There’s some interesting research work going on at the University of Hull. This is what they’re up to:
This project reflects the growing interest in spirituality which we are seeing in society generally and the changing shape of modern funerals. We are interested, for example, to see what the ‘spiritual’ content of a so-called ‘alternative’ funeral on the one hand and a traditional Christian or Buddhist ceremony might be; how people, as individuals and communities, express their spiritual feelings and beliefs and the meanings they attach to particular practices and symbols.
Why do they think it’s important?
It will contribute to knowledge and theory in a changing field which is also of increasing public concern. It will also assist in refining the practical responses of professionals involved with mourners, and with dying and bereaved people in their creation of ceremonies and rituals which help people in their bereavement.
Here’s how they are doing it:
Subject to gaining the informed consent of all participants, we will first attend the meeting of the funeral director with the family when arrangements for the funeral are discussed. Then we will observe about fifty funerals of different types. At a suitable time after the funeral (perhaps one week) we will interview one or more family members about why they chose the funeral they did, the meaning it had for them and how it helped them with their loss. Finally, having analysed the funerals and family interviews, we propose to interview a sample of funeral directors and celebrants to obtain their views on emerging themes.
You can see how they’re getting on by reading the progress reports at the foot of the web page.
Interesting to note that, having attended 39 out of the fifty funerals they have set themselves, they are no longer finding anything new. For all the talk of grieving people reclaiming funerals from funeral directors and priests and creating life-centred ceremonies as unique as the life lived — ceremonies which articulate and express the personal and possibly idiosyncratic values and spirituality of the person who has died — the new paradigm has in most cases evolved into a new bog standard—a palatable, emotionally manageable ceremony served up by a second-rate celebrant comprising a handful of banalities tossed in a Henry Scott Hollandaise sauce, a eulogy spiced with a few nice jokes, the whole washed down with some saccharine Andrea Bocelli. Ritual comfort food.
Starkness and drama. Love and lamentation. The strong sense of a silver cord loosed, a golden bowl broken, a life ended. The emotional reality of a date with eternity. All missing.