“Just throw my body in a ditch.” I hear this old cliché all the time. It’s usually mentioned while driving a family to the graveside. It’s sometimes mentioned during funeral arrangements or even uttered by friends while out for drinks on the town. Similar phrases which people use that fall into this category are; “don’t cry for me” or, “don’t waste your money.” People who say these things believe they’re doing everyone else a big favor by avoiding some devastating event for their family. Sometimes they believe its an act of humility. Nobody considers it could be damaging or offensive.
Being tossed in a ditch, or dying behind a dumpster with no service is my greatest fear. The thought of my whole life’s work being in vain is horrible, but I’m a funeral director. I think it’s similar to the way a financial advisor would feel upon becoming bankrupt, or someone’s child growing up to be a terrorist.
The average person probably doesn’t hold the same convictions about funerals as I do. Most of us don't like to talk about the end, we like to focus on living. The two go hand in hand. A sign of a life well lived, is a death well celebrated. People feel compelled to do things for those who mean the most to them even in death.
A good story ensures the ending easily transpires. What would our films and novels be like if the main character went through a series of interesting and compelling experiences; they impacted everyone they met and the writer or director suddenly ends the story with “and they threw Don Quixote, The Man of La Mancha in a dumpster," The end.
We would be left feeling unsettled. This exact feeling happens when one family member demands something so ridiculous as no service; or when someone is trying to be tongue and cheek about their death and their family is looking for a serious answer.
Most of us would like to live happily ever after (forever), but that’s not realistic, and having no service just isn’t a satisfactory ending for anyone.
My career choice generally causes me to obsess over things most people prefer not to think about. Whether you like it or not, someone is going to tell your story. Granting your family permission to do so, is actually freeing for them. It gives them the sense of completion.
This doesn't mean we have to subscribe to the same conventional model of a traditional funeral, which we are strongly opposed to. It means the opposite, that we should create our own ending which is as individualistic as the life we live.
I prefer tragedies, even though I am a generally happy person. I wont be having a celebration of life ceremony. That doesn’t mean there will be no service. People can go home after my funeral and celebrate that I'm dead. I want people to enjoy a very solemn ceremony. I believe giving people permission to grieve with support is an important part in acknowledging that death has happened. I want to grant permission to those who know me, the time and space to grieve.
For some reason our culture is strongly opposed to public grief. I have had people tell me the traditional funeral is just to show the public their affluence. Younger generations are only beginning to see the possibilities. That they can have whatever weird service they want and it doesn't have to be expensive. It just has to be accurate.
A good story isn’t complete without a suitable ending. Would you want yours to end in a shower of fireworks? Or with simple silly stories about you around a bonfire? Every single life is worth acknowledging. Someday your family will probably ask you how you want to be remembered. For their benefit, give them an honest and complete, well thought out answer. Your story is worth sharing and doesn't have to follow a particular traditional model. Don’t cheat those who you care about most, by saying, "Just throw me in a ditch," or "I don’t want a service." Everyone deserves more than that.