In my lifetime, I have experienced the deaths of two people very close to me. First was my father and second was my daughter.
My father loved to fish and golf. Every winter, he would leave the harsh cold of Iowa and head down to Brownsville, TX, to spend time with his sister, fish and golf every chance he had. It was not unusual for him to golf twice daily – once in the morning and again in the afternoon. One day in December of 2004, he was on the golf course and, immediately after teeing off, he simply dropped dead. He was 72. It was too early in life to have left us for good. However, we should all be so lucky to have the chance to leave this world doing what we most love to do.
Since he died away from home and my sister was mostly in charge of making the arrangements, the decision was made to have him cremated in Texas. My brother drove down to pick up his cremains and, shortly after, we held a memorial service for him. And it was done. No chance to view his body and no chance to say a proper goodbye.
I never thought I would be affected by this lack of closure until I experienced the urge to pick up the phone and call my dad. I wanted to ask for his advice or tell him about something going on in my life, only to suddenly remember that I could no longer talk to him. It took a while for my mind to catch up with what my heart was telling me. I now know that the reason for this disconnect is because I did not get to say goodbye.
The second time, my world was turned upside down by the death of my daughter. It was a sudden and tragic death. She was only 20 years old. I could go on and on about her but I will save my thoughts and feelings about the loss of a child for another day.
When my daughter died, it was a cold January day in Iowa. I remember sitting at the funeral home, knowing she was there in another room. I was there with her father, brothers and fiancé. Many choices were made and many tears were shed. We were trying to decide what would be the best way to honor her life and help all of her family and friends be able to say goodbye. I knew in my heart that I did not want to put my sweet daughter in the cold January ground. I wanted to have her with me in death even as she was in life.
So again, the choice was made to cremate my daughter just as we had cremated my father nine years before. But, there was a difference. When my dad died, I would describe his service as a direct cremation. Nothing else was done to allow for a visitation or time spent with him. The funeral director never asked or gave us any other alternatives.
I knew that would not be right for my daughter, and the funeral director also knew it would not be right for us. So, she told me that our family would be welcome at the funeral home all day that Saturday. We would welcome other guests, family members and friends at a visitation on Sunday, and that Monday would be her final service. Everyone who needed to say goodbye had the chance to do so. At the end of those three days, I took my daughter home in a beautiful lavender urn that the funeral director helped us to pick out for her. Did it make it easier? Absolutely not. But if we had not been allowed to take the time we needed, I can’t imagine the increase of emotional issues and heartaches we would all be feeling well into the future.
So, help families take the time to say goodbye. It is so much more important than you can ever imagine. Help your families understand that, without that final goodbye, their families could regret something that cannot be undone. If they say they want direct cremation, don’t be afraid to ask what that means to them and how they want to honor the life of the person they love.
Loss is never easy, saying goodbye and grieving with the support of family and friends around us helps to lessen the pain and look toward healing in the future.