Written in response to Verbal Remedy's, "What Remains?", is the following empathetic point/counterpoint:
1) I have become convinced after experiencing hundreds of people's reactions to four sudden deaths in a three year span, that the funeral process exists for the benefit of the living.
2) People need to be told that the family is without resources or insurance to pay for the funeral if in fact this is the case. A few well-placed words will bring enough donations to the designated box of cash from friends, relatives and the community to cover a good portion of the expenses.
3) Advance planning helps everyone meet expectations, even those requests that some may find personally repulsive.
I have never asked my parents for anything but to keep at least a $10,000 life insurance policy for themselves. I am ever hopeful that each has this policy to cover the cost of their funeral. If not, I will respect their wishes, as both have friends and relatives in the community that will want and need a time to mourn.
My mother wants to be buried next to my brother in Iowa - my parents and sister live in Washington State and I live in Florida. Accessibility to the site will become an issue, but then what is completely practical with regard to eternal internment?
My request went to them because in general, I do not like cremation. The whole Catholic notion of the fires of hell is bad enough to consider, without planning to burn them up on the earth as well. This is NOT rational thought, I do not even believe in hell, but the image persists. Perhaps time and additional exposure will diffuse the impact of this "fear".
Life often provides us with the exact experiences needed to tackle our fears by proxy. Working to that end, the entirety of my husband's deceased family members have been cremated after a full funeral in a rental casket. They all had LONG, painful deaths, drawn out over six months or more by the ravages of cancer. His family believes in being there for the duration of the illness, to support each other while the loved one that is passing.
Family and friends abandon jobs and careers, rent rooms, sleep on floors, do whatever it takes to "live" through the death watch. Spending so much time at the bedside, allows some degree of mourning to have been achieved prior to the funeral. The spectre of the cremation becomes much less terrible when the entire body has wasted away to nothing but skin and bones.
No amount of preparation can soften the blow of the last breath, however. Much intricate coordination and the necessity for difficult phone calls are pressing on the family or those summoned to assist them. From experience, I advocate making decisions about the funeral and burial far in advance of that date. When left to chance, or the whims of the distraught, excessive spending out of guilt or sorrow can ensue.
I have come to believe that a different set of "rules" apply if a loved one dies suddenly, at a very young age. My mind and heart will only allow for a proper funeral, with a traditional burial. Having had to experience their earthly exit much too soon, with a body still strong and apparently vital, it has been just about impossible to order a cremation.
Regardless, I do what is requested of me. Always the goodie, goodie Catholic Church organist/sacristan. All now buriied shallowly beneath the abandoner-of- the-faith veneer that I have allowed to cover me.
So, I push through it. I coordinate the flowers with the colors in the casket, choose appropriate music, order the cards and programs, plan just about everything because I know it must be done. After so many of them, I do what is required because I know with complete certainty that this is expected of me.
In the end, my "Funeral Rules" had to be developed and adhered to with uncharacteristic rigor to survive the event. Being the designated funeral planner is a job that requiries studied pragmatism. It should never be delegated to the very young or the faint of heart.