planning a funeral

The Other F-Word People Aren’t Comfortable Saying

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Shannon Burberry

Shannon Burberry


The word funeral is often misunderstood. The word can be defined and interpreted differently based on what people have been told or what they’ve experienced in their life. While some might be more comfortable with the concept, it might set off alarm bells for others. But what I’ve observed is that for many, it’s clear there is some misunderstanding about what a funeral is and that’s where I come in as a funeral director.

Funeral Directors Are More than Planners

Although many of us are apprehensive to have discussions about funerals and death, some have the same reaction when I explain my role as a funeral director. It seems quite common that when people find out what I do for a living they say two things; “you seem too happy to work in a funeral home”, and, “I don’t want a funeral”. It’s an automatic response, due to the stereotypes about what constitutes as a funeral and other emotions that are associated with it.

Although I face these concerns and reactions, I learned resilience as a young adult. My career has taught me to be optimistic under the most difficult of situations, so these remarks don’t diminish my passion.

As funeral professionals, we are highly skilled at saying goodbye. We are excellent listeners who can pick up on things people share in order to suggest unique ideas to incorporate into the service. In 26 years, I’ve had to evolve and change in order to best serve families. People call us undertakers, some say order takers… I say we are creators. We have the gift of creating and directing meaningful funerals.

 What Actually Constitutes a Funeral?

Even though I’ve been a funeral director for many years, I’m well aware that many cringe when they hear the word funeral. But I think it’s important that we ask ourselves if we can accurately explain what a funeral is and what constitutes a funeral. Movies and television series have created a dark and gloomy image of what a funeral is, but they typically forget to educate us on what characterizes a funeral.

When I discuss what people might want for themselves, often times they start by telling me they want a party, not something somber and then “just cremate me I don’t care where I end up”. When I probe further they describe this event with people, food and music and I say, “Oh, so a funeral then?” Funerals are for the living and cremation is just another method of final disposition.

Call it what you wish: party, gathering, send-off, memorial service or wake, but to the ears of a Funeral Director, that is a funeral.

 Why the F-word is Important

Some people may express that they don’t find monetary value in a funeral. This is where I would explain that funerals don’t have to be elaborate or expensive to be meaningful to those in attendance.

In my experience, the whole process of planning a funeral, up to and including the days following, are the beginning of the grieving process. It’s an opportunity to celebrate who we are and how we lived our life. There are endless ways to demonstrate those things and when we include our family and closest friends in this process, we can have a fitting tribute that will not be forgotten. Isn’t that what we all want?

I cherish the memories of those I’ve loved and lost. In fact, many days I am reminded of them by things I see, hear or read. I may not recall everything about their funeral or tell you what the casket looked like, which flowers were on display, or what music was playing; however, I can recall how it felt to be a part of that day.

For most people, a funeral can be a time to get personal and honour the deceased with their favourite things. In recent years, I’ve assisted families to create an array of personalized services, including one for a motorcycle lover, where they transported his urn in a less traditional manner by placing him in a backpack and riding off on their motorbike.

 It’s Never Too Late to Overcome Your Fears

Although many of us feel uncomfortable in certain situations now, it’s never too late to change our perceptions and opinions for the future. When it comes to speaking about funerals and death, take it in stride. Looking at these concepts with a different perspective can help you ease into being more accepting to speak about them.

Just remember, there is no better time to overcome your fears and become comfortable with a topic or concept than the present. Take time to speak to loved ones and start conversations early around funeral planning. Keeping your loved ones informed will help make decision-making and planning easier when the time comes to celebrate that person.

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