Should the British mourn or celebrate their dead?

Charles Cowling

 

Posted by Jose Antonio Estevez Garcia

 

When my best friend died at the age of 38 it was a drama – not only his unexpected loss but also his funeral which, far from helping us to face that moment, only added more pain to those grievous days.

The reason is quite simple: when Angel died his parents were in shock and the funeral was designed following what tradition dictates. This resulted in an event that betrayed his memory and created terrible memories that are difficult to forget – for example, memories of the viewing.

Viewing is a mandatory element in Spanish funerals and it is aimed to allow people to “physically” farewell the one who passed away. When I was told that my friend had died I thought nothing could be so painful until I saw him in the coffin with a broken gesture in his face. Until that moment I only had memories of him smiling and sharing all the goodness he brought to my life. Seeing his dead body in a coffin only opened a new wound. Many people who attended the funeral shared a similar feeling. In my opinion, tradition should only rule our lives if it helps us in any way, otherwise it may be time for a change.

I quit my job in Spain to come to the UK to explore my most creative side, so I started a master’s called “Applied Imagination” at Saint Martins College (one of the most prestigious centers of Art and Design in the world).

Within the master I am developing a research project where I am analyzing ways in which traditional industries to evolve in response to demand for personalized innovative services by customers. To develop this idea I am researching into how creative methodologies such as “Design Thinking” and “Lateral Thinking” can challenge conservative industries with innovative business models co-created by the customers of the previously mentioned personalized services. In summary, it is a bespoke innovation driven by customer demand in traditional industries as a way to disrupt their current business model.

To develop and test my findings I have chosen the funeral industry which, because of strong tradition, is quite reluctant to change. The funeral of my beloved friend made me think that a change in this sector could help other people. The approach proposed in this application case of my project is not against tradition; but in favor of opening our minds to personalized funerals in which traditional and/or innovative elements may help relatives and friends feeling as better as possible, given the circumstances.

In my opinion, the key to reconcile opposed views about the arrangements among those who will attend a funeral is that the deceased makes a decision about it before dying. Exactly like what people do when they choose whether they prefer burial or cremation, but getting into all the other details, like in a wedding (a funeral is not less important as to not give them a thought, specially if you care about the ones who will live your farewell).

To test my proposal I have prepared the video of my funeral, whose aim is to avoid mourning my death but to celebrate my life, what I call a “happy funeral” i.e. a funeral in which all the elements are thought to avoid creating sad memories and aim to generate a positive state of mind. The video is posted above  and has been watched to date by 1130 people.

In addition to the video initiative, I have can you buy cialis online interviewed different stakeholders and gatekeepers and gathered amazing experiences shared by the people who have answered the survey published with the video. I am also researching into funerals in different countries, cultures and religions, trying to determine which elements can help change the state of mind in a funeral from a sad one into a positive one as, in my understanding, this will play an essential supporting part in the required process of accepting and fighting to overcome the pain of the loss of a loved one.

I have had the chance to talk with the sister of a 26 year-old guy who died in Spain last August. It seems that, some weeks before passing away, they had occasional conversations about death where he said he wanted a party if he died.

Unfortunately this happened and his family decided to respect his last will. The death notice they published in the local newspaper was later diffused at national level because it was the first time in Spain a funeral had been announced as if it was a party. And it was a party. A special one where there were moments for tears, but also moments to sing and dance and smile, reminding everyone of the most outstanding feature of this guy: his happiness.

She explained to me that when you have to face the death of a loved one the primary feeling you have is suffering, in her words, a selfish feeling because you only care about your pain without taking care of how that pain will have a negative effect in all the others attending the funeral (aren’t tears as contagious as laughter?). Overcoming the pain and making an effort to be happy to celebrate all the love and the good moments her brother had given to them was seen by her as a generous feeling because it demonstrated care for how others would live that moment. She had lost her brother one month previously, but she talked about him and his funeral in a positive and peaceful way.

