Funeral or Memorial Service--Which One's Right for You?
"Funerals are for the living . . . to rejoice in the one who has caused this coming together." --Maestro Leonard Bernstein
Decisions, decisions. Hold a traditional funeral like our parents and grandparents did? Should we go for the whole ritual with the casket open and viewed by mourners? Or is it time to consider a more modern and innovative way to pay our last respects?
Or would you prefer a memorial focusing on the achievements and contributions of the deceased? It's actually all the same, according to Fares J. Radel of Radel Funeral Home, who says, "You celebrate a life lived. The difference is a body is not present in a memorial."
When a person dies, we acknowledge his or her passing by holding a funeral, which is the traditional way in this country to honor and pay last respects to a dear departed. A call is made to a funeral home, which takes care of removing the body, often from a nursing home, hospital or hospice.
The body is prepared-embalmed, dressed, and ready for viewing. For some families, viewing is imperative. Says author Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, "It is important that the family can view the body before the funeral in order to prevent any late denial of death." A brief ceremony is usually held at the funeral home, then continued at the church- with hymns, scripture readings, a short sermon, and sometimes a eulogy.
A procession to the cemetery follows (for either ground or above-ground burial in a mausoleum or crypt) and concludes with a brief graveside service. Afterwards it is customary for friends and other mourners to gather at the family home for more expressions of sympathy.
For many, having this whole ceremony with viewing is beneficial. "They need to see the body of their loved one, be close to it," says funeral director Fares J. Radel. "It also provides closure and makes them realize that indeed a life has ended." And that life is celebrated when you hold a funeral.
"It's a coming together of families, sort of a reunion to honor the deceased," offers one Cincinnati, Ohio, funeral director. Funerals, in whatever form, are beneficial to the survivors not only as a reminder of their mortality, but also as a means of helping them accept the loss and move on with life.
Much like a funeral, a memorial service celebrates the life of the deceased. The only difference is that there is no body present. Memorials are often held in a church, a fraternal hall, or other appropriate location, and take place a few days or a couple of weeks after the death of a loved one.
In recent years, more and more people choose memorials especially those whose loved ones have been cremated and whose remains have already been disposed. Maybe the ashes are already stored in a columbarium or have been scattered somelace. There's no format to the service, but proponents say it's simple yet dignified. There are prayers and music, sometimes contemporary, such as Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" or Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven."
Sometimes it's followed by a short sermon or meditation and friends speaking about the deceased and his or her achievements and contributions to society. In lieu of a body is a display of photos showing the high points of the deceased's life.
The definite advantage here is the cost- no embalming, no casket, no grave liner or vault. The organized memorial service movement wants to do away with elaborate funerarl rites advocating "dignity, simplicity, and economy" instead. The feeling is that spirituality is sacrificed with all the materialist trappings associated with funerals.
An opponent to memorials, Dr. George E. LaMore, Jr., argues, "There's minimum confrontation with death, minimum ministry and ceremony for the living. . . . A terrible cheapening of both life and death is implied by all this. . . ."