Posted: July 10, 2018
Over 6,100 people filed past Barbara Bush’s casket the evening before her funeral in Houston, Texas in April, 2018. Now, it may seem irreverent to ask this, but why? Why did so many people stand in line, day and night, to walk past a closed casket? Was it because she was a former First Lady? Partly. Was it because she touched the lives of so many people? Partly. I think it’s simpler than that, though. The reason people came is because she was there, too, in body as much as she was in spirit. Mrs. Bush was eventually buried in College Station, but guess what? The same type of closed casket funeral service takes place even when followed by cremation. It happens all the time, it is becoming more and more common, and families are better off for it. The important part, the part that begins the healing process, is the funeral, and it has nothing to do with whether you are cremated or buried. Funeral first, cremation second.
Here’s why: whether we realize it or not, most people instinctively seek to be in the presence of others, even in death. This is healthy, this is natural, this is good, and it is largely in this moment, and this moment only, that we are able to say good-bye. In Mrs. Bush’s case, her casket was closed. The more than 6,100 people who took the time to file by were moved by the same instinct: they knew she was there, in body, just a few feet away. They said their good-byes, and they kept on moving.
Think about why we often hug when we greet each other. It creates a subtle, but significant physical bridge – a connection that we instinctively seek. We just do it. And, we do the same thing when we part ways. We hug and say good-bye, until we meet again. Can you imagine a world without hugging?
This is what being at your own funeral accomplishes. It allows those who knew and cared about you to be in your presence and say good-bye, one final time. There will be plenty of time to raise a glass and celebrate your life, and that should happen, too. Just make sure you give those you leave behind an opportunity for that last physical connection, that last “hug.” Your family and friends may not know it at the hour of your death, but they need you at your own funeral just as much as they need you now.
Still not convinced? Next time you are at a memorial service with an urn on a pedestal, count how many people touch the urn. Few, if anyone, will. Now do the same the next time you are at a funeral. Count the number of people who touch the casket, if not the deceased if the casket is open (a gentle pat on the shoulder or hand, for example). Most, if not everyone, will. We just do it. It’s what makes us human.
Last but not least: cost. A funeral followed by cremation is a fraction of the cost of a funeral followed by a traditional burial. No one should have to go into debt just to say good-bye. You just need to know who to call.
Barbara Bush did it exactly right. The crowds came because she was there.
And you should be there, too. After all, it’s your funeral.