When I told her about the funeral of my best friend I realized I still struggle to overcome certain memories that seem like open wounds in my mind. In our conversation it seemed that the “happy funeral” of her brother had helped her more than the traditional one I experienced when I lost my best friend. Apparently it also helped the family and friends of this guy. Even those who had a traditional opinion about the arrangements accepted Aitor’s last will, understanding that it was faithful to his personality and thus a respectful way to honor him.

Along with my video I have published a survey, anonymously answered so far by 220 people. Between 80% and 90% of them have said they would like a happy funeral; but most of them mentioned that they had never thought of the possibility of arranging a funeral in an alternative way. It seems that when people are given options, they open their minds to personalized solutions that may take elements from tradition but which also incorporate issues related to their own life.

And here is where the industry can make a difference, since less than half of the people stated in the survey that the funerals they had been to had helped them feel better. In several cases they state the opposite.

Isn’t this a motive for the professional sector to question whether traditional funerals effectively serve a positive purpose?

 

31 thoughts on “Should the British mourn or celebrate their dead?

  1. Charles Cowling
    Kevin

    I believe that a funeral needs to be sad. I think the body needs to be viewed, and I’m sorry that whoever prepared your friend’s body did such a bad job. Not everything can be happy, however, and to try and celebrate around death will only make things worse in the long run.


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Julia de Moscu

    Dios mio, Tevi, si ves este mensaje, mi e-mail shahil@rambler.ru


    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Jose

    Richard, have you seen this news?
    QR Code on Tombstone Creates Dynamic Memorial: http://mashable.com/2011/07/15/qr-code-tombstone/


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Jose

    “How can we approach the subtleties of different cultural practices and beliefs through design?”.

    For me the most important principle of design thinking is letting the users/consumers of your design be an active part of it. Many designers tend to think nobody but them know what their users/consumers need. Design thinking challenges that prejudice making designs connect with their target blending the professional knowledge of the designer with the personal experience of the target user. Is this of any help?

    Richard, as for your second question let me talk with a fellow student that is researching the relation between memories and the new technologies.


    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    Jose

    “As soon as you allow yourself to love someone it’s too late already; you’ve committed yourself to grieving them, and willingly, if they die before you. Do you not see a kind of beauty in that exquisite pact?”.

    I have some young friends who, after being brokenhearted for the first time, say they don’t want to fall in love again. I hope they will. In my opinion if you don’t allow yourself to be loved because of the fear of being hurt, you are already hurting yourself because we cannot live without being loved. When I met the man I married 10 years ago I just thought of the beauty that is in the exquisite pact of giving the most of us to make the other one happy. I won’t think of any grieving until it comes, meanwhile I will just enjoy happiness.


    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Jose

    Thanks so much, Richard.

    “Any genuine expression of love, whether it manifests itself in happiness or sadness, is beautiful”.

    A woman I know lost his 16 yo in a car accident. She said she loved him so much she cannot forget his loss. His room remains exactly as he left it years ago. She does not allow herself to be happy because that feeling would make her feel guilty. You may find her feeling beautiful. I don’t see what you see. If the natural sadness caused by the loss of a loved is not left behind, it will derive in depression.

    “(…) funerals that allows us space for real feelings without expectations being projected on us”.

    The emotional intelligence is built upon people’s experiences, but the loss of someone that we rarely live. Hence people have little experience to learn from. On the contrary you are exceptional witnesses of how people face death. I think that any of you who have years of experience dealing with one of the most traumatic moments in the lives of people have an unique opportunity in helping them to properly deal with that sadness.


    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Jose, something for your studies. I’m dashing off for a weekend somewhere where the computer screen don’t shine but here are a couple of questions posed in the first website I clicked on after Googling ‘death in the digital age’.

    How can we approach the subtleties of different cultural practices and beliefs through design? What are the issues around ordinary technologies transforming into memorials, evoking powerful memories, nostalgia etc?

    http://www.corporeality.net/museion/2010/01/17/death-in-the-digital-age/


    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    Oh, Jose! Beauty is in grief, after the event when it’s already too late to change things. There’s no beauty whatever in someone dying – it’s fucking, fucking horrible to have someone die, and no amount of ‘beautiful’ grieving will ever alter that, and I would expect anyone to punch me on the nose if I tried to tell them otherwise. But yes, most certainly, many many people have told me a funeral was beautiful, and that it was helpful to be reminded of the beautiful truth that death is inevitable but love does not die, nor would we wish it to do so for our happiness.

