I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. After 30 funerals in 30 days, to quote The Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it’s been.
No, my circle of family and friends has not been decimated. I did not personally know any of these people, but met them through the local obituaries. I documented their goodbye services on The Family Plot Blog as the 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge.
As the self-proclaimed “Doyenne of Death,” I undertook this challenge for three reasons:
- To illustrate the many creative ways people celebrate the lives of those they love,
- To help reduce a fear of talking about death – something that will happen to all of us, and
- To show that funerals are a life cycle event much like a wedding, best planned more than a few days in advance.
I have witnessed such a wide range of events, both religious and non-religious.
Early on, there was Howard Strunk’s memorial luncheon at a bowling alley bar. Josie the bartender put it together because Howard’s wife didn’t want to have a funeral for him. Memorial services are for community, not just for the family.
Sam Baxter’s celebration at Balloon Fiesta Park took the cake for Memorial Service of the Month. He brought the Adams family of balloons to New Mexico in the 1980s. As his first two Adams balloons stood tethered, the several hundred assembled let fly a raft of multi-colored helium balloons. Then more than two-dozen hot air balloons took flight on a perfect day for flying, followed by a tailgate party of grand proportions.
Erika Langholf’s celebration of life was exactly that. The event at a funeral home chapel combined laughter and tears, with many stories told by family and friends. She was born in 1958, and the music reflected the era in which she came of age, including Queen, Rod Stewart, Journey, and, reflective of Erika’s keen sense of humor, “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum.
Even within the confines of an established ritual, funerals can be personalized.
Lonnie Chavez’s funeral at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church followed the form for a funeral Mass. However, as soon as I walked into the church, I could tell Lonnie was a Dallas Cowboys fan. From the blue casket with the team logo and blue and white flower arrangements, to both the deceased and the pallbearers in Cowboys football jerseys, what a way to ride off into the sunset.
Here are a few statistics from the 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge:
- The oldest person memorialized was a 90-year-old; the youngest was a 25-year-old.
- Sixteen of the deaths could be considered expected (long-term illness or advanced age) and 14 were unexpected (heart attack, stroke, accident, or medical mishap).
- Of all the event locations, 11 were at a funeral home, six were at houses of worship, five were in cemeteries, and eight were held in other settings, including at a private residence, at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Park, in a Japanese garden, at an open space picnic area, and at the German American Club.
- Thirteen of the events (nearly half) were creative celebrations of life with little or no religious references, or some spiritual readings but not a religious service.
Of the 30 events, almost half of these deaths were unexpected. Since we never know when our number will be up, it’s vital to have a conversation today about how you’d like your life to be celebrated. Time may be shorter than we may think.
Gail Rubin is a Certified Celebrant who brings light to a dark subject and helps get funeral planning conversations started. Her award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die (Light Tree Press), was ForeWord Reviews’ Book of the Year Award finalist in the Family & Relationships category. The book is available in print and ebook formats at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and at AGoodGoodbye.com.
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