Cemeteries Get Creative to Survive in Their Role of Caring for the Dead

by Bonnie Jean Feldkamp, RCN

As a teenager, I frequently walked to St. Stephen Cemetery after school to sit by my mom’s headstone. She died in a car accident when I was seven and I didn’t fully understand it enough to confront what that meant for me until adolescence.

That was the memory that jarred me when my husband sent me an announcement for a movie to be shown in Linden Grove Cemetery. He thought it might be fun. I didn’t like the idea of movie night in a place of mourning. It seemed flip. Disrespectful at the least. An exploitation of death at worst. I envisioned strangers using headstones as seats to keep their bottoms clean and dry while they munched popcorn and enjoyed themselves. It bothered me. I had questions. Luckily, I knew just who to ask.

Cole Imperi is not only a friend but a leader in the death community. She’s a Thanatologist, an expert on death and dying. She also happens to be the Vice President of the Board of Overseers of Historic Linden Grove Cemetery and Arboretum. Imperi helped me understand what I was missing.

Two things I learned right away. One: movies are shown on five acres of greenspace where there are no burials. Two: the cemetery is essentially full. Those two statements seem contradictory to me. How can you have five open acres but still be considered full? Easy. There’s an underwater spring in the greenspace area and any attempted burial would be submerged in water. That means plenty of respectful room for movies and other events.

Cole Imperi

The next thing Imperi helped me understand is this conundrum: when a cemetery can no longer perform burials, how does it afford the maintenance and management of a 22.5-acre graveyard that’s over 175 years old? This struggle isn’t unique to Linden Grove Cemetery. Many older cemeteries face this same predicament. Historic Linden Grove was consecrated in 1843. It’s hard to imagine them not being full.

Whose budget carries the line item for cemeteries? I assumed either it fell on the municipality or whichever religious institution founded it. The truth is, it depends. Some cemeteries, like St. Stephen where my mom is buried, are the responsibility of the Catholic Diocese. Linden Grove Cemetery, however, has a more complicated history of ownership and disrepair. These days the Board of Overseers manages and operates the cemetery with some funding from both the City of Covington and Kenton County. However, that funding does not cover everything.

The next assumption I had to confront was that cemeteries are a somber place of mourning for everyone. That’s simply not true. Linden Grove Cemetery has walking trails and Pokemon Gyms, and it hosts events like movie nights and even an upcoming car show. This is nothing new. Imperi is quick to say, “Cemeteries were our first parks.” Historically, before we had museums and public parks, we had cemeteries. People would take quiet walks among beautiful sculptures. Families would picnic on the lush lawns and there were even carriage races and hunting happening in cemeteries.

Cole Imperi and Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

“Civic engagement and history connects in the cemetery,” says Imperi. Linden Grove Cemetery is so close to both St. Elizabeth Hospital and Kenton County Administration that it’s the place many go for their lunchtime walk on a nice day. The Pokemon activity even prompted a group of players to reach out to the cemetery and volunteer their time in appreciation. On the hottest days of summer, thanks to greenspace, the cemetery stays a whole 10 degrees cooler than the surrounding urban streets. This provides those without air conditioning respite from the heat in a beautiful park-like setting.

My initial perspective was an emotional one, born of fear that stemmed from traumatic childhood experience. My knee-jerk reaction was to internalize and judge. I’m glad I stopped and took the time to reach out to my friend Cole Imperi to learn more. Not only did it ease my pain, but it gave me a different outlook on cemetery experience. Our society likes to separate death from life as something of lore and gore, especially around Halloween time. But death is a part of life, not apart from life. We can honor that connection at our community’s cemeteries.

Complete Article HERE!

A Personal Día de Los Muertos Journey

By Joseph Leahy

A transplant to Los Angeles since 1988, Joseph Leahy was familiar with mortality. His family was in the funerary business. His family often took him to the cemetery as a child. “I’ve spent a lot of time around death and dying,” Leahy said. It was only when he moved out West, however, that he discovered the traditions of Día de los Muertos and identified with it. His enthusiasm for the celebration was so much so that his altars were often lauded in the early years of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s annual celebrations. Today, he continues to honor its sanctity with a yearly ritual commemorating his loved ones through a personal altar made at home and with the help of his daughter. His appreciation for the sacred tradition has also influenced his work in the HIV positive/AIDS communities. Apart from his yearly personal altar, Leahy has also helped these communities celebrate the ones they’ve loved and lost through meaningful remembrance.

