The most important element of a funeral is The Ethical Will. An Ethical Will is, “A document in which a dying person states his or her legacy to the family. It is a statement of the individual’s hopes and dreams for his or her family, the values which he or she would like to pass on and any other thoughts or messages which the individual would like his or her family to remember.” Irish (1993) Its religious origins trace back to the Hebrew bible where it was first described more than 3000 years ago, and in the Christian Bible (John Ch. 15 – 18).
Some cultural universals found in the funeral rite are in the storytelling aspects of ceremony. We make mention of family history reminding each other of the awesome qualities and peak experiences we shared as well as important events that took place. We come to terms with regrets and share items that articulate our feelings with those taking part.
The Ethical Will allows us to address these issues while we are still alive. It is a method of passing the torch. We share our hopes, aspirations and legacy of values with our loved ones and hope that our wishes will be realized through them. In this way, the Ethical Will serves as a method of enculturation. The Ethical Will is a tool for empowering our descendants.
As a funeral rite, cultural norms include the passing on of wisdom, family traditions and records. We narrate pictures and teach one another about our roles. These blessings, personal values, and beliefs communicate love. It is a time of reconciliation and forgiveness. The Living Funeral focuses on a proactive message such as things we are grateful for, things we learned from experience, and things that served us well in guiding our actions. As a rule, we universally want to follow through with final wishes so perhaps we ought to send our benefactors off on a quest, their very own “Message to Garcia” of sorts. Perhaps their quest is an ancestral scavenger hunt or quest to confront a fear.
Imagine receiving a message from beyond the grave, where someone who cared about you, shared some bit of personal life experience that could not be said in person. These messages are healing to friends and relatives who might also be inspired to repeat the favor to their forebears as well. The funeral home is a logical place to store such materials to ensure that they can and will be found BEFORE the funeral. It serves no one to have these materials stored in the back of a dark closet or secret bank safety deposit box, where they are generally found long after the funeral.
A favorite example of the Living Funeral is mentioned from the tradition of the Lakota Sioux people of South Dakota. They accept death as part of the natural order of life. They identify more with their consciousness and allow themselves to disengage from their bodies. They see life’s journey as its end goal, and appreciate that life is always on the edge of death.
Prior to death, the Lakota Sioux make sure to forgive. They ease tensions by making amends. They release loved ones from feelings of guilt for acts they may have committed against them. They make a point to accept one another’s faults and thoughtfully collect their precious family heirlooms to distribute to their family members. The gifts passed on to decendents are meant to be passed on down the line each generation. Thus, each member becomes a caretaker of the family heirlooms rather than the singular owner. As one approaches death, one of their folkways requires that traditional foods be eaten as part of purifying oneself for death. This is the time for handing down family recipes.
At the time of death, family, friends, and neighbors will all crowd into the critical care unit hospital room (which can be difficult.) It is their tradition to show respect and appreciation for their relationship by being at bedside to say farewell. Once all are there, the dying person lets go. They believe death is but a transitional period, and that their energy is released into the world to become once again part of nature.
The year following the death is a trial period for the family. The bereaved must strive toward exemplary behavior. They will avoid controversy, jealousy, anger, and licentiousness at all costs because it is believed that one's true character emerges at the time of grief. Throughout the year, the family will also prepare for the death anniversary party by collecting items and money. The death anniversary party is partly a memorial service and partly a tribute to the individuals who showed kindness to the departed loved one and the family. The guest of honor (this might be the best friend of the deceased), will carry a picture of the deceased to show it to all who attend. After a memorial service, the atmosphere changes, and the event becomes festive and joyful. Attendees will share a meal as they share happy memories and stories about the deceased. At the end of the party, attendees are honored by gifts - former belongings of the deceased's.
According to Ben Daitz (2011), fewer than 30 percent of Americans have signed advance directives. If we could only make advanced directives a more meaningful endeavor, we might prepare better for our own deaths by considering what we have done with our lives, what is yet to be done, and what we have to contribute to our community. By encouraging pre-planning and updating the modern funeral rite to include elements of this alternative method of addressing death, we would greatly benefit society.
As the future will be interactive, please consider the living funeral as a tool for collecting content. The future of the contemporary cemetery, our rich, historical repositories will have the power to incorporate elements of fun, entertainment, and educational experiences to their visitors. They can transform their conveniently located and gloriously maintained parks into interactive biographical and historical time capsules for families and the public to enjoy.
There are so many ways to improve and expand upon these existing cemeteries and memorial parks, and yet we do not see the technology face lift taking place. Village Memorial developed an interactive cemetery concept, the Pantheon touring device, for Arlington National Cemetery back in 2006. Although we have the tools, we have not (thus far) focused on the collection of life stories delivered at Living Funerals. We predict that in the near future, the memorial park will be center of activity in the community. If land is for the living, why not bring these already dedicated parks to life? New technology can improve and reinvigorate the contemporary cemetery and protect our rich history. Remember, the families who chose burial or inurnment at a cemetery did so to provide a physical location for others to remember them by.
Modern cemeteries will be where we go to hear the stories of our family, friends and neighbors collected at the living funerals and in the form of Ethical WIlls. The living funeral is the key to elevating funeral services. With location based interactivity turning cemeteries into biographical museums.
Family and friends interview their loved ones prompting memories by discussing images in family albums and scrapbooks and videotaping life storys, ethical will wishes for posterity. These important recordings can be incorporated into your family heritage websites or tribute scrapbooks to share with others at family reunions, anniversaries, and holidays. Materials are also useful for events such as funerals and public announcements, such as obituaries..
Historical objects should data tagged, 3D scanned, and organized digitally with their accompanied audio and or written information to ensure the preservation of our family legacies. Although original materials such as photographs, certificates and awards, should be archived on acid free pages for preservation, it is to manage and store physical objects in any cohesive manner. By digitizing objects, we can archive them and their importance.
The best way to augment your precious family heirlooms is to connect this data obtained through interviews to codes that can be read by mobile devices. Village Memorial is promotes its own line of Legend Tags, or inheritags to be placed on family heirlooms for future instruction and archiving. (Find out more by clicking here).
Turn family keepsakes into time capsules. Give instructions for future generations to keep family traditions alive. These archives can be stored by individual family members, on a secure protected family account in the cloud, or even tagging data to be retrievable from a grave site, or favorite place thereby creating a “smart memorial” to be enjoyed virtually from this physical location.
A Legend Tag™ can be used to ensure that priceless, irreplaceable family heirlooms keep their significance and stories as they travel through the generations, or simply across town.
Legend Tag™ allows users to add stories, images, and videos to family heirlooms. Without understanding the significance of an item, many precious family heirlooms get accidentally tossed out or lost in estate sales. The Legend Tag™ prevents these tragic losses.
Record the significance of an object and who should receive if you were to pass on unexpectedly.
Affix a Legend Tag™ sticker to your precious possession.
The LegendTag™ ensures your wishes will be relayed as relatives can call up information related to the item and know exactly what the relevance of the object was, its story and what it meant to you.
Contact Village Memorial to set up your LegendTags™ in time for your next move or spring cleaning!
Village Memorial seeks to provide you with the best materials and advice to assist you to manage and edit your important family history content and materials. For more information on heritage preservation tools and Personal data editors.
Contact a Village Memorial bereavement coordinator at: 503-512-0755.
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