October 30th is annual Create a Great Funeral Day. This “holiday” right before Halloween provides an upbeat excuse to start a conversation on a topic most families hesitate to discuss.
The first Create a Great Funeral Day, started by attorney and mediator Stephanie West Allen, took place in 2000. She registered the day at Chase’s Calendar of Events in 1999.
A few years earlier, she saw her husband struggling to pull together a meaningful funeral for his mother, who had left no directions before she died. Observing his grief, Allen felt that knowing what her mother-in-law might have wanted would have eased the pain of memorial service preparations.
As a result of that experience, she wrote Creating Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service: A Workbook. She was among the pioneering authors to create helpful funeral planning resources for the general public.
Allen cautions families against holding what she calls a “facelift funeral.” A facelift funeral goes through the motions but does not address our emotional needs for mourning the loss.
This concept harkens back to Dr. Maxwell Maltz and his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, a best-seller first published in 1960. Dr. Maltz was a plastic surgeon. He noticed that many of the patients who came to him for a new face were actually seeking to change their personalities.
While patients had their exterior features changed, often they still had emotional issues that plastic surgery could not address. He found that self-image is the key to human personality and behavior.
Facelift funerals are not emotionally fulfilling for the participants. These events might have a “rent-a-minister” who didn’t know the deceased and says as much. He might only speak of that religion’s views of heaven, hell, the afterlife, or other theological musings.
The problem is, a rising number of families identify their religion as “none.” To address this issue, non-religious funeral celebrants are getting certified in the U.S. every year. These people make funerals and memorial services all about the decedent by interviewing the family and creating services with themes of the person’s passions and purpose.
Certified funeral celebrants can be found online through two organizations that train celebrants, the In-Sight Institute (www. InSightBooks.com) and the Celebrant Foundation & Institute (www.CelebrantInstitute.org).
Create a Great Funeral Day is an opportune time to talk about what each member of the family would want in their final fling. People can also learn about new avenues available to help families create meaningful, memorable “good goodbyes” to loved ones.