Saturday, March 20, 2010
Funeral Stress- A Don't
Whether you are planning a memorial service, funeral, graveside ceremony or wake, do me a favor and let yourself off the hook. Seriously, right now. Let go of the expectations you have placed upon yourself to honor your loved one perfectly. I'll let you in on a hard-earned truth here- no matter how meticulously you plan an end-of-life service, it will not be flawless. The sooner you accept this, the better off you will be.
An imperfect farewell does not mean you didn't do a magnificent job. You will still certainly offer a beautiful goodbye to this person you so deeply loved. You will still give those who attend, the chance to learn a little more about him or her and pay their respects. It's not a pass/fail proposition. Remember there can be beauty in the unexpected.
The imperfections might be the most healing parts of a service, or at least provide some much-needed comic relief. Before I give you an example, I have to tell you this really happened. I was there. As much as it seems like an SNL skit, it's actually the truth. When my great-uncle Bill (not his real name) died, his wife Beulah (also an alias) planned his service with care. A devout evangelical, it was important to her that certain hymns and scripture be included. However, when the sound system malfunctioned, Beulah's plans were threatened. Her daughter stood waiting at the altar, unable to sing the song Beulah had chosen. "I'm sorry, Mama, I don't think this will work", she said to her mother in the front pew. To this, Beulah replied over the feedback, "You will not win, Satan! We will have His word!" There was silence in the chapel. My cousin and I were to the side, scheduled to sing later in the service. We looked at each other, eyes wide, as if to say, "Am I imagining this?" Suddenly, more feedback. Beulah then snapped to her feet, fist in the air, screaming at the top of her mighty lungs, "I KNEW you were going to try and ruin this for me! Evil will not triumph! Satan, you cannot defeat ME!!!! YOU WILL NOT WIN!!!!" Her one-sided conversation with the devil went on, but so did the service. My uncle's life was honored and our family spent the rest of the day together, sharing stories about this wonderful man.
Apparently my family's not the first to sit in stunned silence during such a time. Georgette Jones told me how unsettling she found the first words spoken at the funeral for her mother, the beloved . "Ladies and gentleman", the preacher said, "Tammy Wynette has left the building." Georgette remembers, "My sister Jackie and I just shook our heads. We were so embarrassed."
This is not to say it doesn't matter what happens at your loved one's funeral. Of course you want it to go well, and to include the aspects of their life they held most dear. It can be very moving to listen to the deceased's favorite hymn, hear old war stories from their Army buddies, or have their grandchildren give the eulogy. If you can reassemble your loved one's old band, by all means, have them play! But if you're like most people, you are doing well to remember to brush your teeth when you wake up. (That's assuming you've gotten any sleep in the first place.)
You may very well be in the most vulnerable condition of your life. Why take on the pressure to organize an event that would rival a State Dinner? Would you plan a formal wedding in less than a week? Of course not. Trust me, no one would ask that of you now. So why ask it of yourself? Go easy on yourself and embrace that whatever happens will be good enough. More than good enough.
If you have people there to help, consider delegating tasks to them. Food, music, flowers, etc., can be assigned more easily than meetings with clergy or funeral directors. Also, if leaving the house is too taxing for you right now, ask if these meetings can be held in your home. All they can do is say no, and they just might say yes!
Once you remove the expectation of perfection, you might find the activity of planning to be less stressful. It can even be a tremendous comfort to do this for the person you have lost. It doesn't have to be your final goodbye. You can take all the time you need to do that.