Today I want to talk about the Humanist Funeral or Celebration of Life. As Humanists we do not believe in an afterlife, we believe that this life is all we have and that it is our purpose to make this life meaningful, fulfilling, and filled with love and care for our fellow man. So of course, a Humanist funeral or Celebration of Life will be vastly different than a theist one.
I remember my father’s funeral (who was a devout religious man his entire life) changing my perspective about funerals in general. My mother knew that my father’s sudden death was a shock and therefore felt it necessary to allow people to stand up and talk about my father. Imagine my surprise when not two or three, but ten or more people stood up in front of a very large crowd and spoke about how my father impacted their lives. I learned things about my father that I never knew. Granted, I knew he was a giving and caring man as my mother would often say that he’d give the shirt off his back if it meant someone could have a shirt. But these folks were talking about how he gave them money, fixed their car or home issues, gave of himself to help them with some need even if it meant the middle of the night or perhaps slight danger to his well-being. One man in particular, who I often thought of as being a snob to my father, stood up and through broken words, shared how he respected my father’s integrity. It was a powerful and gratifying moment for myself and my four siblings to see and hear people talk about our father in a way that we may or may not have known him. I felt that this part of the memorial service had far more of an impact than the sermon that my father’s pastor gave on “if you want to see your father/husband/friend again, you must repent and be saved”. The ability to see and hear about the impact that my father’s life had on his family, friends, and community meant far more to me and my siblings because it was personal. It was intimate. It was about my father, a man who’s life was more than his belief system, it was about who he truly was. That service stood out to me and in the years since my father’s death (coming up on 20 years this March), I always sit through funerals or memorial services hoping that the family would utilize the celebration of life method rather than using it as an opportunity to convert family and friends.
Granted, you cannot have a Humanist Celebration of Life ceremony for someone who was a devout Christian their entire life because not only would that be unethical, it would be insincere. When my mother passes, I will not encourage my siblings to hold a Humanist ceremony, but if I get a chance to speak at her funeral, you can bet I will eulogize her life as a celebration, much like my father’s service.
Which brings me to the importance of funeral planning. I would be livid if my husband or children opted for a theistic based funeral upon my demise. Therefore, as Humanists, it is vital that we plan our Celebration of Life services the way we would have them be carried out.
If you are a Humanist, find a local Humanist Celebrant to help you plan and lead your Celebration of Life ceremony. If you live in the United States, you can go online to http://www.thehumanistsociety.org to locate a celebrant in your area. When choosing your method of being laid to rest, whether by burial or cremation, or any number of the other ways in which to be laid to rest (we’ll discuss these in my next blog post), make sure the funeral home you choose is aware of your wishes. It may even be a good idea to arrange a meeting between yourself, your Humanist Celebrant and the funeral director so that everyone is on the same page regarding your service. And it’s never too early to start planning these things. My husband and I are 51 and 44, and we are in the beginning stages of planning our Celebration of Life ceremonies and being cremated. Not only is it one more thing for us to take care of so that our children do not have to worry about it, it is also a way for us to make sure we are memorialized in the way that represents how we feel about Life and Death.
In my next blog post I will be discussing alternative burial methods that give meaning to a Humanist life. Please check back!
In the meantime, have a wonderful day!