This Sunday I will have attended three Celebrations of Life in under two years.
The first two were for my aunt and the last one for my uncle.
At the time of my aunt’s death, I didn’t have much of an opinion over a Celebration of Life versus a funeral. It seemed fitting that we would do a COL instead of a funeral because it sounded more joyous and well…celebratory instead of gloomy and depressing. It was also what my aunt would have preferred.
But then I started pondering how I really felt about the COL. After attending the first one in Nashville, I felt weird. Not only after but during the actual event. There was a wine bar to the right when you entered the room, an appetizer table on the left side, tables scattered about and a section full of her jewelry and purses (something that friends and family could take away with them to keep her memory alive). And, there was a screen in the back with a beautiful reel of pictures of my aunt looping throughout the gathering.
I kept looking over my shoulder. Where was she? Did she get her wine yet? How did she feel about the photo montage? Was she enjoying herself?
And then it hit me. She wasn’t there. She wasn’t attending this event - it was really a gathering to celebrate her life. Except it was so much like her that I thought she was there.
I think as a culture we don’t allow sadness to creep in unless it has to do with something accepted, like death. And I think the COL is another way to mask those feelings. “Don’t have a funeral when you can ‘Celebrate!’ the person’s life and be happy NOT sad”.
That’s at least the message I sent myself so during the COL, I pushed it all down. I talked lightheartedly about her when speaking in front of friends and family and talked very briefly about her being gone or what had happened to her leading up to her death.
But the fact of the matter is, it is sad. Unbearably sad. Heart-crushingly, painfully, outrageously unfair. So why tip toe around that by dressing it up as something else. If I could go back, I would have liked to do a funeral (or memorial) with a COL to follow. We made the best choice we could at the time, so I don’t think we ultimately did the wrong thing. My aunt’s life is worth celebrating every day and the majority of our memories together are full of laughter, hugs and adventures but I think we send the wrong message when we can’t or try not to feel grief. I know it’s uncomfortable and clearly showing emotion around others can be awkward but I think we should embrace it. Embrace the awkward. Embrace the uncomfortable. And let the pain wash over us.
A Celebration of Life is certainly a viable option - we did it. We appreciated all who came to show their overwhelming love for my aunt. However, I think we should ask ourselves why we are choosing the celebration over the funeral - and what would ultimately be the most healing option to process the pain of death. Maybe that’s a COL, a funeral or a combination of both.