A Griever’s Goodbye
Saying goodbye can be one of the most important parts of the grieving process. Many people want to ensure that the way they say goodbye is as true to the loved one they are grieving as possible. This is usually done through funeral and memorial preparations. However, so many people around the world today are finding their traditions being squashed due to Covid-19. Many plans that were perhaps made in the family member’s preparation who planned their funeral ahead of time or by the bereaved in advance had to be changed.
Much like grief, Covid-19 has left many people feeling like they don’t have a choice. And, that has been the case – many haven’t been given a choice as to how they bury a loved one and celebrate a departed loved one’s life. Saying goodbye to a loved one making their transition has had to change during these times. The last connection that could have otherwise happened isn’t possible. Or, in the case of a grief recovery client of mine, they couldn’t even see their loved one before they were cremated because their loved one was Covid-positive. I don’t know if this is still the case now, but for this client, that left a void in the grief that only one last look could have soothed. It’s not as if seeing their loved one would have taken their sorrow away. Rather emotionally, it does something for the heart. It’s that one last look; an opportunity to say out loud, even if their loved one isn’t hearing them in the physical sense, but spiritually, too, it’s a soothing balm to a grievers heart.
Seeing a loved one’s physical body before burial, although painful, can soothe the grieving heart. And, you may not realize this until you’re not allowed to do so. Anything less than compounds the abruptness of the loss (even if you have time to prepare yourself like a terminal illness). This abruptness also adds to the conflicting feelings. In effect, it feels like there’s an incompleteness of the experience of the burial itself, which only adds to the already conflicting feelings grief brings.
How do we make the most of horrible situations such as these?
I don’t have all of the answers. Nobody does. But, if you’re able to follow the wishes of your loved one, that’s a little piece of comfort for doing your part in following a loved one’s dying wishes. Do you know what your loved one wants? Now is a good time to ask. It doesn’t have to take a loved one dying to have an open and honest conversation about what you would like for your arrangements. If you have children (this is especially important), who do you want to be in charge of their care if something happens to you or you and your spouse/significant other at the same time? Have you had that conversation with loved ones? Do you want to be cremated? Why or why not?
We’ve been accustomed to death-aversion. We’re afraid to talk about our mortality. In so doing, we’re acknowledging that we truly only have the promise of today. I recently had a conversation with a woman by the name of Anne Jacobs. You’ll want to catch her podcast episode when it goes live on May 18th, 2021. She’s been living with metastatic breast cancer for seventeen years. SEVENTEEN YEARS, friends! Talk about a rollercoaster ride of emotions. And, she’s not alone. She shared there’s a woman in her circle that’s lived with metastatic breast cancer for twenty-five years! That’s incredible! In listening to Anne, it’s as if it becomes a lifestyle. Almost like someone who becomes a vegan yogi, only it’s a daily practice of survival. I can’t even imagine. Seriously, I can’t wait to share her episode. If you want to hear a story of hope and the importance of living for today, it’s her story. So impactful!
Going back to our loved ones’ wishes, a good friend of mine shared that a loved one had put money down on a bar tab before they died because they didn’t want everyone eating food and being sad and mopey. They wanted everyone to laugh and have a good time. Granted, over a year ago, I would’ve jumped all over that idea. Still, considering I’ve given up alcohol and I have a better understanding of how we often turn to alcohol to cope with our lives or situation, that’s not high on my list like it once was. A fun idea, though! It’s more my speed that everyone plants a tree, to be honest. I love trees. I’m especially fond of streets where the trees are so old and grown that they meet high above the road and cover the street, creating this canopy of color in the fall. That’s the kind of street I’d love to live on, too. Anyway, I digress.
If the person you love has always had a strong set of environmental principles, perhaps some of these suggestions may resonate. Of course, these suggestions are likely only possible if Covid restrictions have lessened in your part of the world/country. I hope that leadership comes to understand the importance of a proper (and desired) burial for the bereaved. Much like the kids need to be in school to obtain their education, I feel that with proper measures and the quick testing available now, that funerals can happen safely – and like they used to. It’s so important in the grieving process for people who didn’t get to be there for their loved one in the healthcare facility that they at least get to be with them in the way of a proper burial and celebration of life.