    Only that’s the thing – as soon as you allow yourself to love someone it’s too late already; you’ve committed yourself to grieving them, and willingly, if they die before you. Do you not see a kind of beauty in that exquisite pact?


    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Jose, any genuine expression of love, whether it manifests itself in happiness or sadness, is beautiful. If either is forced, it’s not sincere, hence my hunch is in favour of a versatile but safe middle ground in funerals that allows us space for real feelings without expectations being projected on us.

    For me the best blank canvas is dignified ceremony in order to process the seriousness of death and loss. This can be, and is, followed by a livelier and less formal social gathering.

    A gig is fine if you’re up for a party, but if not it can give you a headache.


    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling
    Jose

    Let me please understand better the point of view of those of you who have related beauty and grief: Do you see beauty in real grief and sadness? Would you describe any of the funerals you have managed/celebrated as beautiful? In which sense? Have the mourners shared a similar feeling?

    Thanks in advance for sharing your experience with me.


    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling
    Jose

    Sorry, when I said “everybody, dressed in rigorous black, leaves a real drama” I meant “everybody, dressed in rigorous black, lives a real drama”


    Charles Cowling
  12. Charles Cowling
    Jose

    Thanks Jonathan for your feedback.

    “I wonder who is responding to your survey, Jose, and what motivates them to believe (or just imagine perhaps)that a happy funeral is truly what they’d like. It’s not precisely what I’d want”.

    Sad funerals I all they have experienced so far, as for what they have answered in the survey, Jonathan. Apparently they haven’t seen the beauty of sadness when the ones being sad are themselves and the ones they love. Hence I don’t find so strange that they would like something different for their own funerals.

    When you say “It’s not precisely what I’d want” you mean for yourself? That’s perfect! The gothic friend I mentioned before thinks grieving is beautiful and that is what he wants for his funeral. That’s the spirit of my project: There should be space for all: For those who see beauty in being sad and for those who (in their happy ignorance) only can see beauty in a smile. The happy funeral is my personal choice.

    Some years ago I made this picture to commemorate the International day for the elimination of violence against women. The claim says: “When the blood is that of a battered woman, the injury is everyone’s”. http://www.flickr.com/photos/micock/2062056006/in/set-72157607537343350/lightbox/
    Several people considered it beautiful. I may understand what they mean, but when it comes to the real drama that is behind a sad picture, song, poem or movie I’m unable to see any beauty; specially when that drama is suffered by someone I love, and this includes myself.


    Charles Cowling
  13. Charles Cowling
    Jose

    Thanks for your very kind last post Gloria!
    The Spanish word for “Forward!” is quite similar to “Avanti!”: ¡Adelante! :o)


    Charles Cowling
  14. Charles Cowling
    charles

    Two further reflections.

    First, let’s not lose sight of James’s colossally brilliant and beautiful insight: “Done well, a ‘good’ funeral always seems somewhere to have a collision between grief and beauty.”

    Second, yes, Richard, I think that Quaker practice has much to teach us (!). Secular funerals tend to be terribly wordy, and I am now going to dredge up and re-post something I put up here a couple of aeons ago. It’s called Words, words, words.


    Charles Cowling
  15. Charles Cowling
    Jose

    Thanks a lot also to Katie and Melissa! I haven’t read those books but I will get them for sure. Thanks for the advice and for giving the chance to know more about the natural burials. I would love to.


    Charles Cowling
  16. Charles Cowling
    Jose

    Many thanks Jon and Ariadne!

    “Maybe the key to any good funeral is a framework and content that truly reflects the person who has died – their values and philosophies, their unique traits and experiences. Who/what they loved and will be remembered by”.

    I think that neither in Spanish would I have been able to express it better.

