Don’t make surviving relatives pathfinders

The daughter wants to bury her father, but the son would rather him be cremated. “Isn’t that what Dad wanted?” That’s a big decision to agree on during a vulnerable period of loss and sorrow.

Text: Stefani de Bie, Hommage Uitvaarten

These aren’t the only questions that relatives need to answer in that week between a person’s passing and paying final respects. Are we giving him a big send-off or are we keeping it low-key? Who will speak and what will (or won’t) be said? Should we include a photo on the order of service, if so, which one? Should we drink coffee or beer afterwards? Who is invited? Who isn’t? Who will be seated on the front row? We’ve all heard stories of families that have been pulled apart more than they have been united by a funeral.

In life, we prefer not to think about it. We like to pretend that death doesn’t exist, or at least that it’s far, far away. Yet many of us have experienced at least one last goodbye. Perhaps to a grandparent or parent, a partner or even a child.

The loss of a father, for example, effects the whole family. Relatives are seen in a new light, and relationships between them shift. If he is leaving five children behind, there are effectively five fathers that have died, because each child has their own unique bond with their father. As such, each child has differing needs when it comes to his farewell.

The week prior to the funeral is an intense and hectic week. There is so much to be organised, decided and chosen. That can be difficult, because dynamics within the family are trying, or the relationships fragile. It is unrealistic to expect that everyone would suddenly somehow manage to be sweet and tolerant towards one another. In reality, organising a funeral as a group doesn’t always go smoothly. So many people, so many wishes and opinions.

If those various needs and views are conflicting, it can be a real challenge to ensure that all family members can relate to the funeral service.

A proper farewell is incredibly important to the grieving process and processing the loss. The funeral is a moment of letting go, comforting one another and accepting that a loved one will never again be physically present in our lives. Farewell rituals like a funeral offer a sense of unity, which is why it is so important for them to happen with a sense of calm and in consultation with others.

If a father leaves five children behind, there are effectively five fathers that have died.

Don’t make relatives pathfinders! Turmoil, arguments, doubts and indecision can be avoided by recording or discussing your personal wishes whilst you are still alive – just as you would with a company handover or any other legacy. It offers clarity. We have a relaxed conversation and compile a document together that sets everything out on paper. That document can just sit in the filing cabinet.

That clarity affords relatives the clarity to concentrate on what matters – despite their differences or vulnerable relationships – i.e. their own sorrow and the sharing of fond memories. Because regardless of the nature of those relationships, what relatives have in common is the loss and love of the one who’s gone.

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