Is there greener life after death?

An alkaline hydrolysis device

By Tom Jokinen

In Winnipeg in a January blizzard, there are few places as toasty and sheltered as a crematorium. I know this because I worked in one. When the cremation chamber, or retort, is firing at 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit (900 Celsius), the work space is balmy, like a ski lodge. The noise of the powerful gas jets is buffered by the stone and steel of the machinery. When the gear is running, all you hear is a low, soothing rumble. It’s peaceful. I used to read Eudora Welty short stories while the body burned, stopping regularly to monitor temperatures and stoke the remains with an iron hook passed through a small, eye-level porthole in the oven door. The process is conducive to reflection.

Cremation seems clinical: fire, ashes. But in fact there is enormous spiritual heft behind it. We talk about the cleansing power of fire. As a funeral rite it goes back to the Bronze Age at least. “Fire,” writes the philosopher Gaston Bachelard, “magnifies human destiny, it links the small to the great, the hearth to the volcano.” Man “hears the call of the funeral pyre” not as destruction but as a road to renewal. This is overstating the case, as French philosophers do, but it still scans. Now try saying the same about a chemical process.

Last week, I read a story about a new process called alkaline hydrolysis. In a nutshell, it’s like cremation without the fire: The body is immersed in chemicals in a cylindrical device that looks (judging from the photo, as I’ve never seen one up close) like a large telescope with an Instant Pot lid. The chemicals break down the soft tissue, which is flushed away, leaving behind bones and any non-organic residue such as tooth fillings or artificial hips. The device is called a Resomator, a Doctor-Whovian commercial euphemism for what is basically a body-dissolving machine.

Industry licensing bodies such as the Bereavement Authority of Ontario are not sure what to make of alkaline hydrolysis. Is it safe to just flush the liquefied organic material into the city sewage system? Are there health risks? Is it dangerous or just very, very creepy? Is it any creepier than cremation – or burial for that matter? For now, though, its main selling point is that alkaline hydrolysis is considered greener, or less carbon-intensive, than other methods.

According to the Ecology Action Centre, the average cemetery buries 4,500 litres of formaldehyde, 97 tonnes of steel and 56,000 board feet of hardwood per acre. A single cremation, which intuitively (and emotionally) seems so clean and efficient, uses as much fossil-fuel energy as an 800-kilometre car trip. Sulphur dioxide and mercury are released into the atmosphere, up the flue. That warm feeling on a January day in Winnipeg comes at an ecological cost.

Meanwhile, hydrolysis uses one-eighth the energy spent in cremation. There is no embalming, no casket or container. Even with cremation, there is always a container of some kind, including, in my experience, very expensive hardwood caskets with brass trimmings. So alkaline hydrolysis is marketing itself thusly: your green alternative.

When you’re dead, there are few options for what happens next. I don’t mean spiritually – that’s between you and your God or His/Her metaphysical substitute. I mean with the body. We all leave a remainder. Some more than others. You can bury it, sink it in the sea, leave it in the trees or on hilltops to be devoured by carrion birds – known technically as excarnation, a natural process of removing the flesh before earth burial (in Tibetan and Comanche cultures, known as sky burial) – or most commonly you can burn it. In Canada, the cremation rate varies by region, but in 2018 more than 61 per cent of the dead in Ontario and Manitoba and more than 71 per cent in Quebec were cremated. The national cremation rate is expected to rise to 76.9 per cent by 2023, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

For the funeral industry, cremation has always been a shoe that pinches. It’s an industry based on the pricing of intangibles: the meaning of life and death, ritual, the concept of “closure.” It has been able to translate the emotional turbulence of death into product (caskets, vaults, embalming) and real estate (cemeteries), but over the past 50 years has watched as a cultural revolution changed everything. Religion loosened its hold, and fewer people felt bound by tradition. Cremation was cheaper. People moved around – for work, for relationships – and the idea of a permanent resting place lost its appeal. Postmodernism struck the funeral industry: Meaning and ritual came down to personal taste.