    Responding to Ariadne’s “I feel strongly that the chance to create/collaborate/contribute in various ways to the ritual of a funeral can really make a difference to how we start to deal with the loss and grief that naturally accompany a death”, and James’ “the more bespokely tailored and personal, the more involvement from those closest – the more satisfying the send-off. Like the above responses say” comments.

    In general, people don´t seem to be ready to talk about their death. However the experience of stopping for a while to think of it and to have a look at your life imagining that the final day might be around the corner can bring some unexpected insights to your life. It can then reveal those who you never said enough “I love you” to, those who are missed in your smiling photos but always were by your side in your sad moments (What a perfect time to be grateful to them if you didn’t do it in the past!). Suddenly all those pending “I’m sorry” come to your mind and by letting them out you can make your life better.

    A Greek friend told me “You can organize a happy funeral for you because it seems you’ve lived a happy life; but what about those who live sad lives?”. If you prepare your funeral at 41 (as I have done) and you realize that your life is not as happy as it could be, you may have still another 41 to give all those hugs you never gave, to get back to your life those friends you could have lost in the way. To change everything that made the first part of your life grey in order to live your second half in Technicolor. Preparing your funeral as a celebration of your life needs a looking inward process that can change it for good.


    Charles Cowling
  17. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    PS The uniqueness of funerals is in part within us, in those private moments of contemplation. Silence is golden. There might be a case for less frenetic goings on, more stillness?


    Charles Cowling
  18. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Like everyone here, I appreciated your thoughtful blog. I also agree with the view that funerals are a mix of sad and happy feelings as we grieve a physical loss and remember good times shared.

    I’d add that, while a good funeral is indeed ‘a framework and content that truly reflects the person who has died,’ a ‘standard’ religious ritual can also reflect the deceased as much as those more overtly tailored to the individual. Both progressive and conservative funerals can be happy and sad, and do the job required of them.

    Last week, I attended a traditional, Anglican funeral of a friend. I prayed for her eternal soul, we sang her favourite hymns, listened to her chosen Bible readings, and heard a homily from the priest which combined a warm, insightful tribute to the deceased with a Christian message which she would have liked, and which the congregation seems to welcome.

    There were no particular surprises, but the familiarity was comforting in a way that perhaps, in this conservative context, change and innovation would not have been.

    After the church ceremony, we went to the crematorium, which I personally found a soulless, depressing experience. It was a moving committal but it smacked of disposal, and made me want to look into burial in more detail.

    I’m all for choice and am sorry aspects of your friend’s funeral did not feel right for you or him. But when we brainstorm ways to make funerals more meaningful for different people, we shouldn’t necessarily throw the baby out with the bath water. There’s a place for change and a place for continuity.


    Charles Cowling
  19. Charles Cowling
    charles

    First, that Carla link: http://www.goodfuneralguide.co.uk/2010/06/carlas-encore/ If you did not find Carla’s blog when she was still alive, read it. She was and is utterly extraordinary.

    Second, I endorse what Jonathan says so very (and typically) eloquently. Everything Jonathan writes seems to proceed not from orderly cogitation but from Pentecostal inspiration. Here’s Matthew Parris talking about his dead father:

    Quite simply, he has left a space that will never be filled; therefore he is, paradoxically, still here because the space is still here, and I can feel it all the time. The gap Dad left is not a vacuum, a void, a soft area of low pressure to be filled. The gap is hard-edged, chiselled by him into my life, measured by his worth, and ineradicable.

    With this realisation has come another: that this sorrow is not itself a cause for sorrow. Regret is not a cause for regret. We ought to be sorry. We ought to regret. Death is not a ‘wound’ to be ‘healed’ or a ‘scar’ to ‘fade’. Once someone has been in the world, they have always been in the world; and once they have gone their absence will be in the world forever, part of the world; in Dad’s case part of mine. This is a good thing.

