Dozens of family and friends gathered at the church to remember and celebrate Eileen, a longtime special education teacher for Grand Rapids Public Schools, a world traveler, a teddy bear collector (she had at least one or a dozen bears in every room of her house) and an avid reader (she read all the way through her library's selection of books up through the letter "M").
Almost every day someone tells me, “I don’t want any type of service when I die.” And I immediately think to myself (and sometimes actually say), “What if it’s not about you? What if a memorial service exists for the living, not for the deceased? For your family, your friends, your community members?”
That's often the first question people ask the owners and employees of Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes after finding out who they work for and what they do for a living. It's usually that followed by an awkward silence, a subtle rebuff, a rapid-fire interrogation ("You actually touch dead bodies? Do you believe in zombies? Have you ever accidentally buried someone alive?") or, on occasion, genuine interest.
We had the privilege of speaking about green burials last night at Making Choices Michigan, a local non-profit organization that helps people determine their end-of-life preferences, document those preferences in an advance directive (AD) and develop a system for storing and retrieving the AD.
Something that we encourage families to consider is whether a graveside ceremony or service could be included in the memorial planning. Families who’ve included this element have found value in it, and here’s some of the reasons why:
1. Taking the Final Step – Going to the cemetery as a family isn't necessarily about words spoken or the amount of time spent there; it is about taking this final step and accompanying a loved one to their final earthly resting place. Additionally, this place that is often visited in the future is framed with this memory of a meaningful experience there.
2. Community Acknowledgment – When our community recognizes and has to yield for a funeral procession, or even when they pass by a cemetery and see a crowd gathered there, it causes them to stop for a moment and acknowledge the loss of life. Supporting those who’ve experienced a loss begins by acknowledging a loss, and a graveside service is a poignant and meaningful step in that process.
3. Military Honors – Honors can be conducted at the funeral home or church, but there is something uniquely meaningful about conducting graveside military honors. The flag-draped casket rests in natural surroundings, and the flag is folded and presented with family and friends closely gathered round at a graveside ceremony.
4. A Final Message to Send – We offer families an opportunity to write a final message on the casket. We provide markers for children to trace their hand, draw a picture, or leave a short note, and families who’ve experienced this have commented that these acts of closure are simultaneously a step forward in the healing process.
5. Witness an Interment – Watching a casket being lowered into the ground is important to some families, and it is a somber yet solemn experience that can be profoundly meaningful.
There certainly may be circumstances that warrant a delayed or unattended burial. However, we do encourage each family to also consider the benefits of accompanying their loved one to their place of final rest because we’ve heard the positive benefits of doing so from those who’ve included this as part of their loved one’s memorial.
The short answer rarely answers the question - take the confusion away by understanding the various costs associated with burial, cremation and memorial events
A few days after Grandma Dot passed away, we gathered as a family to “view” her at her visitation. As we walked into the room, Avery let go of my hand and ran up to the casket. Putting her little hands on the side, she pulled herself up in order to get a glimpse of what was inside.