A Lesson on Remembrance: Are We Authentically Celebrating the Life Lived?


Recently, in my cyberspace travels I came across the following status update which I found very interesting:

This issue of lionizing or canonizing the person who died is a very important issue facing funeral service. Our desire to provide a positive life picture of the deceased through restoration techniques and the extensive use of cosmetics has extended to the life story we develop for the funeral services.

When we do not authentically represent the life lived, we often do a disservice to the people  closest to the deceased who knew him or her best.

Why we’re in the business of remembering

I believe our goal as funeral directors is to help the family remember the deceased authentically and to portray as broad a picture of their life as possible.

If we allow the family to focus on the death or the loss, we are missing an excellent way to kick-start the grieving process. It’s much easier to make sense of the loss if you can view many of the impacts this person had on others throughout their life.

Many of these impacts are a mix between positive and negative, helping us see the woven tapestry of life, and how we all make a difference to others.

My belief is that we should collect all these impacts and discuss them with the family and the appropriateness of remembering authentically.  I have found that my perspective on what was appropriate frequently does not match up with family.

A real-life example of authentically remembering the life lived

A family came in and we were going through photos of the deceased. I picked out an image that showed the deceased with a garden hose between his legs which made it look like he was, well, urinating like a race horse!

While amusing, I did not know if it should be on the photo collage board for the services or the video tribute. When I asked them about it,  they insisted that it should not just be included, but that it should be featured.  I asked why, and they told me the story of that day.

The family was pouring a concrete pad for a backyard patio and apparently it was a day, typical of many construction projects, where nothing went right.  One disaster after another led to short fuses and frayed tempers.   At a key moment Dad had the garden hose, stuck it between his legs and cracked everyone up! Perspective was restored and the family could refocus on the project at hand.

Everyone in the family told me that this was exactly who their Dad was and that they wanted to remember him that way.

Needless to say, the photo stimulated many conversations and other humorous storytelling at the visitation.

My final thoughts…

With that story in mind, let the participation of the family guide you as you consider portraying authentic events in the life of the people we are striving to remember.

I have found that letting a family member or friend of the deceased tell the off-color story is the best way to go.  People recognize that this person is not judging, just telling the story as it was lived.

While these stories are a little risky to use, they can be the source of a tremendous amount of comfort for the families we serve.


What would you have done in my situation? Do you think this is a big issue in funeral service? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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  1. Ryan Thogmartin

    Great article and prospective Lajos. I believe this is an important topic for funeral professionals to digest. Funerals need to be a reflection of how the deceased was in real life, not a fair tale that paints a different picture. Whether that is good or bad, it’s who they were. But as you stated above, this ultimately is a choice that should be made by the family.

    When my wife’s grandmother passed last year the funeral director and pastor asked each family member to provide a story about Helen (grandma). Mine was a story about how I said a four letter word in front of her, my wife (girlfriend) at the time smacked me on the arm and said “watch your mouth”. Helen said, “Oh dear it’s ok, I say “shit” all the time.” That was a complete lie, she was a saint of a women and that is the only time I heard her say a curse word in 10 years. But when the pastor dropped that story into the middle of all the “saintly” stories about Helen it added the perfect amount of laughter and reminded us all of just how witty she was before dementia began to set in.

    It is important to be realistic. There is only one person who has ever walked this earth and remained perfect.

  2. Doug McCleary

    Good article. I often talk with families about an “honest” remembering of their loved-one’s life. Important because, if not honest, it will leave people shaking their head thinking “who was he talking about?” The flip side, though, is that the word “eulogy” comes from two greek words meaning “good words”… And while we want to be honest about a person’s life, there is always room for tact and sensitivity in how we speak of a person.

  3. Lajos Szabo

    Doug, thanks for the comments! I agree with your thoughts on “good words”. What I found interesting in my experiences is that “good” can be defined in many ways depending on the family’s perspective. Many things are relative!

  4. Lajos Szabo

    Ryan. That is a great story about Grandma Helen! I believe that you can tell the most about somebody when they are “stressed” in this case from dealing with edges of proprietary norms. Her kind words that covered for your faux pas were indicative of a tremendously compassionate spirit! Thanks for your sharing it.

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  6. Vaughn Balchunas

    Great article! I think remembering only the nice and good moments of a loved one is not being true or “honest” with their memory. Allowing families to remember even the not so nice, off-color, or even rude memories could allow them to jump-start the grieving process while being true to the memory of their loved one. To play the devil’s advocate for a moment, some memories may be not be offensive to people, others may be. In this case, it maybe ok to let the family express the memory that may be offending to the people who did not know their loved one well. The memory benefit’s the decedent’s family, not the general public.

    On the other hand I do agree with Doug. There is room for some tact when discussing a person’s life while being true and honest to their memory.

  7. Lori

    Grief & pain are others entitlements & belong to thier personal opinions, remember you are unique, just like everyOne else is…
    Learn: NEVER to take anything personal. NOTHING anyOne says or does is because of you, its because of them, a mere reflection of thier own personal journey.
    It’s all about perceptions, respect for the good, the bad & the ugly-truth be told hear.
    When you make it thru the toughest of times, it most definitely makes your own character stronger!
    Please don’t judge the judger

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    […] his contribution to the great controversy of remembrance, Lajos Szabo shares a Facebook status his friend posted about his father’s death a few years […]

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  12. Deborah Holcomb

    Lajos, beautifully shared. Deb H.

  13. Betsy Graham

    I was the youngest of 4 girls. My Mother and Father ( a 33rd degree Masonic Mason) was such a generous and kind man. He also was a Shriner at Shriners hospital for burned and crippled children. He also was a builder of homes. I would spend many hours from age 3 and up in the garage and he was so patient with me. He told me he wanted me to NEVER depend on a man for ANYTHING. And I still to this day DONT. I helped build all the trusses in my parents driveway for FALMOUTH HOSPITAL DRS Building called Bramblebush.He also got me a 22 rifle when I was 5 and would take me clay pigeon shooting every weekend. And on our trips to Maine he would do a bird whistle and ask what kind of bird was THAT I would try and guess bit he would laugh and say nope that was a red bellied moose horn swallow they are rarw you know?? And he would laugh until tears rolled down his face. And he would slap his knee and reply that was a knee slapper. Meaning he was fibbing.
    My Mother would always be cleaning and cooking the most delicious meals. She taught me how to sew and knit and do cross stitching. My favorite part was when she would bake a cake and let me lick the batter off the beaters. LOL I could go on and on about my parents. But I don’t know why I never told any of these stories at their funerals. Probably just to wrapped in my grief to have remembered the wonderful times with each of them. I think of these times now and I smile as I am comforted by these wonderful memories locked FOREVER IN MY HEART

  14. Betsy Graham