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Honesty at the end

An Anglican vicar whose parish is in the Home Counties recently remarked to a local funeral director that despite the increasing number of deaths, he was being asked to conduct fewer funeral services.

A humanist officiant in the same area has never been busier.

Which indicates that the move away from religious funerals is gaining pace.

People now accept that when somebody who has no religious convictions passes away, there is no reason why they should have a 'religious' funeral.

Being honest at the end of life is important. These days one can have a funeral that matches your lifestyle, views and beliefs, or those of the loved one whose funeral you are organising.

In this context consider the experience of a family we'll call the Williams (all names have been changed to save embarrassment).

When Joe Williams died in his eighties, his daughter Dianna took charge of the funeral arrangements.

Dianna chose the funeral director and decided that her dad’s funeral should be at the local church. The funeral director and the local vicar agreed the time and the rest of the arrangements.

Yet Joe didn’t go to that church – or any other.  He was, like the majority of the UK population, indifferent to religion.

Dianna though thought that her mum, Joe's widow, wanted Joe to have a church funeral.

Joe’s youngest son Craig takes up the story. "Mum was too upset and dazed to make a decision about dad's funeral. Neither mum nor dad were in any way religious so why Dianna decided a religious funeral was appropriate for dad is a puzzle.

"Anyway, Dianna asked the family to come up with some memories of Dad.  Then she met the vicar and he took down some notes.

“The funeral arrangements went ahead very smoothly thanks to the funeral director and the vicar. On the day, the family and invited mourners arrived at the church and the service went ahead. In some ways it was very nice, especially the singing of the hymns.

"Yet for many of us it didn’t feel right.  We knew dad wasn’t religious, and yet here we were pretending he was going to another place and sending him off as if he had been a Christian.

"And when the vicar gave his tribute, he made it seem as if dad did believe and was entitled to a Christian funeral.

"During the tribute and the prayers some of us looked at each other, knowing what we were thinking."

The same façade was enacted at the crematorium where the vicar read from the bible during the brief service before the cremation.

Craig continues: "What upset me was the dishonesty of it. Dad was very honest and he made a decision not to be a Christian.

"But almost for appearances sake, his last event was a sham.  Some of the mourners found it ironic, but it rather upset me.  I know dad wouldn’t have wanted his life to be remembered like that."

My Last Song is neither in favour of religious funerals nor against them. It wants to provide the necessary information to allow people to plan the funerals that best reflect our unique lives.

We do believe it is best to be honest at the end, and if this means a non-religious funeral is the most appropriate, then make that decision and plan the funeral you want for yourself, or your loved one.

You won’t be alone…more and more funerals are non-religious, reflecting the increasingly secular nature of our society and the individuals that make up that society.

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