A funeral can be anything you want it to be
For Larry, Bill and Colleen, of Mitchell Funeral Home, and Derek Shelly, who recently retired as a minister at Huntsville’s Trinity United Church, funerals play a significant role in supporting those who are grieving, bringing people together and paying a fitting tribute to the deceased.
The Role of the Ritual
“My job, and Larry’s job as well, is to help people grieve and understand their own personal connection to ritual,” explains Derek. “And ritual can sometimes be associated with religion. But it does not have to be.” Over the years, some people have moved away from even using the word funeral, instead calling the ceremony a “celebration of life.”
This is all in sync with our changing culture. So, while some people live a life deeply connected to a church, many others feel wary of these institutions, Derek says. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a spiritual self. “In the past churches have made a death and funeral about the church first, when really it’s about the living, those who are grieving and the life that was lived.”
Both Larry and Derek agree that the needs of the friends and family in mourning are paramount. Sometimes the deceased expressly requested no funeral or ceremony of any kind. But Larry and Derek have both observed that while it’s normal to want to respect the wishes of a loved one, most people eventually decide they want some kind of gathering to say goodbye. It helps with the grieving. “A lot of the times, we need something, so we know we are not alone,” Derek points out.
Bringing people together
The sense of connection that comes from a funeral and similar rituals can have many positive aspects and not just for the people closest to the deceased. Larry points out how these gatherings provide the right opportunity for neighbours, friends and extended family to acknowledge the death in a comfortable, open environment, and not, for example, when you run into each other at the grocery store or another out-of-context setting.
Sometimes these ceremonies can help to mend fractured relationships. Derek has seen how funerals can unify and strengthen connections between family members, even between those who’ve been estranged for years.
Of course, there’s no one way a family will react to the death of a loved one. But Larry has seen some consistency over the years in how going through the stages of a funeral or celebration of life, visitation and reception can support people in moving from shock and sadness to eventually feeling the support of having people around them and maybe even sharing stories and laughter.
Larry says a key priority for him is to help families find the option that will bring them to this more peaceful state. Over the years he has developed expertise in customizing funerals, visitations, celebrations of life and other rituals.
The role of the funeral director has changed. There’s no longer a formula. We’ve grown ears; we listen.
LARRY MITCHELL, MITCHELL FUNERAL HOME
Derek agrees. Despite his connection to the church community, he understands why people may prefer a funeral that is spiritual, but not religious, and commends Larry for his flexibility to accommodate. “Larry has a chapel and pews, but he also has other rooms and options for those who want nothing to do with that environment.” The word funeral doesn’t have to be associated with mystery or fear. We can move away from that baggage and focus on how these ceremonies can bring comfort and support while celebrating the person who has passed in a healthy and open way.