My barber Jerry is a wonderful man. I have known Jerry for years, and appreciate his big and generous heart. When his clients are sick or unable to come see Jerry, he packs up his kit and goes to them. He is alert to helping people in every way he can. I see Jerry at the funerals for his clients, sometimes as a speaker. Jerry knows it’s important to show up because it means so much to the survivors and as part of his own need to grieve.
So, perhaps you can imagine my shock and surprise when Jerry announced there will be no funeral for him. He has advised his wife and son this is his wish. He doesn’t want people to grieve and wants to leave this world without fuss.
With over 40 years of experience and extensive training in helping people cope with grief, I know there are many others like Jerry and I believe people who state such things are well-meaning, though misguided. Please allow me to explain.
Since the dawn of recorded history, humans have come together to mourn, to view their deceased loved ones, and to allow others to share this experience. Grief shared is grief diminished. Dr. William Worden, a noted researcher in the area of grief, writes there are four tasks of mourning:
1. To accept the reality of the loss.
2. To work through the pain of grief.
3. To adjust to an environment where the deceased is missing.
4. To find an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life.
Dr. Worden acknowledges there is work involved in each of these tasks and reminds us that these are not meant to be a linear progression, though there is a logical sequence. One cannot expect to “complete” one and then move to another. These can all be in play at any given time, with more emphasis on one or some than another. Funerals and memorial services play an important role in giving structure, comfort, acceptance, and meaning to people who are grieving.
Dr. Worden, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, and others who conduct research and are widely regarded as experts on this subject all acknowledge what I see all the time, that people who lean-in toward their pain are doing the work of mourning and moving forward in that process.
Funerals and Memorial Services represent opportunities for people to come together with a common purpose, to share the loss and to provide and receive comfort and meaning. It’s important to get this right. As I explained to my friend Jerry, the dead don’t care, but the living do.
I know Jerry would want what is best for his family. That’s why I hope I convinced him not to micro-manage the needs of his survivors, because these are their needs. It should be their right to come together for a meaningful goodbye without the guilt of feeling that they acted contrary to his wishes.