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Three Funerals and a Wedding

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

This was to be a light hearted story as a play on the movie, Three Weddings and a Funeral. But perhaps like that movie, I can’t avoid the sadness during these times in which we live.

When I was in the Philippines, I went to many funerals with my host family. These were extended affairs, because Filipinos honor those who pass with a week of an open casket at a funeral home or in a home. This is not at all morbid but rather a time for people to gather and share stories about the deceased. People will take off from work to be present and help the family. Then there will be a service and then a trip to the cemetery. In my family’s case, it would be a Catholic Mass with the casket in front of the altar where family, dressed in white, would gather after the service to have pictures taken around it. At the cemetery, people would be given pre-packaged snacks and fruit drinks as they left.

When I tried to describe this to people back home, they thought it was either morbid or silly or both. But it is the opposite. It is joyous and respectful and something we might consider imitating.

In my estate planning practice, people discuss what kind of memorial they want, or if they are the executor of an estate, try to decide what to do for the decedent. At one time that was a cemetery and a headstone, but with more cremations that has become scattering ashes or keeping ashes in homes. The choices are endless, but we are all doing the same thing: remembering and honoring those we loved and still love.

There are doulas to help women who are giving birth, and now there are doulas who help the dying and their families, including planning for memorials or services. People may choose to have an open casket or no casket. They may want to have that casket in their homes, as they do in the Philippines, or more traditionally, at a funeral home.

Who are we to judge how people grieve? How anyone chooses to celebrate a life and then remember that life is their choice.

I started this by saying that I thought this would be a light essay but realized it is not that simple. People still get sick and some do not survive the illness, but today we also have Covid. An unwelcome guest that none of us invited into our homes. Sometimes we cannot be with those we love in their final days, and they may be taken from us quickly.

I have been to three funerals the last few months. One was a 100-year-old man who died of what we might call natural causes. Another was a woman just shy of 70 who was taken down by Covid abruptly, leaving a husband who survived Covid but who will not be able to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary this year with his wife. And then there is the 37-year-old man taken too soon by cancer, leaving a wife and parents and siblings wondering, as we all do - why?

There is no answer to that why, but we do know that there are and will be weddings along with the funerals. Beginnings and endings. Love and loss. The cycle of life as they say, and in this year of a pandemic we are challenged to accept what we cannot control. Rituals, whether they are an extended remembrance in a home or a scattering of ashes, all celebrate our loved ones, carry us in our grief, and help us move forward to tomorrow.

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