So the industry reinvented itself. Funerals became “celebrations of life,” and funeral directors became event planners like those who booked weddings (and the cost of weddings, they noticed, was skyrocketing). If cremation was on the rise, it could surely be monetized: urns shaped like golf bags, garden watering cans or basketballs, depending on the hobbies of the dead in question. Cemeteries focused on marketing columbaria, the small, above-ground vaults for urns.

I once met a cemetery salesman who assured me that scattering human remains was illegal (not true) and that he himself once stepped on a human bone on a beach in British Columbia (unlikely, as most crematoria process the remains to a fine, biologically inert powder). His sales pitch was simple: Only the industry knows how to handle what we all leave behind – the rest of us are not equipped. It’s a powerful message. As Jessica Mitford, author of The American Way of Death, found out, people will pay to avoid dealing with death and will subcontract what is basically an existential puzzle (what’s to become of me?) to a professional.

But it’s possible to be too clinical. We like at least a little meaning with our rituals, especially the death rituals. “Belief in a future state,” writes Bertram S. Puckle in Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, a 1926 text, “presupposed a material existence after death, with corresponding material necessities. Food must be provided, weapons and clothing, and a supply of charms with which to ward off evil influences.” And so even today people are buried with iPhones or cremated with a blanket from home. This is not superstition. It is about doing the right thing, even if the thing is a complete mystery. Alkaline hydrolysis is maybe too much like a chemistry experiment to bear much meaning.

And the industry continues to adapt and innovate. An Italian company used to market the Capsula Mundi, a starch-based, acorn-like pod that calls for no headstone as it, with the body, dissolves in time as compost and produces a tree. Demand, it turns out, was slim. Now the company offers an egg-like urn for cremated remains that does the same job for US$457 – tree not included. (But again, there’s the carbon footprint of the cremation itself.)

Straight-up green burial – in a shroud, with no embalming, in a legally designated forest (the law frowns on “freelance” burial) – is sparsely available. The industry has never embraced it.

Maybe it expects greater things from alkaline hydrolysis. After all, if meaning is and always will be knit deeply into our death rituals, it ticks the right boxes: In life, we rejected plastic straws and used twirly light bulbs. In death, we were thus safely melted. Carve it into your tombstone.

Complete Article HERE!

Netherlands nuns convert former battlefield to “natural burial” cemetery

Natural burials are a return to the old-world way, which avoids chemicals and resource waste.

By J-P Mauro

In a gorgeous plot of land that was once the site of the Battle of Arnhem in World War II, the Trappistine Sisters of the Abbey of Koningsoord in the Netherlands have opened a new cemetery where they will be providing natural burials.

“Natural burial” is a term that describes the burial practices of humankind for the majority of history. The process avoids embalming chemicals, as well as steel or cement vaults that are placed underground to protect the coffin from the natural course of decomposition.

These natural burials are becoming more popular today, as they are substantially more eco-friendly than the modern burial. According to Order of the Good Death, a website that supports the return to natural burial, modern burial practices can take a hefty toll on the environment, and squander valuable non-renewable and non-biodegradable resources. They write:

“American funerals are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood … 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. Even cremation is an environmental horror story, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.”

At the Trappistines’ new cemetery, known as Koningsakker — King’s Field — the nuns are trying to remedy these ecosystem compromising factors by returning to the old methods of burial. Hettie van der Ven of Crux news reports that bodies there are not encased within a casket, but rather wrapped in a burial shroud made from linen, jute, hemp and wool that will biodegrade much faster. This avoids wasting natural resources and burying forever materials that would have impeded the decomposition process.

The sisters told Katholiek Nieuwsblad Foundation, a Dutch Catholic news organization, that they were inspired to open the cemetery by their American sister-house, The Trappistine Sisters of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Cross, in Virginia, who opened their own natural burial cemetery several years ago. The cemetery will provide the sisters with funds to sustain them, along with a book bindery and a restoration workshop.