In places where restrictions have lessened, here are some suggestions – including some eco-friendly ones. I kind of like the coffin turning into a tree idea (see above). 😉 Although, that may look a bit strange in a church cemetery.
Choosing an Eco-Friendly Burial
Your loved one may not have liked the idea of a traditional burial for a lot of reasons. For one, they may not approve of setting aside a piece of land solely for themselves when they’re not conscious of using it. As such, you might want to look into more eco-friendly methods of burial. For instance, woodland burial sites are available and can be used with biodegradable coffins to help return them to the earth in the truest sense. Eco-pods that turn into trees have also been growing popular in some locations.
Another option that is even less wasteful is foregoing a burial with a traditional casket and choosing cremation instead. Until recently, I didn’t realize that viewing was an option before cremation. Loved ones can say their goodbyes with the loved one in a casket, and later, the body is cremated. Optionally, to traditional cremation practices, you can also then return the remains of your loved one to the earth with the help of options like biodegradable wood cremation urns. This way, you can end up with no waste at all or, even if it’s not biodegradable, you can make sure it is at least made with renewable materials.
Following the Departed’s Lifestyle Choices
In the few days following the death of a loved one, you may choose to host a wake or a similar gathering if it fits with the deceased’s traditions. While wakes are mostly for the living, you may choose to make sure that it fits the principles of your loved one. If they, for instance, chose not to eat meat in life due to environmental and ethical concerns, then you may want to ensure that the wake is meat-free as well. This can also go for any meals served as part of the memorial.
Help in Their Name
Grief can be many things and take many forms, but one truth you will find almost universally is that grief is a motivator. It can particularly motivate people to act in the ways that their lost loved ones would have wanted. For instance, you can take the opportunity to arrange a donation drive or even a volunteer effort towards a local environmentally-friendly cause in the name of your loved one. This can be a wonderful memorial to go alongside a relatively cost and waste-free service, making sure that any money spent will be for a good cause.
Planting a Tree
You may want to have a memorial beside a gravestone or an urn to help you remember the person you loved. If they have touched their community’s lives, it’s not uncommon to arrange for a placard or a bench to be put up in their honor. However, it may better fit an environmentally-conscious loved one’s desires and aims to plant a tree in their honor instead (this is my wish). This way, they can contribute in some small way to creating a greener world.
If you have been left as the executor of the deceased’s last wishes, first of all – bless your heart. That is not a job for the faint of heart. And, if you’ve been chosen, it’s for a good reason. Your first job may be to see that their assets go to those that they rightfully go to. You have to follow the will of the deceased, where it can be found and, where it can’t, you may have to follow the law. However, if there are no next of kin to which you can pass their belongings, you can instead make sure that it is either reused and donated or disposed of in the most environmentally conscious of ways.
It’s important to balance the departed wishes with what is feasible and sensitive to those who are saying goodbye. You can take steps to make sure you are respectful of the one you have lost, but be sure that it does not place an undue burden on yourself. Loss, no matter if you have time to prepare or you don’t, in the end, feels abrupt. One day they’re here; the next, they are not. So, even having time in advance to sort out burial wishes and wills, and so forth, doesn’t change the fact that the grief is there. However, planning offers a great reprieve and eases the burden of making some of the most difficult decisions loved ones have to make at one of the most emotionally charged moments in their life.
All of us can do our loved ones a favor and put our wishes in writing in advance. We can have open and honest conversations with our loved ones about what we want. Again, putting it in writing is the best step forward in ensuring that your wishes are met.
End-of-Life Doula Service Coming Soon!
Stay tuned for more posts like this. Next month, I will be completing an End-of-Life Doula certification. What’s an End-of-Life Doula, you ask? An end-of-life doula is a non-medical professional trained to care for a terminally ill person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs during the death process. While you may never have heard of this position in the healthcare field, “death doulas,” as they’re often called, are a fantastic resource for those dying and their loved ones to fill the gap of hospice care. Also, given my background as an advanced certified grief recovery specialist and Reiki Master, I feel as though I can add a level of support not found anywhere else in my region. And, living in a rural area, access to services is often at the forefront of loved one’s minds. I can’t wait to offer this service to my region. Stay tuned for more on this! And, if you know you’re already interested in this service for your loved one, please reach out via the contact form.
Love + light to you if this week’s blog post feels just a bit too timely. 💛
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