The Green Chapel
Serving God by serving all of God's creation.
A lot of people consider difference between a funeral and a memorial service to be whether the body of the deceased is present. For a funeral, the body is usually present in a coffin or casket. Funerals are usually conducted within a relatively short time after the person's death, most usually within a week.
For most people, a memorial service will have either no physical body present or the person's cremated remains may be there in an urn or other container. Memorial ceremonies may be conducted at any time after the person's death. Because, with cremations, there are no bodies breaking down, memorials may be conducted a year after death, sometimes even longer.
How we design the service depends on many factors, most important is what you feel is most meaningful. It goes nearly unsaid that the desires and beliefs of the deceased are important. In a moment we'll talk about expressing beliefs and spirituality, which always play a part in a service.
Each of us grieves in a different way. In a few moments we'll talk about grief and healing. Now it is important to mention that words like "death", "dead", and "died" help the living accept the reality that their loved one will no longer be physically present in their lives.
The family and friends of the deceased person will probably benefit from having an active role in the service, whether it is helping in the planning, doing a reading, or sharing a memory aloud. Many people will ask "What can I do?", and it will be helpful to have a list of tasks that other people can do. Be sure to fit the job to the person so that they don't feel overwhelmed or emotionally unable to fulfill their role on the day of the service.
The simplest way for someone to help you with planning the service is to tell you things that they remember about the person who has died. Each of us has memories that are uniquely our own, and soliciting other people's stories will help us create a complete picture of the deceased, especially for a eulogy.
If the body of the deceased is going to be present at the funeral, do you want to have the casket open so that you and other mourners can view the person's body? Part of your decision will be based on the person's body's physical appearance. Some people prefer to remember their friends as they looked when they were at their most healthy.
When funerals are held at funeral homes, the Funeral Director makes sure that an open casket is visible when people enter the service space, but the actual body is out of sight unless someone approaches the casket.
Special care must be taken with children who attend the service. Each parent knows their child best. This is a topic best discussed in advance with the child.
In New England, the times set aside for people to come and express their condolences to the family before a funeral or memorial are usually referred to as "Calling Hours". Other parts of the United States (and other countries) use different names for the same custom.
Many people may not be able to attend the service due to their work schedule or other obligations, and calling hours give them a chance to say goodbye, express their sorrow and sympathy, and have closure.
Accepting your pain will help you grieve and heal. Denying that you are in pain will prolong the healing process. You have the right to hurt. Acknowledging your loved one's death and your physical separation will help your healing process.
Nobody else has the right to tell you how long your grieving process should take. As much as they feel sorry for you and want to help you, you are unique and you will heal in your own time and in your own way.
A spiritual service acknowledges the existence of a higher power, whether called "God" or by another name. "Spiritual" is different from "Religious" in that usually no specific religious traditions are followed when planning a spiritual funeral or memorial. Likewise, the traditions of two or more spiritual paths may be combined into one service honoring the dead.
The Green Chapel honors all belief systems that are based on respecting all people and doing good works in the world.
A religious service tends to be based on one organized religion, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any other system of faith. Customs and traditions of more than one religion can be combined and the service still be considered religious.
If your loved one attended a particular house of worship, or you have a connection to a specific faith community, you may prefer to get in touch with that institution.
A service labeled "secular" would probably not contain any reference to God, Heaven, or a life after death. (Please also see Secular Humanist, below.) An atheist or agnostic funeral or memorial would most likely not offend anyone except (perhaps) the most devout believer.
The Green Chapel believes that "Freedom of Religion" also means "Freedom of Choice." No human has the right to tell another what they must believe. Be honest, be just, be merciful, and help your neighbors. We strive to help everyone, including those who do not believe in God.
We do not use the death of a loved one as a way of spreading our beliefs, and we condemn any institution or person that does so.
"Secular" and "Secular Humanist" do not mean the same thing. A Secular Humanist funeral or Humanist memorial service would be likely to include references to the Humanist belief that human beings are born, live one life, die, and then cease to exist. Humanists and Secular Humanists may be known as atheists, agnostics, or free-thinkers.
Some Humanists and Secular Humanists are very vocal about their belief that there is no God, no human soul, no afterlife, that at death the person ceases to exist, and there is no reincarnation. Most members of the Green Chapel accept other people's beliefs even though they do not share them.
