Monday we tackled a reader question about whether it is ‘wrong’ not to have a funeral. Like with so much in grief, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but there are implications that always need to be considered. It may be the right decision not to have a funeral, but not having a service may leave you feeling unsettled, guilty, or worried you won’t have a formal opportunity to say goodbye. If there are children who are impacted by the loss you may be feeling concerned that they won’t experience the ritual, symbolism, and collective grieving that occurs at a funeral service.
If you are seeking alternatives to a funeral that may help meet some of the needs that are found in a tradition funeral, or if you are planning a memorial and trying to think a bit outside the box, today’s post is the post for you. Today we will be sharing some alternatives to a funeral, large and small, and we are asking you to chime in by leaving a comment if you have other ideas.
1) Create a shrine in your house. Okay, the word shrine probably makes this seem creepy. We aren’t talking about a creepy shrine here, just a simple area in your house that has photos, objects, and anything else meaningful that reminds you of your loved one. The process of putting this together can be meaningful and symbolic. It is something you can do by yourself, or together with family and friends. Set aside a specific time to do this. Especially with children, this is a great opportunity to share memories and say goodbyes. They may wish to draw pictures, write a letter, or make other artistic items to add to the shrine.
2) Hold a birthday or anniversary memorial. You may have skipped a funeral, but this doesn’t mean you can never have a memorial. If you are feeling a lack of resolution, pick another meaningful day in the coming months to have a memorial. This could be anything from a memorial dinner to a formal memorial service – decide what works for you. A memorial can actually allow an opportunity for more family and friends to attend, as there can be more notice given than for a funeral.
3) Create a personal ceremony at the gravesite. People have different feelings about visiting the gravesite, some people visit daily or weekly, and others never visit a grave. There is no right or wrong – it just happens that some find the gravesite a comforting place, somewhere they are close to their loved one, and others do not. If you are someone who does visit the grave, there are many meaningful rituals that can bring comfort. In the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead, thousands of people flock to the graves of their family members to clean and decorate the graves. Though this may not be part of your cultural tradition, it can be a meaningful and comforting ritual to adopt. Pick a day – it could be a meaningful day or any old day, and plan something meaningful at the gravesite. You may wish to invite others and turn this into a time of cleaning, decorating, sharing stories, and saying goodbye.
4) Spread the ashes. Not every family chooses to spread their loved one’s ashes, but if this is right for your family it can be a nice alternative to a traditional funeral. From going to a single meaningful location, planning a boat trip to spread the ashes at sea, or taking ashes to multiple locations to spread, this can be a meaningful time and space to say goodbyes. This can be done alone or with a group of family or friends. You may even wish to spread the ashes somewhere your loved one always wanted to go, but was never able (think Martin Sheen in The Way)
5) Create a new tradition. The process of creating a tradition can alone be meaningful. It may be a tradition of volunteering in memory of your loved one, visiting somewhere meaningful to your loved one, creating an annual family dinner in your loved one’s honor, or anything else that seems right for you. Creating this tradition can be a way to grieve together, if you choose to involve others, or a way to thoughtfully say goodbye and remember your loved one every year.
6) Skip the church and the funeral home. If you are considering your options and you are put off by the idea of a traditional mass and a stuffy funeral home, because it just doesn’t seem to fit who your loved one was, start thinking outside the box! You can hold a service anywhere. Really! Anywhere! Your house, their house, the beach, a park, a restaurant, a community center, a Moose Lodge, a bar, an art gallery, on a boat, in a box, with a fox . . .okay, you get the idea. You don’t have to have one officiant and a eulogy. You can open the floor to everyone to share their stories, memories, music, art, or anything else they wish to share. Find some inspiration in the full Beyond Goodbye video. We shared the trailer on Monday, but you can view the whole video here. It is truly amazing. Okay, and because I love it so much, here is the trailer again.
7) Plant a tree. Okay, it doesn’t have to be a tree, but create something out in nature that symbolizes your loved one – it could be a tree, a garden, a bench, or anything else that makes sense for you. This can create a meaningful space for you to remember and feel close to your loved one, and a small ceremony is totally appropriate when the tree is planted, bench is placed, etc. You may even want to get a little plaque or stone marker to place at the site.
8) Create a memorial book. One thing that often saddens people if there is no funeral is that they were not able to share stories or hear the impact their loved one had on others lives. Unlike just a scrapbook or memory box (which you also may want to make!), a memorial book is created when multiple people all create a page in the book. They can fill the page with memories, stories, things that person taught them, messages for the family, or whatever else they want to share. This can be a hand made book, or you can purchase one (like the one available here from The Guestbook Store that can even be customized with your loved one’s name!).
These are just a handful of ideas. We are sure you have tons more. Leave a comment, to give others some inspiration!