    How foolish, then, is all this talk of ‘getting over’ death. How empty, how wrong-headed the exhortations we make to those who love us that they should try not to miss us when we’re gone. Why not? You do miss someone you love, don’t you, when they’re gone? How self-negating is the wish that others should not feel sad when they remember us. Of course they should feel sad! They can’t talk to us any more.

    It is right that we make an imprint on the minds and lives of others, right that we should be needed while still alive; and therefore right that the imprint remains and the loss hurts, and continues hurting.

    So I’ve decided that I don’t want to ‘come to terms’ with Dad’s death. It’s bloody awful that he isn’t here. It still cuts me up, and this is a fact of love. I’m perfectly capable of keeping things in proportion, as Dad always did, but I don’t want to ‘get things into perspective’, if by that one means wanting them to grow smaller. It’s a fact; his life is a fact; the gap now is a fact; it’s not getting any smaller; I’m sad, but I’m happy that I’m sad.

    Third, I’d agree with those who say that there’s a great deal of emotional sense in taking some time to acknowledge how people feel before going on to celebrate the life.

    Lastly, I think you have to take into account the changing landscape of death. So few people now die young that when it happens it feels, more than ever, like a chaotic violation of the natural order. The death of Little Nell was sad enough, and that was in a time when infant mortality was rife. The pain of grief nowadays, when people have not been prepared by fatalistic resignation, is all the more acute for that. At the other end of the scale, Little Nell in the modern age survives into very old age. Yes, she’s in a care home. She’s Gaga Nell. Alzheimer’s took her away from us two years ago. Her death is a blessed relief. As are, increasingly, the deaths of many old people now, their dying having been protracted agonisingly by modern medicine.

    And lastly for real, any funeral which sends mourners out into the world emotionally scarred has manifestly failed in its purpose.

    Which brings us back to the question which so few people consider deeply: What is a funeral for? No easy answers there, simple as the question sounds!


    Charles Cowling
  20. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    I’ve just returned from running a workshop on funerals (hence the delay in commenting in more detail), and one lady pointed out that the funeral will have to feel like a gig that the person who died would have wanted to attend himself.

    I think she has a very good point. I would add to it that surprise is important to a good gig of any kind as well, because if you’ve seen it all before it lacks the real magic of a first time one off – and we’ve all been to Funerals Without Magic.

    As for a happy funeral; well, it sure beats an unhappy one, but there’s a big difference between unhappiness and sadness. Unhappiness is inward, solitary, isolating, unattractive and leads at least in the general direction of depression. Sadness about death at a fuenral, on the ohter hand, is beautiful, essential to the freedom to be happy, and helpful to share with others. It is a noble feeling, and one I certainly wouldn’t want to be deprived of – offer me a pill to alleviate sadness and I’d chuck it down the toilet. Offer me a happy funeral to stop me being sad and I’d stay at home; but give me a chance to feel happy about who I’ve lost AND sad about losing him, and I’m right there with you.

    But we don’t think deeply about funerals; and I wonder who is responding to your survey, Jose, and what motivates them to believe (or just imagine perhaps)that a happy funeral is truly what they’d like. It’s not precisely what I’d want.


    Charles Cowling
  21. Charles Cowling
    Belinda Forbes

    When I have conducted a completely non-religious funeral, many church-goers go out of their way to thank me. They recognise that the send-off was ‘perfect’ for their friend or family member. Some have even said they would now consider non-tradtional elements for their own send-offs.


    Charles Cowling
  22. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    Jose, you write so interestingly and so much from the heart that I am in no doubt that your research will be of very great value, and particularly interesting and unusual,as Katie says, because it is a design project, not a business model or a therapy-driven piece of work.
    Choices, indeed. Mine would be to leave suggestions, material, notes, rather than a fixed request or demand. I won’t be there, they will! It will be for them. But I foresee that your design model will generate something fine with plenty of “elbow room” in it.
    Avanti!
    (Sorry, don’t know the Spanish for “forward!”)