While originally intended to serve as a Catholic cemetery, Koningsakker is now a public cemetery and the nuns welcome people of all faiths and walks of life, even those who come from foreign lands. The nuns feel that this was the right way to go, as it gives their graveyard an opportunity to impact a much wider range of the community. Riny Bergervoet, the cemetery’s location manager, said:

“Natural burials are a perfect fit for this day and age. At the end of their lives, people are looking for connection with the ground they came from and on which they are living … Choosing this as a resting place is a testimony to one’s identity. People know that we are praying for them on a daily basis, which they find very uplifting.”

CruxNews reports that Koningsakker currently only has four people buried on their property, but dozens have already reserved a plot. It’s only a matter of time before this “natural cemetery” will be full of people visiting their beloved lost.

Complete Article HERE!

A Documentary of Funeral Care for Abandoned AIDS Patients

With restrained camera work, “Departing Gesture” shows the process of a solitary funeral and burial, tended to by funeral-home staff.

By Sarah Larson

Jonathan Napolitano and Brian Bolster’s eleven-minute documentary “Departing Gesture” opens inside a suburban-style funeral home, with a long shot of a visitation room, where a white-haired man in a red necktie appears to be setting up for a wake. The casket is open, the flower arrangements generous and autumnal. The only people we see are the man in the coffin and the man taking care of him. “It happens more than you think,” a man’s says, in a voice-over. “Maybe ten or twelve deaths a year, I think, where their family would abandon them and never come back.” The film gives us a minute to contemplate this—the screen goes dark and shows a title card, and then the camera lingers on an exterior shot of the tidy funeral home. Who would abandon their late relatives, and why?

“Departing Gesture,” the first film in The New Yorker’s new series highlighting short documentaries, sheds light on this story patiently and with care. It focusses on the Sebrell Funeral Home, in Ridgeland, Mississippi, whose director, Trey Sebrell, is the person we have just heard speaking. Bolster’s camera observes the funeral home, both its public-facing rooms and its behind-the-scenes areas—offices, an embalming room—as we listen to Sebrell talk. “It’s one of those professions that, once you’re involved, you feel like you’re serving,” he says. “Even if I did not love working for myself, I still would be a funeral director and an embalmer at another funeral home in Mississippi.” As Sebrell goes about his work, in a suit and cufflinks, his movements have a calm certitude.

Sebrell Funeral Home has a partnership with a local charity, Grace House, which provides care and housing for people with H.I.V./AIDS; Sebrell cares for its dead, some of whom are ultimately abandoned by the family members who survive them. These families don’t hold a service and don’t want their relative’s remains. In the film, we watch the process of a solitary funeral, of sorts, and a burial, tended to by funeral-home staff.

Many of us have been in funeral homes like Sebrell’s and have attended memorials of various sizes—the wakes that teem with mourners, the calling hours that feel underpopulated. Either circumstance can enhance the sad surreality of death; in this case, the sadness is heightened further still. Bolster’s camera remains static, at a respectful distance, as it watches people at work: a man with flowers, a woman tending to the deceased’s makeup, pallbearers bringing the casket to the hearse. Other shots show us caskets, a lectern, the embalming room and its tools, embroidered seat covers that say “pallbearers.” The restrained camerawork subtly heightens the contrast between life and death, movement and stillness.

Bolster and Napolitano met on the film-festival circuit and have worked together on several projects; for “Departing Gesture,” Bolster shot and Napolitano edited. They met Sebrell in the course of working on a feature, still in development, about H.I.V./AIDS in the American South. The South has become the epicenter of the crisis in the United States, owing to factors including poverty, cuts to health-care funding, and social stigma. And H.I.V. infection in rural areas and smaller cities is on the rise. “I’m very interested in issues of regret,” Bolster told me. As a boy growing up in Massachusetts in the eighties, knowing that he was gay, Bolster watched reports of the unfolding AIDS crisis and the ignorance and fear that surrounded it. “Families abandoned their kids in hospitals,” he said. “I thought, This is what’s going to happen to me.” In 2019, an era of PrEP, undetectable H.I.V. viral loads in well-cared-for patients, and nationwide marriage equality, it can be stunning to see and hear about present-day ignorance that reminds us of decades past—for example, when Sebrell mentions a local funeral home that refused to collect a man’s body after learning that he was gay. “Departing Gesture” gives us a window into such stories with compassion, through Sebrell’s empathy and its own.

