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Pete Aarssen's picture

Are Funerals starting to die out?

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 08:37 -- Pete Aarssen

Like most of you, I have attended more funerals this year than I thought imaginable. In my case, it is not that I consider attending them a burden; I am pleased to extend my condolences and attempt to lift the bereaved a bit by sharing in their suffering and loss. What I mean to say is that I have attended more funerals already this year than I attended all of last year, and there are 5 months to go in 2018! Statistically, there were 264,333 deaths in Canada in 2015 (the most recent data and the highest annual total in recorded history) and with the baby boom generation now well into their retirement years, the forecast, demographically speaking, estimates that as many as 450,000 of them be taking place annually by 2036. That means that those of us able to, will even more frequently attend funerals over the next 20 years! That is, if people continue to make having funeral celebrations a priority. What do I mean? I recently attended a 3 day, national elder planning issues conference in Niagara Falls and have read various articles since that suggest the inclination for people to confront death in the way that we have traditionally done so over the past 50 years, is changing. While traditional funeral celebrations are expected to remain the main form of commemorative funeral events, they are reducing. Celebrations of life, assisted with and often without the aid of a funeral home, family only celebrations and even home-based funerals, legal in Canada, are taking place more than ever before. Death is a natural, unavoidable part of life yet more and more people seem to have increased difficulty confronting the inevitable, or at least confronting it by way of public visitations and open caskets etc. More and more people are choosing celebrations of life, a term that actually avoids the word death entirely often without the remains of the deceased present; while wonderful occasions to pay tribute; primarily by recalling the happy memories of their years past, it leaves little room to acknowledge the sorrow, pain and heartache of a death. A funeral director once said to me “When we allow ourselves to be heartbroken and receive comfort from others, we open ourselves to love”. Bereavement experts suggest people heal better when they confront the reality of their loved one’s death head on - not that it is ever easy. Some go so far as to say that the bereaved, when properly informed and counseled can obtain incredible peace and closure from having prepared the body of their deceased loved one personally. That may be why, almost exclusively in large cities to date, home-based funerals, yes, the deceased being washed and dressed at home by their loved ones and displayed in the living room for a day or two while receiving others before being properly interned; is making a comeback. It is also said that there is added healing power in ritual and ceremony and that inadvertently, many people aren’t tapping into the wealth of bereavement help available by conducting a funeral ceremony at all; one that includes opportunities for visitation of the bereaved (with or without the deceased present) and of course, the ritual of a funeral. While I have my own views on the topic and of course, people have every right to choose how they attend to the death of a loved one, that choice is starting to expand. It deserves being mentioned that despite popular opinion, funerals need not be elaborate and their cost can be modest; managed to meet most anyone’s budget. Even home-based funerals employ some of the services of a funeral home, for transportation and internment for example. So, what about you? Have you considered what form of funeral you’d like? My wife and I have and we continue to discuss our plans now, while we are both alive. We intend to set a plan in place so that when either or both of us die, we will have equipped our surviving family members with the guidance needed to follow our wishes. One that invites them to pay us the last dignity of a final act of expressed love for us that respects our wishes and their needs along the way.

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