Thursday, September 11, 2008

Death, funerals and grief

Are people who do it control freaks or are they just susceptible to the marketing practices of some funeral directors?

Do what? Arrange their funeral that’s what. A few generations ago grandma lay in the front room, someone washed the body, friends and neighbours paid their respects and supported the grieving. There was little planning as funerals were similar, the minister knew the deceased and cemeteries were often beside the church.

Funeral directors, as with all commercial enterprises, look for new ways to increase their profit and many years ago they convinced us, for ease and hygiene, to take grandma out of the family parlour. Be modern they told us, bring her to our parlour, save all the worry and show your friends and neighbours how sophisticated you are.

Well, maybe not those exact words, but the result was the same and grandma was taken off our hands and another layer separated us from death: they are doing it again.

As a result of suggestions, adverts, and free books for funeral planning, it seems already 5% of Kiwis are arranging their own funerals. Adverts tell us how helpful it will be for our grieving and stressed family. Nonsense. Funeral rituals are for the living, a vital part of our grieving process.

Planning the funeral helps us move through the beginnings of grieving healthily. Getting in touch with the all the feelings that such planning exposes is painful but helpful – it also gives us another chance to express love. Conversely, it allows us to work through feelings that are not so love-based. After all not all funerals we are involved with will be for people we love absolutely. Working through those so-called negative feelings is important too: relief, guilt and anger are just a few we may have.

Children also benefit by being involved. As a bereavement counsellor, I was often told how younger members of a family came up with a suggestion that really struck a chord and the adults grasped it with appreciation. As with the adult’s grief, children too are helped by being involved, so don’t remove them from the rituals. Reading a poem about grandma at her service not only involves the child but also allows the expression of their grief.

Sitting beside my husband’s coffin I was horrified at the sight of my daughter walking back into Rehua Marae with her beautiful long, blonde hair gone. Her gift to her stepfather was to place her hair in his coffin. Where, at twelve, she found that idea I have no idea but she's still happy with her gesture of love.

‘They’ say time heals. Not true: it’s what we do with the time that does the healing, and working through the funeral planning is just part of the doing.

The amount of money spent on a funeral does not equate with love, however the appropriateness of the funeral rites, showing we have really thought about the person does equate with love. It’s also possible to have an economical funeral that is sensitive to our needs so get quotes for all or parts of the funeral: in fact the funeral process and service or ceremony can be undertaken by anybody. A funeral director, undertaker, or minister of religion is not required by law at any stage: nor is embalming.

Despite simple legal requirements, they can appear overwhelming, especially when we add our perceptions about what’s required. We must have:
· a death certificate, issued by a Doctor, showing the cause of death or, a coroners burial certificate
· the body must be contained in a coffin or other suitable container – solid enough to be handled by the pall bearers
· burial must be in an area permitted by law or cremated in an approved crematorium

Then, within three days of the burial or cremation, the following forms must be lodged with the Register of Births and Deaths.
· death registration form
· medical certificate as to cause of death, or the coroner's burial order

And that’s all. A helpful friend can be delegated, or may offer, to get these certificates and take them to the Register of Births Deaths and Marriages.

So if you think you will help your family by planning your funeral, think again – you may be delaying their grief process just as pills, or alcohol, do.

To help, leave money to pay for the rituals if you can, and make sure you have talked about death, and organ donation, with your family then leave it up to them. After all, our bodies belong to our next of kin when we’re dead: don’t try to control them – they don’t have to do what you planned!

I look forward to a conversation with you about this blog!

©Heather Hapeta 2008

Heather, previously an alcohol and drug therapist, studied bereavement counselling under Mel McKissock at the Bereavement CARE Centre in Sydney Australia. She then worked for the Canterbury Bereaved by Suicide Society for four years, had a private practise in Napier, and was a founder member of NALAG NZ (National Association of Loss and Grief).

She is currently working on a book about suicide grief, continues to write travel pieces, and her book, Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad, was published in 2007

Post a Comment