    Charles Cowling
  23. Charles Cowling
    Jose

    Responding to Gloria (Many thanks all for your feedback! I have to go now to a meeting, but I will answer one by one to the others later):

    “I’m not sure it can ever be “one size fits all,” i.e. that a “happy” funeral is better than a “sad” funeral. Sometimes, perhaps sad memories are unavoidable, necessary even, and can exist right alongside happy ones?”.

    You are completely right. I guess there is no way to design a funeral for everybody attending to it. This is why I think that instead of leaving the decisions to the ones who will survive you, you should find a moment to decide on it (something that apparently people don’t currently do because talking naturally about death is taboo. In Spain there is a superstition about it: If you talk about the death, that ghost under a cloak with a skull and a scythe will appear behind the door!). As an example, a civil celebration may not be liked by the religious part of your family and a religious ceremony may not be liked by the secular part of it. In my opinion, the best way to reconcile opposed points of view is being honest with oneself. If the funeral is a reflection of who you are, the people who love you should respect your decisions (even if they don’t agree with them). That was the case of the 26yo guy I refer to in my post, Aitor.

    “The death of a 34-year old woman leaving a husband and three very young children is, I think, a tragedy. A family catastrophe. I can’t see how that funeral is likely, overall, to be happy, though it may contain some happiness (her achievements, her character, her courage perhaps)”.

    I agree again with you. Some people have asked me whether I could be able to organize a happy funeral for my husband in case of being victim of e.g. an homophobic crime. To be honest with you (as I’ve been with them) I don’t know now what I would be able to do in such a case; but the truth is that we have always choices (even when we cannot believe we have): Losing your son/brother/boyfriend at the age of 26 is a truthful drama and nobody would have dared to say a word in the funeral of Aitor if his family had decided to organize a traditional grieving funeral, but he made a choice before dying. He wanted a celebration. He hated the idea of seeing sad people in his funeral. And his family, in what I think is an amazing gesture of generosity, made their choice respecting that (when they could have been decided to go for a traditional celebration despite Aitor’s will). Apparently the funeral/celebration (made in a church, with a priest, for everybody; and ending in a pub, with shocked waiters, for his friends) worked for everybody, even for his parents, traditional and religious people.

    Some months ago I read in the news, here in the UK, that a couple had lost his young son killed by a drunk driver. Many people would have claimed an eye for an eye. They declared to the press they didn’t want the killer to go to jail because, in their words, that only would add more sadness to the dramatic loss of their son (the drunk driver was married and father of one). Even in the worst and more dramatic moments of our lives we have always choices and sometimes we can be surprised with what acceptance and forgiveness can do for us, and the others.

    “I’m not sure we could or should attempt to re-design funerals to aim at any one emotional response”.

    Agree 200%. The amazing video made by Carla (I guess you know it) is the best proof of that. Mine, being just a testing tool, apparently made sometimes smile and sometimes cry to family and friends. In my opinion nothing will avoid the grieving. Aitor’s sister told me there was time for all kind of emotions at the “last party” (as he called it) of his brother: Moments for happiness and tears; but for what I’ve learned from the experiences people anonymously had shared with me through the survey, I think designing a funeral trying to look for positive emotions, or to minimize in any way the sad ones, will help the attendants step in the “positive” direction, that of healing. I may be naïve. Anyhow, the “happy funeral” is just my personal option. The project is focusing, from a methodological perspective, in defining a framework to be personalized. E.g. A friend who is a gothic told me he would love for him a funeral where everybody, dressed in rigorous black, leaves a real drama. He states most of his Gothic friends would love it so… ;o)


    Charles Cowling
  24. Charles Cowling
    Katie Deverell

    Brilliant Jose! Really inspiring and thought provoking. I won’t repeat all the comments made above but I really support what you are doing. I was quite involved in the design process in my last job and would love to see some of those creative principles being applied. Do let us know how it all goes and good luck!


    Charles Cowling
  25. Charles Cowling
    Melissa Stewart

    Sounds like great research you’re doing Jose. Have you read Making an Exit by Sarah Murray and The Mourner’s Dance by Katherine Ashenburg. They are both fascinating about ritual and the pros and cons of tradition.
    I will be following your research with interest and if you want to know what types of send off go on at natural burial grounds feel free to get in touch.


