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Planning the Ending Before the End

When my father hit his nineties, he began to publicly plan his own funeral. “You’re gonna sing when I die!” he would say to the four members of the local barber shop quartet every time they performed. As I sat on the couch facing his recliner, watching him do all this, it occurred to me that if death is embraced and made conscious (as difficult as it is), the funeral can be refined and embellished by the family in a deeply inspiring way. We’ve pretty much perfected the wedding in our society. The funeral, unfortunately, is in need of some good, conscious, thoughtful work.

Baby Boomers have been culturally programed to keep the funeral authentic and simple. This is a good thing, but we shouldn’t skimp on ritual, rely on the direct cremation (with no accompanying  service) or affiliate the cost of the proceedings with their quality. First, it is good to know that after virtually any hospice supervised death, your family can spend several hours in the presence of the deceased—to sit, tell stories, dress or shroud the dead person with the help of a progressive funeral director or death doula, comb the deceased’s hair, anoint with essential oils, play music, whatever is the family’s inclination or preference. Next, the decision to cremate or bury depends upon religious custom, sense of tradition and history, family’s view of the afterlife, and funds available. Get educated on the costs, ponder the presence of religious or secular clergy, imagine your funeral now—who might come? what music would you like played?—as this spiritual practice reminds us all of life’s  impermanence but also serves to prompt us to make needed bucket lists and positive changes in our lives that might foster having the ending we’ve put into gear.

Interesting that my dear old dad’s funeral plans would give me a new lease on life. My dad got the barber shop quartet he desired, plus a soprano, and a chorus, and a Dixieland quintet that played “Sweet Georgia Brown.” See? We took his plan and made it better. I hope to help more families have the services they desire, however simple, modest and earth-friendly, funerals that help them face the future in a conscious way.

Former magazine journalist Amy Cunningham is a death educator and progressive funeral director. She is the owner of Fitting Tribute Funeral Services (FittingTributeFunerals.com), a funeral firm that helps New York families with green burials, home funerals, and cremations at Green-Wood Cemetery. She writes a blog about funeral planning called TheInspiredFuneral.com.

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