Thursday, May 19, 2011

Funeral Planning

My great grandmother passed away recently (unsurprisingly, and in a very peaceful manner) and the task of preparing an obituary of sorts to be distributed at the funeral service has fallen on my younger sister. This has been difficult for her for several reasons, and I have been trying to help her sort it out.

First it's a bit challenging to write a celebration of someone's life when they've been struggling with age and Alzheimer's for a majority of the time you've been alive. This can be solved relatively easily though, by speaking to friends and other family members and learning about the things that mattered to that person in life. What my sister has really been struggling with is trying to please everyone in regards to the religious content of what she is making.

The majority of this branch of the family views themselves as Christian. In general, they don't attend church or adhere to most of the behavioral or philosophical guidelines of Christianity. Regardless, they have been known to take their beliefs quite seriously if the subject comes up. My sister is non-religious, but unsure of her beliefs. She would prefer to leave religion out entirely and focus the attention on the woman in question, but she is concerned that a lack of religious trappings will create something of a shit storm amongst the nominal-yet-extremely-passionate-Christian relatives.

Now it would not be difficult to paint whatever she writes with the glossy coat of religious observance. Add the Lord's Prayer or maybe a few psalms, toss in a few references to angels bringing her home and her being with her loved ones up in the clouds and you're good. My sister considered these things, and felt that the Bible passages had nothing to do with her great-grandma, and religious platitudes would just be condescending.

Those are her conclusions, by the way. When she said she didn't want to say anything like 'the angels called her home', I was trying to be very diplomatic and not let my atheism take over the conversation. I just asked her what about it made her uncomfortable, and she fired right back with 'It's so condescending. That's the kind of stuff you tell little kids.' I was practically beaming with pride.

Anyway, what I'm really getting at is that it would be easy to throw in some mouth service to please the people who feel like a funeral ought to be about God and Heaven and all that but she doesn't want to. I daresay she feels that it would compromise her integrity and take the focus away from the dearly departed. For the most part, I agree completely. It's not like there wont be religious observance at the funeral, but the piece that she is making to honor our grandmother's memory will be about our grandmother.

There is something to be said for the fact that this is a funeral, and for many of our relatives it is about mourning. If religious wording and psalms makes them feel more at ease or helps them deal with loss, then why not just include them anyway? It's harmless, after all.

Aside from the philosophical argument about how helpful it really is to be given false hope and comfort that isn't terribly relevant here, I still feel like my sister is making the right call. This is her thing. She is creating it to honor someone she loves, and she should be free to do that in the way she feels is most appropriate. Yes, other people will read it and might be upset that it isn't religious enough. They can get as religious as they want in their personal observances. If anyone seriously gives my sister shit over not being God-oriented when she makes this thing, they're a total wanker.


  1. I think perhaps the question to ask is what the woman in question would want to see and her religious preferences. If she was like the majority of your family, it seems to me that the "cheesey" religious obit would be the way to go. If she leaned more like yourself and your sister then a non-religious.

    I think writing a religious person a non-religious Obit would be as condescending as writing a non-religious person a religious obit.

    I wouldn't dare write a non-religious obit for my church-thumpin granny despite my beliefs because it would be doing her a huge disservice to ignore that.

    On that note, my obit should just talk about how awesome I am and explain that my noble spirit inbiggened the smallest man.

    M to the H

  2. That's a good point, sir. Our Great-grandma was very involved with her church community at one point back in Pennsylvania, but hadn't been religiously observant for at least 15 years. It would be tough to determine what would be most appropriate in those terms.

    Still, I think it would be reasonable and respectful to acknowledge her beliefs as part of her life and as a comfort to her while she lived without having to dress everything up with psalms and 'Praise Jesus's.

    I will keep your wishes in mind, seeing as how your remaining time with us is so limited. Once your mate produces a successful offspring, she will doubtlessly devour you to eliminate competition for the next generation.

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