    Charles Cowling
  26. Charles Cowling
    james

    Me too, Jose – I entirely sympathise with your feelings about the standardised disposal rituals – which might be strongly recommended for propriety’s or profit’s sake. My experience of my own family’s funerals leave me in no doubt that each one is different, and the more bespokely tailored and personal, the more involvement from those closest – the more satisfying the send-off. Like the above responses say.
    Imposed ‘celebrations’ do not hit the spot. Done well, a ‘good’ funeral always seems somewhere to have a collision between grief and beauty.
    Good luck with your work. Best wishes, james


    Charles Cowling
  27. Charles Cowling
    Ariadne

    Beautiful video, Jose.

    I too can echo what Gloria has written.

    Maybe the key to any good funeral is a framework and content that truly reflects the person who has died – their values and philosophies, their unique traits and experiences. Who/what they loved and will be remembered by. Your film showed exactly this, which is why it was so moving.

    I feel strongly that the chance to create/collaborate/contribute in various ways to the ritual of a funeral can really make a difference to how we start to deal with the loss and grief that naturally accompany a death.

    There are aspects of tradition can provide meaningful, sacred and beautiful contexts, clearly. I’m all for getting rid of stifling or institutionalised dogma. Goodbyes really matter.

    Very Best – Ariadne


    Charles Cowling
  28. Charles Cowling
    Jon Underwood

    Jose, thanks for that. I really enjoyed watching the video and reading your thoughtful post. I’ve been reflecting on this overnight with a view to making a comment. However I am happy to find that Gloria Mundi has pretty much expressed exactly my views except in a much more coherent way than I would have managed.

    All the best for your work going forward.


    Charles Cowling
  29. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    I’m sorry to hear of how the funeral of your friend added to your pain.
    Your research sounds fascinating, a very good idea.
    However, personally, I’m not sure about your emotional modelling. I’m not sure it can ever be “one size fits all,” i.e. that a “happy” funeral is better than a “sad” funeral. Sometimes, perhaps sad memories are unavoidable, necessary even, and can exist right alongside happy ones?

    It seems to me that the job of a funeral is to help people adjust to a world without the loved person; to adjust to losing their physical presence in this world, to say goodbye to a body and carry forward meanings and legacies and gifts. If this is anything like a valid view, then maybe:
    1. one funeral may be much sadder than another; the funeral of an 89 year old man is not a catastrophe, though sad for his family – life ends, that’s life. The death of a 34-year old woman leaving a husband and three very young children is, I think, a tragedy. A family catastrophe. I can’t see how that funeral is likely, overall, to be happy, though it may contain some happiness (her achievements, her character, her courage perhaps)
    2. As you suggest, we may (often do) find sadness and happiness right alongside each other. But people need to grieve, as well as celebrate, don’t they?
    3.Re-designing funerals could – should – help people to find their own space in which to express grief, agony, joy, gratitude – whatever they are feeling.

    I’m not sure we could or should attempt to re-design funerals to aim at any one emotional response. We need to un-design unhelpful traditions followed unthinkingly (perhaps like your unhappy experience,) ask people what they need, create something that answers that need. Sometimes, of course, some people may need some tradition. But they should be encouraged to explore all this and work towards what suits them, not have something thrust upon them.

    Perhaps Angel’s family needed some calm, experienced and knowledgeable person to help them find the funeral that suited. Sadly, this doesn’t often seem to happen.

    I just love your video. I thought you were going to argue that we should all leave behind strict instructions – I don’t like this idea, because the funeral is for the family, and being too bossy restricts their actions. But you gave them a lovely loose, creative framework.

    Well, these are just a few of my spontaneous reactions, Jose, you raise big and important issues, and I wish you all the best with your researches. Fascinating stuff.


    Charles Cowling
  30. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    Beautifully understated, Jose, and thank you.

    I’ve got to dash, but rest assured I’ll be back.

    Looking forward to responding to your survey.

    Best wishes

    Jonathan


    Charles Cowling

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