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2017: Bereavement, funerals and death-positivity

A solemn young man on a laptop in a cosy room

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

At the beginning of 2017 we launched our blog, to provide stories and information we hope will be helpful or comforting if you’ve been bereaved, or inform you about end of life matters.

As we come to the year end, we take a look back at some of the stories that we’ve featured. If you are grieving the loss of someone, or supporting someone you know through bereavement, you may find our Help & Resources pages helpful.

Big questions: funerals, end of life and bereavement

an older woman on a laptop

Is it ever okay to use a cell-phone at a funeral, or are they a part of a modern world which mourns via social media? While taking a call – or a selfie – would be rightly frowned upon, experts have been exploring how smart technology can play a part in how we approach the end of life and grieve.

Bereaved older people living in remote areas have been brought together by scientists from the University of Arizona in a virtual reality world, as part of a study into virtual spaces could benefit older adults who have lost a spouse. We also explored how pioneering virtual reality projects are helping improve quality of life for people with life-limiting conditions or a terminal illness.

Death in a digital world

Two men playing the board game Hello

Meanwhile, a high-tech doll called Julia is helping students at the University of Houston’s College of Nursing learn more about broaching the emotional side of discussing end of life matters with patients and their loved ones.

“The more times we can experience these scenarios, the calmer we are able to feel,” explained nursing student, Vy Pham.

Less high-tech, but inspirational nonetheless, is a traditional-style board game called Hello. Players get to ask thought-provoking posers – “In order to provide you with the best possible care, what three medical facts should your doctor know about you?” – to kick-start the sharing of home-truths around the dinner table.

It’s an end-of-life conversation game for talking about serious things in an engaging, fun way and learn a little more the people that you love – and maybe even yourself- along the way.

Preparing to journey through grief

A vintage photo of morticians who were founders of Seleceted Independent Funeral Homes

Many experts agree that we’re becoming out of touch with death, saying it’s become ‘medicalized’ as people live out their final days. It’s a different world from 100 years ago when so many people slipped away quietly at home.

Back then, a group of family-focussed morticians founded what’s known today as Selected Independent Funeral Homes (its founding members are pictured above). Assuring bereaved families of impeccably high standards of care, it was formed with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

In another fascinating blog post, 10 incredible vintage funeral photos told the story of how Americans paid tribute to loved ones when they died, a century ago.

Becoming more open to talking about end of life matters, is what the Death Positive movement is all about. If you are open to meeting new people, a Death Café could be the place to engage in interesting, supportive and thought-provoking conversation about death, dying and journeying through grief.

Funeral wishes

Jotting funeral wishes in a notebook

Talking frankly about end-of-life matters and your end-of-life funeral wishes can be a great comfort to the people you leave behind when you die. Yet according to the National Funeral Directors Association, just one in five of the 66% of Americans who say they think it’s to open up about dying matters with family members, have actually had that conversation.

Changing times are seeing some people have other ideas, when it comes to a traditional funeral when they die. For a growing number of baby-boomers, funeral director Phillip A. Maher told Funeral Guide, it’s a case of feeling that a celebration of life would be a more fitting choice.

Funeral rites

A bereaved couple hold hands at a funeral

However, some are shrugging off the idea of a funeral altogether. It’s a philosophy which doesn’t entirely convince Dr Bill Hoy, an expert in funeral rituals and professor at Baylor University, Texas, as he explained to Funeral Guide: “I have a sneaking suspicion that the vast majority of people who say, ‘When I’m dead, just throw me in a ditch’ are desperately hoping that someone will say, ‘No way, no how. You’ve had too big an influence on our community’.”

“I really believe that they want someone to help them articulate that they have some kind of purpose and they’re not just taking up space.” Yet some things don’t change. As archaeologist Dr Lindsey Büster explored in a fascinating journey through time, rites and rituals are an important way for the living to maintain a continuing bond with loved ones who have died; from Egyptian embalming to ‘Ghost Bike’ memorials and social media tributes of today.

We also took a look at how digital gravestones are providing a futuristic way of sharing the story of someone’s life.

A woman looks at a digital gravestone

Our instinct for continuing emotional bonds with the people we love when they die reflects why the funeral can be such an important part of the grieving process for the people left behind.

Whether it’s a traditional funeral with a formal visitation, green burial or a cremation followed by a personalized memorial ceremony, “there’s a living component and a death component to a funeral,” says Phillip A. Maher.

“It’s about the start of the bereaved family’s journey towards healing.”

“When it’s swept under the rug, at some point you’ll recognize that you need to grieve the death before you heal,” says Selected Independent Funeral Homes’ Rob Paterkiewicz.

“In the funeral service, we’re trying to get that point across.”

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