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The short answer: It is absolutely not too late for a delayed funeral! Ever. If you didn't get to have the funeral or memorial service you wanted, because of the pandemic or for any other reason, it is always okay to have a belated funeral service. But if that isn't enough to convince you, we're going to share a bit more information about delayed funerals and memorial services to help you decide what's right for you.
A Little Bit of Context
Before the start of 2020, I always said I wasn’t a big funeral person. Now, you may be thinking that no one is ‘funeral person’. But there are a lot of people who find deep comfort in funerals – be it the connection to others, the remembrance, or the ritual. I’ve always understood it; I’ve simply not felt it. And I have to say, in the world of death and grief, that was a bit of an unpopular opinion. But for me, the grief rituals and memorials that have always felt the most meaningful were the small, private, and personal grief rituals. They often emerged well after the blur of the first weeks of grief. Funerals, they’d felt like a formality.
Enter 2020. By April of that year, I had lost three people – all completely unexpectedly, all in rapid succession. Like so many other people, it felt hard to make space for my grief when so many people were losing people. Two of the people I lost were friends. Despite years of telling people that we’re entitled to deep grief even when the people we love aren’t family, even when our relationships with them aren’t fully understood or appreciated by others, I still questioned my right to grieve.
A short lockdown turned into a longer lockdown and there was no traditional funeral or memorial for any of these people I loved. There were some (very) small gatherings, informal things online, and obituaries. But nothing that even began to honor the depth of these incredible lives. I lived alone and felt overwhelmed by the isolation coupled with the grief. This made the absence of a funeral all the more pronounced. It felt like their lives (or their deaths) were lost in a sea of other losses, with no space to grieve together. It felt like I was grieving alone or, worse, that they were being forgotten.
You're Not a Funeral Person Until You Are
It felt important to carve out space to acknowledge that they’d lived -- and that they’d died. I wanted to be around people who knew them and loved them. But as the months passed and restrictions remained, anything looking like a traditional funeral or memorial seemed less and less likely. When the one-year anniversaries came around and it was clear that gathering still wasn’t safe, it felt like time to let go of hope for a memorial.
Until the friends of a friend who died changed that. I was thrilled when I saw the email in my inbox. She’d decided to dedicate a bench in our friend's memory and she wanted people to gather, honor, and remember. I surprised myself with just how grateful I was. Despite some scheduling challenges and travel rearrangements, I felt an immediate need to go. Excited seems a strange word to use. But I felt genuinely excited to know that I would be with others who also knew and loved my friend.
Why Do People Worry About Having Delayed Funeral?
Since receiving the informal invitation, I’ve been wondering why there haven’t been more delayed memorial services happening. I have heard about some, but not nearly as many as I would expect considering the countless families who get to have the funeral services they wanted. Only a small fraction of people I knew who couldn't have a funeral at the time were having delayed funerals. I surveyed people on What’s Your Grief’s social media about if they had or considered a delayed memorial. No surprise, the responses crossed the spectrum. It was everything from 'yes' to 'no, but we still plan to', to 'no way - it's inappropriate to have a funeral years later'. Yes, someone used the word "inappropriate". But don't worry, only one person.
We here at What’s Your Grief don’t have the authority to decide if and when it is ever too late for you to have a memorial for someone in your life. Only you can decide that. But we can tell you that, in our (personal and professional) opinion, it’s never too late. Whether it was 6 weeks ago, 6 months ago, or 16 years ago, those losses haven't gone away. There is no expiration date on having a delayed memorial to recognize that life, love, and loss.
So, what are the barriers to having a delayed memorial service?
- You worry that you're the only one who remembers or cares to have a delayed memorial service. This is one we hear a lot – everyone else has moved on; everyone else has forgotten; no one is still thinking of them except me. We've heard people say no one else wanted a memorial, because no one else mentioned it. I would be naïve if I thought that telling you that wasn’t true would make you feel better. I know that it won’t. But I will remind you that often people clam up when it comes to talking about grief feelings. Many worry about what others will think or don’t like feeling vulnerable. Often when people open a conversation about having a memorial, they realize others have been grieving and struggling and are also supportive of the idea.
- People will think it’s weird to have a delayed funeral after so long. Well, turns out everything has been weird since the start of 2020. We’ve turned just about everything on its head. And though we, as a culture tend, to keep death, funerals, and grief compartmentalized, it doesn't anyone. Though true that social norms are slow to change, it is times like this when collectively pushing on those norms can make a difference. More importantly, this memorial is for you and your family. If it feels right to you, that’s what matters.
- Without a funeral director giving you some direction, you’re not sure where to begin. The good news is there are plenty of options - with and without support. If you’d like something a little more formal and someone to help with the planning, there are many funeral and memorial celebrants who can help. If you’d like something more informal, just remember that there are no rules! You can design whatever feels right for you and reminds you of your loved one. This might look like a very traditional funeral or memorial. Or it could look like a camping trip, night out to dinner, back yard bbq, or anything else that feels right for your delayed funeral.
The Upsides of a Delayed Funeral
Though our brains tend to seek out the negative, there are actually many wonderful things about having a delayed memorial service. Just some of the few we often hear are:
- It allows time for people to attend who couldn't otherwise, especially those who live out of the area.
- There is less pressure for the traditional format - it can be whatever feels right.
- Some of the intensity of early, acute grief has subsided. This has a host of benefits, from feeling more clear-headed for planning to actually remembering the event. For many, who have a service within the week of a death, it is all a blur.
- It acknowledges that grief is ongoing and that memorials can be ongoing. Gathering with people months or years later is a nice reminder that we all continue to grieve.
- It is an opportunity to reconnect. Often people receive a lot of support immediately after a death, but then the calls and texts slowly dissipate with time. A delayed funeral or memorial can be a nice way to reconnect and seek, provide, or receive support again.
- There is more time for creativity. Deciding on the right memorial and creating what you envision can take time and energy. The immediate week after a death doesn't always provide you the luxury of time and energy. Having a delayed memorial can allow for all sorts of creative options, executed thoughtfully without pressure.
Check out the video from the delayed memorial I just attended:
Been thinking about a delayed memorial? Took part in a delayed funeral? Share your experience and ideas below in the comments section!
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What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
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