Complete Article HERE!

The art of doing makeup on a dead body

Applying makeup on a dead person is not much different than on a living person, one funeral director says.

A funeral director says that applying makeup on a body is not much different than on a living person.

By

Evie Vargas had always been drawn to death. That sounds morbid, or possibly extremely goth, but her interest wasn’t in the afterlife nor the aesthetics. Vargas wanted to pursue a profession rooted in service, and entering the death care industry was a calling — an inexplicable calling that, once she began work, seemed like destiny.

Throughout high school, Vargas considered attending mortuary science school, but worried she wouldn’t be able to handle the sight of a dead body. Still, she knew that a two-year program could lead to an associate’s degree, an apprenticeship, and eventually a mortician job.

To gauge her nerves, Vargas decided to go to a place that would expose her to death firsthand: a funeral home in Illinois.

There, she shadowed an embalmer, who offered her a part-time job after their first session. “He said he saw something in me,” Vargas says, still amazed at how prescient the offer turned out to be. “I didn’t have a license to embalm so I did makeup, dress, and casket.” She’s worked there since graduating from mortuary school.

Even after eight years in the industry, makeup and hair is still a special part of her job, Vargas says. As a funeral director, she does “basically everything” — administrative work, service preparation, meeting with family members, embalming bodies. But she thinks mortuary makeup work is uniquely intimate and significant.

Funeral director Amber Carvaly sets up for a viewing.

Makeup plays a starring role at many funeral services — the last time family members will physically see their loved ones before the casket is closed. These services are usually done by a certified embalmer, a person tasked with cleaning and preparing the body, who takes on the burden of replicating a person’s likeness and essence. Makeup artists — whether embalmers, funeral directors, or freelance workers — find meaning in this ritualistic work of dressing a body, mulling over the details of its presentation, and receiving input from the family. It can help loved ones grieve, artists say, in remembering a person at their best.

Embalming a body and applying eyeshadow seem to demand different skills, but the work contributes to the body’s final presentation. Embalming is typically the first step; fluids are injected into a body during the process to slow its decomposition for the funeral ceremony.

According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance, the process could give the body a more “life-like” appearance, although it isn’t always required. Amber Carvaly, a funeral director at Undertaking LA in California, doesn’t think embalming is necessary for most natural deaths, although it might firm up the skin more. She says that applying makeup on a body isn’t drastically different than working on a living person.

Carvaly has an array of products in her makeup kit — typically thicker theatrical makeup for discoloration or jaundiced bodies — but drugstore brands like Maybelline Cosmetics work fine. There are little techniques and tricks she’s picked up, for example, in applying lipstick on a dead person’s lips, which are much less firm.

She uses a pigmented gloss or mixes a dry lipstick to paint the color on. Vargas prefers using an airbrush kit for a more natural look, since it provides full coverage and is easier than applying foundation.

Carvaly doesn’t work with bodies as much as she likes to anymore, ever since cremation overtook burials as the preferred means of after-life care in 2015. While there is no proven correlation between price and popularity, cremation is cheaper than a burial. According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the average burial and viewing costs $8,508, while the average cremation and viewing comes out to $6,260.

Post-death makeup is only a fraction of the cost for burials — an average of $250 per funeral, according to the NFDA — but the added costs aren’t worth it for some, Carvaly says. Many families struggle emotionally and logistically in the aftermath of a death, she adds. The logistics that go into the burial ceremony, especially dress and makeup, are often the last things on their minds.

A common complaint from families is that a body doesn’t look like their living relative. The embalmer might have parted their hair differently or used an unfamiliar lipstick color. Carvaly points out that family members can do makeup on their loved ones before the body is sent to a home. But if they’re uncomfortable with that, she encourages them to assist the embalmer with the makeup and presentation.

