When a loved one dies, family members immediately must begin thinking of a funeral. Usually within a week, a memorial service of some sort is expected to be held, and this can be a difficult thing to arrange, especially when the deceased was not necessarily involved in a church and little or no pastoral or congregational support is available. Without the traditions of a religious faith, knowing how to properly and effectively memorialize a loved one can be a significant challenge. Absent clear instructions from the deceased (which, thankfully are forthcoming in a growing number of cases these days) the temptation will be strong to simply hire a funeral home to make all arrangements and conduct a traditional ceremony based on cultural traditions of the day. But that can amount to a significant expense, and it may not be what the family deems appropriate. This article is a guide to families in the midst of planning a non-religious funeral.
The first step to planning a non-religious funeral is to be clear about the meaning of “non-religious.” For the purposes of this article, non-religious means without the ritualistic ceremonies typical of religious traditions. We do not mean to suggest in this article that God be eliminated from a funeral that is deemed non-religious. That is a matter of faith that only the family of the deceased can decide. Non-religious funerals can invoke sacred texts of all sorts, from The Bible to the Koran to everything in between, and there can even be a featured sermon delivered by a man or woman of God.
What makes a funeral non-religious is not its spiritual function (or possible lack thereof) but, rather, it’s unwillingness to adhere to strict, rigid, formal ceremonies. Non-religious funerals will typically follow a free-style approach, allowing for much participation from those in attendance and not following any set traditions.
When Non-Religious Funerals Are Appropriate
Non-Religious funerals can be appropriate in just about every case in which a deceased was not a committed, active member (clergy or layman) of an organized religion. Ironically, non-religious funerals can even be appropriate when held in a church. Again, all that’s required of a non-religious funeral is the absence of religious rigidity.
Non-religious funerals are especially appropriate, of course, in cases in which the deceased was openly antagonistic toward God. In fact, it might be said that these types of cases are the ones that account for most non-religious funerals. In such instances, a bit of strife may develop between elements of a family who would be concerned with the spiritual well-being for their deceased love one’s soul and those that would not be concerned with such matters – in light of a diverse view of God. In these cases, a non-religious funeral would certainly be appropriate out of deference and respect for the deceased’s spiritual views. But it also might be a good idea for families to allow the addition of prayer and other elements traditionally considered as “religious” nevertheless. It is important to remember that, in general, funerals are for the living, not the deceased. So even a non-religious funeral can – and perhaps should – share at least some elements in common with its religious counterpart. This can be done out of respect for family and friends who would be in attendance, but, out of respect to the deceased’s spirit, it should also be carefully designed so as to supported the deceased’s non-religious sensitivities.
Ideas for Non-Religious Funerals
Ideas about for how to conduct a non-religious funeral. In general, the ideas put forth on the internet – and accessible through just about search engine after a search for “non-religious funerals” – center on the idea of a party. Non-religious funerals can take on the flavor of a backyard cook-out, complete with delicious food, great music and even a few cold adult beverages. Whatever the deceased enjoyed doing in life will be make for a good starting point for a non-religious funeral. Just add a time for reflecting and remembering the life of the deceased, sharing great stories and telling great tales, and a non-religious funeral can happen in just about any locale (as we say, even in a church).
Non-religious funerals have the advantage of being, typically, very inexpensive since their organizers are free to dispense with the costly formalities of a ceremonial viewing – involving expensive embalming services and luxuriously outfitted caskets, complete with sophisticated funeral spray flower arrangements. In many cases, a non-religous funeral need not involve any physical presense of the deceased’s body at all. Many a non-religious funeral has been held in which family members had already received – and then privately scattered – a loved one’s ashes over some spot that was special to the deceased or his or her family. The central feature of such a memorial service, then, would be simply a report on the scattering – followed by, perhaps, a spoken tribute to the life of the deceased – performed by family.
In short, a non-religious funeral can be whatever the family of the deceased desires. This can be an advantage for many families in that in provides ample creative opportunity for family members to cope with their grief in a healthy, human way while surrounded by the warmth of many friends and loved-ones. But, on the downside, the absence of religious structure for a funeral means that a family is entirely on its own in deciding upon plans. In the hectic days after a death in the family, many people find it comforting to be able to rely upon the stable experience of the leaders of their family church to arrange a funeral that will be fitting. That is one that can be said of nearly all religions that are organized enough to have long-standing, formal traditions for memorial services: those institutions can almost always be counted upon to host a meaningful, memorable, and beautiful funeral. They typically do such a great job at this that those who are considering a non-religious funeral for a loved one might do well to consider, at least for a little while, a religious funeral after all.