Non-Traditional Funerals – When are non-traditional funerals a great celebration and when are non-traditional funerals seemingly selfish to other members of the family?
My mom called with some sad news about a death on my step-dad’s side of the family.
I have to set this story up with a disclaimer. I have a large extended family. That’s not a huge disclaimer but it will come into play later in this story and may explain why my tone about news of a death in the family appears nonchalant.
I turned my phone on early yesterday to find that my mom had left me a message. My Uncle Terry, who had ALS, had passed away on Monday. I was relieved as I know he had suffered with it for a long time and I felt some peace knowing that he was released from his pain and suffering. My Uncle Terry was from my step-father’s side of the family. He was the husband of my step-father’s sister (Aunt Maxine). I met him when I was 9 years old when my mother became engaged to my now step-dad. I guess that’s where my disclaimer comes into play. My Uncle Terry and I were pretty far apart on my dysfunctional family tree. That’s not to say I didn’t like him or think less of my step-dad’s side of the family. Quite the contrary, I’ve always enjoyed my extended family and they’ve always made me feel welcome. When my mom eventually married my step-dad, I gained some wonderful new grandparents, aunts and uncles. I was cool with that.
While my mom kept leaving details of the message (yes, she leaves very long voice mails), my mind shifted to funeral plans. I thought about seeing if my “funeral suit” was clean and how nice it was going to be to see some family members I haven’t seen in a long time. Then, my mom casually dropped the bombshell. My Uncle Terry’s final wishes were: – cremation, no funeral, no ceremony, no dinner, and no church. He was going to be cremated and “that was that.” My mom didn’t sound surprised by these plans at all but I was. Who does this? Are non-traditional funerals like this common?
My Uncle Terry was what you may consider quirky but I really admired and respected his quirks. We’ve probably said a total of 50 words to each other my entire life. To say he was a man of few words would be an understatement. He was fascinated with technology, engineering, math and computers. At the most raucous family gatherings, Uncle Terry would be sitting in the corner on the couch working with a calculator or pouring over a spreadsheet. He was highly intelligent. While he wasn’t overtly friendly, I found him to be a pretty cool guy over the years. Communicating wasn’t his thing, but he seemed like a nice enough guy.
In hindsight, I guess if there was a person in my life I could have predicted would have a no nonsense/no anything funeral, it would be my Uncle Terry. I guess I feel somewhat slighted about his burial plans (or complete lack thereof). Is that selfish? I was kind of looking forward to seeing family members and browsing over pictures of Uncle Terry’s life and trying to learn more about him. If a death is neither sudden nor tragic, funerals can be great closure and a wonderful way to celebrate a life. That’s not to say I don’t respect my Uncle Terry’s wishes. Even if I didn’t, there’s not a heckuva lot I can do about it now. I guess these short paragraphs will have to be my closure. Still, it seems strange.
Originally Posted – SEPT 2010
My wife is having a harder time shaking this off than I am. She comes from a very old-fashioned Italian family. I don’t think anyone from her “old-school” Italian family could even comprehend something like Uncle Terry’s wishes. I’m not judging or condemning his decision. There aren’t any rights or wrongs here. It’s just that non-traditional funerals are such a new concept for someone like me.