Ask Your Funeral Director: Which culture has the most interesting funeral traditions?
By Jason Meidl, funeral director at Creston Valley Funeral Services
“Service above self.” This is the motto of Rotary International and the local Rotary Club that I belong too. This motto rings true in so many different areas of life. For myself, the reason I got into the funeral service was to serve families. As I sit with families during arrangements and through aftercare, there is always the question in the back of my mind, have I served them in the best way possible? The funeral profession, first and foremost, is the act of serving during a very difficult time in someone’s life. As a funeral director, my focus is on the needs of my families and how I can serve them and walk with them through their journey. I often put their needs above my own, which is something that I have learned over the years to be aware of. I have seen funeral directors burn out because they did not know how to balance the needs of their families with their own needs. Friedrich Nietzsche said it best, “Physician, heal thyself: then wilt thou also heal thy patient. Let it be his best cure to see with his eyes him who maketh himself whole.” I think this can be applies to funeral directors as well!
This week, I received two questions from editor Kelsey Yates:
“How do you approach the topic of death with children?”
This is a great follow-up to my last column on children and funerals in the Aug. 12 issue.
READ MORE: Ask Your Funeral Director: Should I bring my children to funerals?
Death isn’t easy for adults to deal with so we can only imagine it must be harder for children. In some ways, kids have an easier time accepting death (depending on their age). There are a lot of different views on this topic, but in my experience there are a couple keys things that come to mind. Be truthful, and don’t hide it from your kids. When your kids see you crying, they need to know why. Use the proper words. For many of us we choose to say verbiage along the lines of, the person passed away or grandma’s just sleeping because it seems less harsh in our minds. This can confuse children as they can be quite literal in their understanding. Using words like the person has died or is dead may seem harsh, but in reality, kids need to hear it that way in order to really understand. When it comes to the actual funeral service, I always recommend including kids as much as they are comfortable with. This could be as simple as helping to hand out service cards to standing at the front with a parent who is sharing the eulogy. This is just a small sampling on how to approach children and death. Be truthful, use words that don’t confuse, and include your kids.
“Which culture do you think has the most interesting funeral traditions?”
This is actually a question I have never been asked before! One such tradition that I read about recently was the Tibetan sky burial. The sky burial is common in Tibet among Buddhists who believe in the value of sending their loved ones’ souls toward heaven. In this ritual, bodies are left outside on a mountaintop to decompose exposed to the elements and eaten by birds or other animals. This serves the dual purpose of eliminating the now empty vessel of the body and allowing the soul to depart, while also embracing the circle of life and giving sustenance to animals.
In South Korea, it is common practice to make ashes into beads. These beads have a bit of a shine to them and come in an array of colours, from pink to black to turquoise. Placed inside glass vases or open dishes, the beads can then take centre stage inside a home as a more decorative choice than a conventional urn. In a country where space is at a premium and cremation is becoming the only realistic choice for burying the dead, getting something beautiful out of the process gives loved ones a new tradition to embrace and an heirloom to treasure.
In my experience, I have seen families create their own traditions, which is something I highly recommend.
Keep the questions coming to firstname.lastname@example.org!