3 Reasons to Talk About How Your Dead Are Laid to Rest

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When someone we care about is dying, family and friends are often kept in the loop via text or email or a community-care app or website. The person dies and if we’re lucky there’s a gathering of sorts to bring people together to honour, remember, mourn and celebrate this person we must now live without.  

However, nowhere in this profound process of loss and life transition does anyone say publicly what happened (or is going to happen) to the deceased. It’s as if they’ve just disappeared! I don’t mean why or how they died. I’m talking about the intentional or unintentional omission of what happened or is going to happen to the deceased now that they are dead. 

Were they buried and if so, where? If cremated, will their ashes be placed (interred) in a cemetery or is there another plan? Regardless of their choice, as a mourner outside the inner circle, I’m distracted from my grief wondering things like: is there somewhere I can visit or a special place of remembrance? Is this person I care about is in a cooler waiting in line for their cremation? Are their ashes in an urn here in the room where we’re gathered and I just don’t know? Are they being buried after the gathering but it’s a private graveside service?


Without knowing how someone is laid to rest, my goodbye feels incomplete.
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We need to talk about how people are laid to rest for three key reasons:

  1. Acknowledging how someone is laid to rest facilitates grieving.

    Laying the deceased to rest (legally known as “final disposition”) is a time when the physical body is relinquished to the forces of nature. Noting this universal transformation makes this death real and for many people, this is the beginning of the grieving process.

  2. Our laying to rest connects us to our dead and our mortality. 

    Every time we visit family in my parents’ countries of birth, we go to the local cemetery where our relations are buried. People share stories, repeat lineage and tidy graves. I’m reminded that I am a part of those who came before me and that I too, one day, will be “the remembered.” 

  3. Acknowledging how someone is laid to rest motivates us to get into action.  

    Most of us avoid thinking and talking about our final wishes. Hearing the facts about someone’s final disposition reminds us that choices need to be made and communicated. Your Departure Directions, the term Willow uses for your written guidelines, is a tool for connection and conversation.

The next time you have a role to play in a gathering to honour the death of someone you care about, please consider sharing the information of how they were or will be laid to rest. It matters—for them and for those of us left behind. 

What about you? 

What impact does it have on you to know how someone was laid to rest?


8 Comments

  • Over the past few years when consulting with families in preparation for a Ceremony for the deceased, only two had plans for the final disposition. One family did not want it mentioned at the Ceremony because the desired invitation-only intimate Ceremony was not yet planned. Thanks for putting words to thoughts and questions I have been mulling over.

    • Thank you Paula for sharing your experiences as a Celebrant. It serves us all to share like this. Creating an open community for learning, growing, transforming… for serving with love and intention is at the core of what we’re up to here.

  • Hi Michelle, Thanks for these words of inquiry on a subject that has so many layers. As with Paula, and as a Celebrant I too get all kinds of responses when I invite family’s to share the next stage of care for the body of their loved one. If there is no known next step or the family does not wish to share, I simply add something that ensures the folks in the larger community this will be tended at a future time by family / next of kin. Your right! – Our imaginations as humans likes to have something to land (literally earth) our loved ones – to know the body has been tended as well as the soul/spirit or whatever a persons belief system is in this regard. Thanks for bringing awareness to this step!

    • It’s great to hear from you Penny. Your comments help me understand more clearly the nature of the disquiet I experience with not knowing. My hope is that those of us who are gifted with the opportunity to contribute at this time can help people to see that final disposition is an act of conscious care along the continuum. Thank you!

  • Thank you Michelle, as always your words are thought provoking. As a cemeterian I pose this question to families almost daily and am amazed at the current energy about the cemetery experience to be a “private”
    gathering. I find myself educating that this beautiful resting place is full of life stories and memories…. sacred FOREVER space. I would love to connect about
    getting your lovely message out there! The healing we have the pleasure of watching is so powerful. Thank you and Reena for continually educating in such a gentle manner.

    • We appreciate your cheers of support Lorraine and are inspired by your relentless energy and deep history of educating, holding and facilitating the unfolding that is both unique and shared by people from all walks of life. Let’s do more together!

  • With Covid so many families have had to lay their loved ones to rest without a proper burial service. And, in many cases they have postponed any type of service for a year or so. My husband lost a close friend and an uncle two and three months ago and we have not had any service to attend for him to face his grieving. Would love to hear your comments on coping with this scenario and helping him to say goodbye. All seems so open ended right now and no closure.

    • Yael, thank you for bringing to light such an important reality in these times of the global pandemic. Please pass on my condolences to your husband. May the memories of his close friend and his uncles be blessings that offer comfort in this time of sorrow. I am not a grief counsellor but here’s some of what I know to be true. Mourning is an essential part of the healing journey. To come together with others to acknowledging a death, honour, remember and express sorrow at the loss of a person in our lives is a powerful part of the process. So many of us have been robbed of that opportunity due to COVID-19. Some are finding alternative ways to gather and some are likely quite happy, on the surface, to avoid any formal gathering. There is no one way or right way to grieve or mourn. And, any loss during this global pandemic is complicated by the myriad of other losses we are each experiencing. There are many grief and loss resources available online. My go-to is the Center for Loss and Transition. Below is a link to an article that may be helpful to you and your husband as you navigate the painful, messy and normal journey of grief. Finally, the closure we all seek is coming to terms with the fact that what ‘was’ is no longer. When a death occurs we are really just beginning (not ending) our journey to integrate the reality of the loss into our lives. Take good care of eachother. https://www.centerforloss.com/2020/04/covid-condolences/

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