April 21, 2010
Having grown up in rural southern Indiana, I have attended funerals from a very young age. Some of these were held at homes where chairs were set in various rooms of the house or in warm weather out on the lawns. Some were in churches and then later in, what in Indiana we call, Funeral Homes. These were all religious and sort of bewildering to a child but not really scary because we all knew that the person was going to heaven which would be a better place for them.
Children were not left with babysitters or in a nursery but were right there in the service. One family story is that my brother who is now a senior vice president of an American corporation blew a whistle in the middle of a service. It seems that my mother had forgotten to remove it from the new sailor suit that he was wearing.
I recently attended the funeral of an uncle and enjoyed hearing his life celebrated and remembered. It was also a time to reconnect with extended family that I rarely see. Some people in the secular community don’t want memorials or funerals when they die. Some say CFI is becoming too much like a church as we are training Secular Celebrants to officiate at funerals and other celebrations of life passages.
In my opinion, funerals are for the living family and friends. They give them a chance to honor that person and it provides a sense of closure as a part of the grieving process. In Skeptical Inquirer , May, June 2010 in an article titled, "Brain Science, God Science, Why Religion Endures," Michael McGuire and Lionel Tiger discuss features of religion that relieve stress. One of them is ritual.
There is a high level of stress associated with the death of a close friend or family member. Having a ritual is useful as a stress reducer as is the socialization that accompanies these occasions. The tone and content of the ritual should be in keeping with the worldview of the individual and family.
My uncle attended the Methodist Church in Munster, Indiana so his service was held there. It was conducted by the minister of the church and included hymns and scripture readings. However, it also included reflections on his life by two nephews and a grandson and the Purdue fight song . He was a graduate of Purdue University , met his wife of 60+ years there, and was an alumni supporter of the university’s athletic and other programs. In my opinion, that is about as good as a funeral gets.
There was much socializing, family storytelling, and picture taking at the luncheon after the service. I will especially treasure the picture of the ten Boyd cousins who were present. There are seventeen living cousins and one deceased. It is rare that this many are together for such a picture.
An interesting bit of information that I acquired was the origin of his name—Loyd Quintin Boyd. He was born in 1918, well before much access to any kind of media news coverage, especially in rural southern Indiana. However, his parents named him Loyd after Loyd George , Prime Minister of Britain and Quintin after President Theodore Roosevelt’s son. Two of his brothers had names of poets as middle names. My father’s middle name was Emerson and another uncle’s middle name was Riley (James Whitcomb Riley—Indiana poet) So, much family history is handed down at these occasions. It gives one a sense of belonging and pride to know “where others have gone before.” From the humble beginnings on a small family farm in southern Indiana, the pride and accomplishments continue through the generations of our children and grandchildren.
Whether religious or secular, most people need some kind of ritual to mark the transitions in life and there should be people available to facilitate these rituals no matter what the person’s worldview. CFI is attempting to provide that through the Secular Celebrant program.
Cousins pictured are: Virginia Boyd, Janet Boyd Nowling, Reba Boyd Wooden, Martha Boyd Alford, Rhonda Boyd Seegers, Norm Boyd, Tom Boyd, Dick Boyd, Fred Boyd, Terry Boyd. The photo was taken on Virginia Boyd's camera.