“Doing makeup with the family present is extremely rewarding,” she says, adding that family members’ input makes it much easier to capture the aesthetic essence of a person. It’s helpful for the families as well: “When you’re grieving, having a physical or artistic activity can help walk you through it.”

Years before Carvaly went to mortuary school in Los Angeles, she worked as a cosmetologist on film sets. She’s changed careers multiple times — from makeup to nonprofit work to the death care industry. Like Vargas, Carvaly is dedicated to the service aspect of her job, and she sees makeup as a physical manifestation of that service.

In her seven years of work, Carvaly’s found that most people are uncomfortable in the presence of a dead body, even in preparation for the burial. “I’m more than happy to do makeup for a family if this is something they don’t think they have the strength to do,” she says. “But I want them to know that they have options.”

On rare occasions, she brings along makeup or hair tools for families to touch up their loved ones at the service. She once worked on a woman with blonde, beehive-style hair that she struggled to recreate. At the funeral, Carvaly suggested that the woman’s daughters help her touch it up — a request they were initially shocked by.

“Allowing people to be a part of the funeral is important,” Carvaly says. “Keeping that veil of magic up prevents regular people from doing something very valuable.” Families shouldn’t hesitate to ask a funeral home if they can do their loved ones’ hair and makeup, which could reduce costs, she says.

Shifting social norms and new funeral practices, like eco-friendly burial options, have driven homes to find ways to increase profits — often at the expense of families, who are missing out on an opportunity to properly grieve, Carvaly explains.

“There is no law that prohibits people from coming into a home and requesting that they do makeup on the deceased,” she wrote in an e-mail. And while Carvaly feels that her job is a calling, the daily human interaction can be taxing. The most difficult part of being a funeral director, she says, is explaining why people have to pay for certain services that the home offers.

It’s what upsets people the most, but homes also have to pay for overhead expenses — the indirect costs of operating a business. Carvaly’s funeral home, Undertaking LA, opts to rent time and space from another crematory.

Carvaly’s funeral home co-founder, Caitlin Doughty, has found unprecedented success on YouTube under the account Ask A Mortician, a series where Doughty takes questions about her work and about death.

Demystifying death is a big part of Undertaking LA’s mission — to put the dying person and their family back in control of the dying process and the care of the body. It’s a liberal “death positive” approach, one that Carvaly likens to “breaking down the walls and windows” of a rigid centuries-old industry. Vargas feels similarly, and tries to destigmatize the death industry on her YouTube channel.

After a death occurs, families often immediately send the body to a funeral home and don’t interact with their loved ones until the ceremony. And sometimes, they’re taken aback by the body’s made up appearance. Reclaiming the makeup process can be a cathartic first step, as an unexpected outlet for grief, and eventually acceptance of the death itself.

Complete Article HERE!

My Dying Wife Has a Challenging Request for Her Funeral

She doesn’t want her estranged family to attend. I want to respect her wishes, but am not sure the excluded family members will.

By

My wife and I have been together for 30 years. Five years ago, she started dialysis, and that same year her mother’s divorce from my wife’s stepfather was finalized. Like many divorces, it pretty much split up the family.

My wife’s health is declining rapidly now, and she was also denied placement on the transplant list due to other health issues. We have been discussing her death, and my wife has expressed that she does not want her ex-stepfather or two of her siblings to attend her funeral.

When my wife made her wishes known to her mother, her mother said that my wife’s ex-stepfather has every right to attend the funeral because he raised her since she was about 8 years old, and that the two siblings also have every right to be at her funeral because they’re her brother and sister.

My wife explained that she did not want them at her funeral, because of how her ex-stepfather treated her when she was growing up and because the two siblings sided with him during the divorce. But her mother reiterated that she wouldn’t do anything to stop these people from attending the funeral.

I told my wife that the only way to make sure her wishes are met is to not tell her family about her passing until after she has been laid to rest. My wife agreed that this may be the only solution. Is this the right course to take?

Louis
San Antonio, Texas

Dear Louis,

I’m so sorry that your wife is ill, and I can only imagine that the prospect of her wishes not being met adds substantially to the stress you’re experiencing. But what seems to be getting lost in the understandable turmoil is that your wife is still here, which means she has agency over how she interacts with these people before the funeral happens.