If asked to conduct a Humanist or Secular Humanist funeral or memorial service, we would honor the request. We would not feel it necessary to mention our own beliefs. We support Humanist mourners' wishes to make a statement of their beliefs. As stated above, we believe that every human being has the right to choose their own belief system. Or none at all.
You can expect similar questions to assail you and your loved ones. As human beings, we often seek causes for events. A lot of the time we cannot find any cause that we are willing to accept.
The best short advice is to seek meaning and fulfillment in the good works that our loved one did during their lifetime. By sharing grief and happy memories of our loved one with other mourners, we help ourselves and others as well. Grief shared is divided; happiness shared is multiplied.
You have the right to have help composing a eulogy for your loved one. Many people find the process of creating a eulogy daunting. We will be happy to assist you!
You may decide that you want to deliver the primary eulogy yourself at the funeral or memorial service, or you may prefer that someone accustomed to public speaking deliver it. There are plusses and minuses to both options. No matter which choice you make, be sure to get the eulogy written out in full; don't depend on memory at this emotional time.
Plus: You knew the deceased well, and probably have many happy memories to share.
Plus: All of the mourners will be touched by what you say.
Minus: You may become overwhelmed with emotion.
Minus: You may remember more unhappy memories than pleasant ones.
Plus: They are probably unlikely to become grief-stricken and have to stop speaking.
Plus: They probably will automatically pause when something they say strikes someone too deeply.
Minus: They probably did not know your loved one as well as you did, and their delivery may suffer from it.
Minus: If they are used to speaking only at happy events, they may not seem sincere when expressing sorrow.
Plus: By asking (in advance) specific people to speak, you give them the right to decline.
Plus: You give those people the time to prepare what they want to say.
Minus: People who were not asked may feel left out.
Minus: Only limited points of view will be expressed.
Plus: Having several people share stories about the deceased is a very good way to get a balanced view of the person.
Plus: If one person is unable to continue speaking, they can simply sit down and let the next person speak.
Minus: Nobody may want to go first.
Minus: Someone may tell inappropriate stories.
People who are deep in grief may not get a good night's sleep, delaying their healing. Lack of healing sleep may lead to other problems, unrelated to the death itself. Alcohol or other drugs may make matters worse.
In addition to being in a sad and depressed emotional state, it is not unusual for a grieving person to become physically exhausted. Trying to accomplish too much while physically or mentally drained can lead to bad results.
Asking for help (discussed above) is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of willingness to let people share your burden. A burden shared is a burden lightened.
When you are with a friend or family, do not feel the need to talk just to say something, anything. Friends will understand if you need silence.
The passage of time will help you, and only you will know how much time you need. The recovery process is exactly that, a healing process. Every year, every month, every week, every day, you will move closer to what used to be normal for you.
Some of the best advice is to be as social with existing friends as you feel that you can be, so that solitude does make you sink deeper into gloom. Friends and family, no matter how well-meaning, may run short of time and energy to help you through your recovery from grief. They, too, may be suffering from loss.
Refusing to accept the death of a loved one is a serious problem that may need professional help. If you think that you need professional help, then you do need it. There are psychiatrists, psychologists, and grief counselors who can help guide you on your journey back to better mental health. Your health insurance will probably help, too. Please be sure that the person from whom you seek help is properly licensed and / or certified in grief counseling. In Connecticut, you can dial 211 for referral to sources of help. In case of emergency, dial 911 immediately.
Portions of this page are very loosely based on Ten Freedoms for Creating Meaningful Funeral Ceremonies, a copyrighted work by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph. D. Please tell Pastor Ernest if you would like a printed copy of Dr. Wolfelt's publication. (It's about the size of a business card.) You may call 860-543-2334 at your convenience. There is no cost, no obligation, and your privacy will be respected.
We respect Dr. Wolfelt's intellectual property rights, have purchased copies of his materials to give away, and strongly discourage unauthorized copying. We believe that copying without permission would be stealing Dr. Wolfelt's work. Only Dr. Wolfelt can give permission for you to copy his work.
No endorsement from Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph. D. is implied nor should be inferred.