Death: What makes a good funeral?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Death
The Good Funeral Long and Lynch

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Our most famous poet/author/undertaker Thomas Lynch says our culture made a wrong turn when we turned our focus from burying the dead to relieving the living of the burden of grief.

“In the latter paradigm, the corpse became unnecessary and oppressively weighted baggage, an encumbrance, freighted with suffering and pain and sadness, better disposed of so that the mourners could travel light through their ‘celebrations of life’,” Lynch wrote in his most recent book co-authored with Thomas G. Long, The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care.

“Dr. Long and I have shared for years the sense that the religious and the community response to a death in the family had, for a variety of reasons, gone astray, leaving the bereaved hard-pressed to reinvent a wheel to work the important space between faith and feeling, body and soul, bereavement and belief, the living and dead” Lynch writes.

Lynch is not alone in preferring traditional funerals to “celebrations of life.”

“We have a saying among those who work in the world of bereavement, ‘The longer the driveway – the shorter the funeral’,” psychotherapist Penn Barbosa wrote in a blog post devoted to grief and bereavement. “There is a growing trend in America, starting with the upper socioeconomic classes and filtering down to the less wealthy – funeral services are becoming unpopular. . . .  Another form of this trend is not to call it a funeral but rather a ‘celebration’ of the person’s life.”

The trend is well-intentioned, Barbosa notes, and certainly a period of mourning should include time to celebrate a life.

“However, if we focus only on celebrating the person’s life, are we unknowingly excluding the necessary mourning that needs to be worked through?”

What makes a good funeral?

Do you prefer a “celebration of life”?

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(Originally published at, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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