Let’s back up for a minute. What’s complicated about funerals is that not everyone agrees on whom they’re for. Are funerals for the dying, comforted by the knowledge that they’ll be surrounded by friends and family when laid to rest? Or are funerals for the living, a chance to grieve in the company of others and get one final goodbye? Whose comfort and peace of mind are funerals for?

It sounds like you and your wife believe that funerals are for the person who died, and therefore this person should determine before her death who will be there. And it sounds like your mother-in-law believes that funerals are for the living, and therefore that your wife’s ex-stepfather and siblings will want to be there. You probably won’t resolve this philosophical difference—though understanding it may help you to be more compassionate toward your mother-in-law’s view—but you do agree on one thing: These family members mean to attend the funeral.

The question is, why? You don’t say what these relationships are like now—whether your wife is on speaking terms with these relatives; whether they know about her prognosis; whether they’ve shown any concern for her; whether, perhaps, you’ve kept your wife’s condition from them so they haven’t had an opportunity to share their concern. Nor do you say how your wife was mistreated growing up, or whether her mom has acknowledged the extent of the mistreatment. Maybe your wife spoke with her mom about her wishes because she’s no longer in contact with these relatives, but by not communicating with them directly, she puts herself in a position of powerlessness, which may be how she felt growing up and again during the divorce.

Banning people from a funeral is both a personal request and a strong public statement. At least in part, it’s a declaration to all who attend that these people hurt your wife deeply, and in this way, her pain would finally be acknowledged. This is what her wish is fundamentally about: a way for her to deal with the pain of the past.

Quite clearly, though, there’s a catch. If banning them from the funeral represents a final, public acknowledgment of her pain, the one person who needs that acknowledgment most won’t be alive to see it. So maybe it’s worth considering what might bring your wife even more peace than their absence at her funeral: the opportunity to be heard by them now. In my therapy practice, I’ve seen people with terminal illnesses spend the time they have left in different ways. Some people don’t change much—they hold on to their anger and resentments and die with them firmly in place. Others step far outside their comfort zone and grow tremendously in ways that feel immensely gratifying.

I don’t know which route your wife will choose, but here’s an option for her to consider. Instead of saying to her family members, essentially, “I’m angry with you and I get the last word!” (because by the time they learn about the funeral they missed, she’ll already be gone), she might say, “I’m angry with you, and I’d like to understand more about what happened between us before I die.”

She may learn that these relatives don’t realize how much they hurt her; or that they feel bad for having hurt her; or that they feel hurt by her, and there’s another side of the story she hadn’t been willing to consider before—her own role in the family drama. If that’s the case, there might be room for compassion on all sides, and while compassion won’t erase what happened in the past, it might pave the way for a greater understanding that allows a connection to find its way into their lives. And that small change can be potentially transformative, especially at this time in her life.

Of course, just because your wife does something differently doesn’t mean other people will. If they’re not willing to consider your wife’s point of view (remember, they don’t have to agree with it), if they place all the blame on her or are rude or insulting in these conversations, your wife can take a different tack. She can say she believes that the time to show respect is while a person is still alive, and if they can’t show her respect in life, it would be disingenuous of them to pretend to “pay respects” when she’s dead. For this reason, it would upset her to have them at her funeral, and if they genuinely want to pay respects, they can do so by respecting her preference for that day to go as she wishes.

They may say fine. Or they may still insist on coming, in which case she can ask them point-blank, “Why are you insisting on coming to a funeral for someone whose feelings you don’t care about and who doesn’t want you there?” Just hearing the stark truth in this way may encourage them to reconsider.

But here’s the thing: No matter what happens, your wife will have gotten to say her piece while she still can. Whether you have a private service or they attend her funeral, it won’t matter as much as the fact that she was proactive and forthright, spoke her truth directly to the people involved, and took control of what she had control over—how she wanted to live in a way that expressed her self-worth. Some people go their entire lives and never give themselves this opportunity. She doesn’t have to be one of them.

Complete Article HERE!