Ask: Getting the funeral you want

I have trouble speaking up for myself. I am conflict-averse, and if a situation has potential for embarrassment, I don’t want anything to do with it. 

I think some of you can probably relate. 

For example, earlier this year, I made a nanosecond of eye contact with the woman who owns my gym. Twenty minutes later, I was the lukewarm owner of an expensive deluxe membership I never wanted and hardly use. I also once arranged an entire funeral with a family who, for whatever reason, thought my name was Frances.

Why am I telling you this?

Under normal circumstances, expressing your wants is not easy. As a queer person making their first foray into the world of funerals, an environment shaped and deeply steeped, for the most part, in conservative religious and cultural tradition, you may feel additional external pressure to follow a ‘cookie-cutter’ template. However, conventions aside, the act of planning a funeral is a hugely personal experience, and, paradoxically, equally as impermanent as it is enduring. 

The good news is, whether you’re an introvert or not, like most exchanges in life, you get out of it what you put into it. The bad news is that my colleagues and I visit with families on a daily basis, biological, chosen, and otherwise, who all struggle with the same thing: Asking.

There’s a quote by author Percy Ross, “Asking is the world’s most powerful–and neglected–secret to success and happiness.” This is an everyday fact that most of us can agree is reasonably true and yet, we’re reluctant to ask for things because we fear rejection or judgement.

Undoubtedly, there is a tremendous responsibility to get it ‘right,’ but we (The Gays™) have to resist the current pushing us to minimize the dimension and richness of our lives for the sake of decorum. How boring!

Just spit it out! I pinky promise you, dear reader, that there is no request that would surprise a funeral director. This is your chance, so why not ask for what you really want? No one will think you’re weird, and if by some chance I am wrong, then that funeral home is not for you.

Don’t believe me? Earlier this month, I collected baggies of actual dirt from Central Park to mail to another funeral home Indiana for a family to place in the foot of their sister’s casket (big Sex & the City fan). Less recently, I rearranged an entire chapel according to the deceased’s star chart to provide optimal energy flow to the East.

Now, those examples are a little more involved than what I usually get, but I want you to be confident in the knowledge that your opinion matters. The number one question I get from folks is: Can I help do [insert area of body preparation]? 

Great question. Yes! You can be as involved or not involved as you want. Here are some things my families often ask to do: 

  1. Hair styling and cosmetics
  2. Trim or shave facial hair
  3. Provide manicures to the deceased
  4. Placing jewelry, rosary, or other personal effects on the body
  5. Dress the body and help funeral staff place them in their casket  — I highly recommend this option for families who would like their loved one dressed in nuanced cultural garments that require specialized skill, like head-wraps and Sarees. However, there are some logistical drawbacks to this option. The process of dressing a dead body is incredibly inelegant, which can be upsetting. Also, there can be complications if the manner of passing left the remains in fragile condition (ie bodily trauma).
  6. If you’re having a traditional visitation, you can lower the casket lid personally.
  7. If you’re having a cremation, you can “witness” cremation at the crematory. This entails watching the body go into the retort and pressing the start button.
  8. If you’re of the Jewish faith, you are able to act as your own shomer.

The sky’s the limit. All you’ve got to do is ask.

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