What I Take Away From Funerals, Memorials, and Celebrations of Life

Columnist Colleen Steele offers constructive observations about honoring the departed

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by Colleen Steele |

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My family has grieved the passing of many people over the years. Some died peacefully from natural causes, too many were taken by pulmonary hypertension (PH) and other diseases, and a few left this world both suddenly and tragically. Ages have ranged from the very young to the very old.

Funerals, memorials, and celebrations of life — both in person and virtually — have felt heart-wrenching to attend no matter the age of the deceased or the circumstances in which they passed. But recent loss has me thinking about how meaningful these end-of-life celebrations are to me.

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Good grief!

People tend to put words in the mouths of the deceased to encourage loved ones not to cry during their final farewells. “They would want you to celebrate the life they had and not feel sad” is often said. I’ve also known the living to mention how they would want people to feel and react at their own funerals by requesting, “Share stories, laugh, and don’t cry over me.”

Personally, I don’t agree with hiding your sadness.

I see tears as a beautiful tribute to the deceased. They are an expression of love and as powerful as words. Caring enough to publicly cry over a person who has passed is a way of showing how much their life touched yours.

Smiles and laughter blend well with tears and are a beautiful and acceptable way to celebrate a life that will be greatly missed. It is all good grief!

Surprises and inspiration

It might sound a bit dark, but I enjoy eulogies.

I love learning details about a person’s life I may not have been aware of, such as hobbies, travel, volunteerism, education, careers, faith, values, struggles, and accomplishments. Whatever they might be, I always find them interesting and enlightening.

These surprises remind me how complex people are and why you should never judge a book by its cover. There is often more to a person’s story than what I think I know. I often leave funerals with the desire to show more empathy, respect, and basic kindness to others.

I also listen intently to eulogies and conversations at funeral receptions for ways in which the departed inspired people. I think about how I can better live my life through their example.

Innocence, wisdom, and love

The sadness I have felt at children’s funerals has been overwhelming. It’s hard not to feel anything but a broken heart when remembering a life cut so short. But I have also been amazed by the wisdom that little ones, especially in the PH community, often leave the world to reflect upon and put into practice. Disease has a way of making an innocent child wise beyond their years.

Their loving parents then somehow find the strength to share the light their child has brought into the world, and I take it personally to help them keep it shining by remembering them and sharing their story with others.

Strengthened by faith

Although I’m Catholic, I still struggle sometimes with anger toward God when I’m grieving. But I always find spiritual strength in the funeral Mass and often in the faith of the departed. I find great comfort in believing they are with God now.

Reconnecting at the receptions

Funeral and memorial receptions are a wonderful way to gather socially to share memories and pictures of the dearly departed, but they also help family and friends reconnect with one another.

I have left funeral receptions feeling blessed by all the people in my life who, although I might not see them very often, still care about me, as I do them.

I always feel like I return home with many gifts after attending end-of-life celebrations — strength and inspiration, friendship, family, love, and precious memories.

As much as I wish I could …

I can’t attend every funeral, memorial, or celebration of life, usually due to distance. It’s emotionally painful every time I can’t attend, but it frequently happens, as I’m sure others will understand.

What I do in that case is to watch the funeral virtually if it is offered. Then I can reach out to the family in some way. I can also reach out to someone who attended that I haven’t spoken to in a while.

“A great soul serves everyone all the time. A great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again.” — Maya Angelou

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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