year old. She said she was sorry, but I brushed it off and we went to do something else. When I got home and was actually told, I was a bit close to tears, but for the most part I honestly felt relief more than anything. The event I had been dreading happening was finally over. I think I cried one more time that night before I was done.

I don't want to go through every death I've ever experience in this post, but my grandma's more or less shows just how I reacted to every death in my life. I still get a bit teary if I dwell on their deaths too long, but overall, I was down with the vast majority of my mourning before the funeral came days later.

Yet funerals are for the living. They're meant to provide closure and a sense that the person really is gone. Personally, I think I get that closure just from knowing about the death. When my aunt died a year and a half ago, I wasn't able to go to the funeral. I didn't see the body or get the funeral experience, but I did my mourning and feel just as much closure as I feel I would have gotten otherwise. I suppose my mind works differently from others. Others need to actually see something to get the concept of death. Maybe I read too many books with death or something, but I've always gotten it without a tangible reminder.

I completely agree with the quote at the top of this post. I really do. But only in the way that I see that others need such closure. I do think funerals do much more for the living than the dead. The different ways people grieve is actually very intriguing to me. Some people need funerals and some don't. Either way, I find it fascinating how different people approach the concept of funerals.

I really have no idea what this post has become because it honestly took an entirely different path than I had planned. Believe it or not, I think it actually became more morbid than I had expected. I'll leave this as it is though, and maybe I'll write the post I had planned another day instead. Overall, I feel like death is a much more taboo subject than it should be, so while I don't know what exactly this post has become, I'm letting it stay. Death can be a terrible thing, but it's a part of life and funerals are a part of life. And in trying to conclude this post I'm going even farther of topic than before, so I don't know what this post as been, but there are some thoughts.


  1. MY father died last week. At home, in his bed with my mom holding his hand. No terminal illness, his body just finally got old and stopped and he knew it was happening. In the days right before his death, we had a chance to hear him say I love you, tell him what we wanted. Laugh sitting around him on his bed,,,,After he died, we saw him. We knew he was gone and all that was left was his body. We had no funeral, no obituary, did a a direct cremation per his wishes and scattered his ashes to a river 48 hours later with just my mother, my brother and our spouses. A funeral was not needed. Two days after his death was my parents 55th anniversary. We cried a little, but told stories and laughed. My dad is a part of me and I don't need to have a funeral, a cemetery or a monument to tell me that. Hospitals and funerals are a result of death moving away from the family and the family away from the person. They are not needed.

    1. I'm very sorry about your father. I definitely agree with you in a lot of ways. I have no problem with funerals if that's what the person's loved ones want. I think they can be helpful with getting closure to a lot of people, but I certainly don't think they are necessary or something that have to be done. There are plenty of other ways to get closure. Scattering the ashes, for example, probably accomplished the same sort of thing a funeral would have for other people.