In my life, I have attended a number of funerals; and I have also officiated at funerals. A perspective I quickly gained was that funerals were not so much for the deceased as they were for the living. A person I held in great respect told me this, shortly before he died; and the sentiment stayed with me. With time, this perspective shifted, somewhat, to a point where I would say that a funeral is for the deceased primarily to the extent that they would wish to know there would be a point for their loved ones to come together to say good-bye, and to be comforted by one another – it is a rite of passage that can bring healing as well as closure, one I think most of us would wish those who survive us to be able to go through without any undue burden. Beyond this, I still believe that funerals are a service for the living. In modern Western society, however (going with the example with which I’m most familiar), I feel like we are often doing a great disservice to the dead and their survivors ….
There was a time, among our forebears, when funeral arrangements (to include financial costs) were handled by the community. While property may have been inherited and awarded upon one’s death, funerary arrangements were a community event, with members of the community doing what was necessary and, in some cases, also contributing to items sacrificed to the grave, so as to help the soul’s passage and station in the afterlife to be more comfortable. I bring this last point up not as a suggestion that this is what we should be doing now; but rather as a contrast to the amounts of money that are charged to the estate of the deceased or to the survivors. As people age, this becomes a genuine worry – the desire to be able to provide for one’s loved ones up to the funeral and distribution of estate can become a source of enormous stress.
I find it worrisome, that funerals cost as much as they do; and that there seem to be more and more reports of abuse and deception taking place in what is in some cases referred to as a ‘market’ – that it is even referred to as such, in my opinion, already demonstrates that something has gone very wrong with how we handle one another. Although I am not a great fan of politics, I will not hesitate to say that I wish the State would be more involved in this process, providing a good funeral service at no personal cost. This would include someone to officiate the funeral – which would in this case be no more of a State sponsoring religion than would be the chaplain services offered through the military branches; and might even be a different approach by which more marginal religious perspectives might gain access to the same services and privileges that the more mainstream religions enjoy. This would insure that religious considerations would be represented and observed. That the cost would come from the community (by form of tax payer money) would also mean that this financial stress would not burden anyone as they approach death – it would be a service provided by the community, for living and deceased alike – and could also be regulated in a way to maintain a quality of services without ‘market exploitation,’ to reduce the financial burden on the community. To some extent, this does already happen … a cremation and an unmarked grave are nice enough for those who want no more than this; but I think there should be more options available for those who might desire them. Then I think funerals would become a greater service for the dead – one of the things many people fear most about dying would be removed – and it would be a greater comfort to friends and loved ones left behind.