Until just weeks ago, the hard work, dedication and sacrifice of the bereavement industry, or death trade as it’s sometimes called, wasn’t even listed as an essential service. Despite this recent shift in designation, I suspect there’s little or no applause or acknowledgement for the essential workers like the ones named by our provincial government: coroners and workers performing mortuary services, including: funeral homes, crematoriums, cemeteries and workers supporting the appropriate handling, identification, storage, transportation, and certification of human remains.
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.
A Harmful Act of Omission
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 its a private graveside service?
Without knowing how someone is laid to rest, my goodbye feels incomplete.
We need to talk about how people are laid to rest for three key reasons:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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?