This contribution is from our friend at Heritage Gardens Cemetery, Trevor Crean
What We Do
Funeral service is heavy duty. It’s never consistent- either it’s slow or you’re so busy you skip meals, the hours are challenging, and every client is an emotional investment; their stories can be heartbreaking. But within this realm of calm and chaos is a beautiful glimpse into the human experience. This is probably what keeps most funeral directors going – the ability to witness families, cultures or faith communities say goodbye to one of their own. The love, the sorrow, the honour that they bestow.
In a city as multicultural as Metro Vancouver, I have witnessed many forms of paying respect and saying goodbye. I’ve observed the strength of having a belief system; where the community already has a prescribed series of steps or rituals to guide a family through grief and loss. They are comforted spiritually, physically and emotionally. Often, these rituals formed over hundreds or thousands of years- they do not come out of thin air. Sometimes at the end of a life, questions can haunt a family. The whys, what ifs and what nows. I’m not saying a family doesn’t experience that just because they go to church, but there is consolation in having a spiritual framework to lean on.
Planning a Service
In today’s modern world, fewer families identify with organized religion. Other families may be second or third generation here in Canada and may be detached from some of their cultural end of life rituals. This can make planning a graveside service or celebration of life challenging and stressful. While we have no control over suffering a loss, we have a lot of control over how we say goodbye. If you are struggling to come up with a way to honour a life lived, here are some considerations:
Build a Picture
- You knew your Father as a Dad. It’s different from how your Uncle knew him as a brother, or one of his colleagues knew him. Inviting people to share different aspects of your loved one’s life is a way to build a picture of who this person was that connects with everyone.
Set the Tone
- Music, time of day, the décor and the clothing you wear set the tone for this occasion. Consider how you want it to feel: Sad and sombre like the movies? Or are we gathering to celebrate a life lived well with some funny stories and grand accomplishments along the way. Opening with a song is a very powerful way to set the tone for your memorial. Pro tip – Make sure you’re using a decent speaker. That Bluetooth job kicking around under your car seat is not going to resonate very hard if it can barely top a crow flying by. Music needs to hit people right in the chest if you’re going to use it to set the tone.
Lastly, Establish Significance
- I can’t state this one enough. If you’ve ever been to a burial and at the end the director asks if anyone wants to put dirt on the casket, you’ve just witnessed a massive opportunity lost. For 99% of our lives, most of us avoid dirt. We don’t think about it, it’s something we want out of our apartments. So why, at this hugely sensitive and emotional time, would I want to grab a handful and put it on my Mum’s casket? It makes a big difference if there is significance attached to the action. When the celebrant or funeral director offers everyone a chance to come forward, pay their final respects by placing a hand and some Earth on the casket. That earth has been used symbolically for centuries, as a way of the family and friends gathered here at the graveside to say farewell and play a role in the burial of their loved one.
When we understand the reason, the significance, of our actions, they can take on a whole new meaning. In a realm as heavy as grief and loss, little bits of meaning are sometimes all that we have, and they make an impact on how we go forward. Here at Heritage Gardens, we have a memorial program that enables families to give back to the community or help the environment. When you stroll our grounds and see a bronze salmon, that family contributed to the Little Campbell Hatchery just a kilometre downstream from us. When you see bee or butterfly plaques, those families sponsored a beehive in memory of their loved one, and will share in the honey produced next season.
Establishing significance. Finding meaning. We can’t change what has happened, but we can change how it goes from here.