At one point or another, we will all lose someone we love and care about deeply. If we don’t, then that means we don’t love anyone, and that’s incredibly tragic on its own. But just as we can’t have joy without sadness, we can’t have life without death. When a close family member dies, like a parent, spouse, or sibling, we’ll probably be expected to have a role in planning a funeral or memorial service. That may seem impossible when you’re grieving, but countless people do it every single year, and that means you can as well.
If a family member has been sick for a while, death can come as a sort of relief. Sure, we miss the person who is gone. We miss this person terribly, in fact, but we’re also glad he or she isn’t suffering anymore. It’s a strange feeling, but at least you have time to prepare yourself for that feeling. You can also prepare yourself for the aftermath by talking to your sick relative about how he or she wants the funeral to look. Does the loved one want the body to be embalmed and buried in a coffin, or would he or she prefer cremation services? Are there any songs or passages that to be read at the service? Should the service be open and welcoming or small and private?
Sudden, unexpected deaths are another matter entirely. When those happen, we feel doubly cheated, because we’ve lost someone we love without getting a chance to say goodbye. Accidental deaths or suicides are common methods of death for younger people, so there’s also a sense that the deceased had so much life ahead of him or her, and now it’s gone. Suicide, in particular, is especially tough to comprehend. When the death is sudden, it’s natural to be more uncertain about how a funeral or memorial service should look. If possible, think about the deceased’s favorite songs or movies or books. What traits did the person value the most in other people, and what traits did you value the most in the person? Talk about these things with other people in the deceased’s social circle as well; there’s often no one right answer. While it’s important to honor a person’s final requests, it’s also important to remember that funerals are supposed to comfort the living as well as remember the dead.
Once you’ve made the necessary decisions and gotten through the memorial service, you’ll probably feel exhausted, like you’ve been carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders and can’t do it anymore. That’s natural, and so is a feeling of relief that you don’t have to deal with things like casket finishes and memorial bouquets anymore. Allow yourself time to just be sad and mourn. Take time off work if possible. A few sessions with a grief counselor can also be incredibly helpful. As you mourn, think of other ways to honor your loved one. That could come in the form of a monetary donation to a good cause. When someone dies of cancer, it’s not uncommon for family members to request donations to a cancer charity in lieu of flowers. If your loved one was a history professor who highly valued education, it’s worth seeing if you can start a scholarship in his or her name at a liberal arts college like Linfield College. Make the tribute as personal as you feel it needs to be. You’re loved one is gone, but that doesn’t mean he or she will be forgotten anytime soon.