According to a recent CNN report, the family of the late Vanessa Collier was extremely upset when the church hosting her funeral refused to show a tribute video depicting images of Vanessa kissing her female partner. Since the family wouldn’t change the video, the service was abruptly relocated to a much smaller venue across the street after attendees had already been seated.
Now imagine this happening to you. It’s the last time you get to say goodbye to someone you loved and the place you’re holding the ceremony has a fundamental problem with how you want to honor the deceased, forcing you to either alter the ceremony or find another place. It’s a terrible situation, and something that can be avoided.
We’re not here to condemn the church, or say that we as a society need to be more accepting. People have the choice to believe what they believe, so we need to either learn how to best work together, or accept each other’s differences and not work together at all.
It’s obvious that funerals are an incredibly emotional time for friends and family members. For others involved, it’s a business or based strongly in belief. While businesses have one set of goals (make money, provide a service that keeps customers coming back for more), beliefs are often ironclad, and won’t change to accommodate even those who are grieving.
This is why funeral directors are the liaisons who make sure any possible issue is addressed well before people arrive at the funeral. Typically, a professional and knowledgeable funeral director will speak with the family or loved ones, find out what type of service they want, and identify possible issues right off the bat. It’s much like a wedding planner in that regard, where the job is to know the vendors (or in the case of death, surrounding places of worship and cemeteries), figure out a solution, and guide the family in the right direction.
If you’re not using a funeral director, then it’s up to the person planning the funeral to call possible locations beforehand and make sure they’re accepting. If they’re not you can always voice your displeasure or stage a protest later, but right now the most important thing is to find a venue so the funeral proceeds peacefully.
We’ve come up with a list of possible situations below, but the overarching solution is quite simple: Always ask in advance.
Funeral Service Issues
What if a place of worship isn’t tolerant of people who are gay, lesbian, or transgender, or won't recognize same sex couples or marriage? It’s best to find a place that will honor your loved one rather than judge him or her for living a life they think was wrong. The right venue will also benefit the attendees, who probably accepted the deceased's lifestyle and will be quickly angered by those who don't.
Even though the Catholic Church has accepted cremation since 1963, some priests still feel the body should remain intact for the afterlife. Some places may protest if you forgo a traditional funeral service and only want to bring cremated remains into the church for a memorial service. (Note: A memorial service is held after the cremation has taken place, whereas a funeral has the body present.)
If you’re having a funeral in a temple, be aware that traditional Jewish rituals push for simplicity; the body should be placed in a plain pine box and adorning it with flowers is not considered appropriate. If you would like to stray from tradition, be sure to check with the Rabbi first.
Some spaces don’t only judge how people lived, but also how they died. Unfortunately, certain locations will not be willing to hold a service for someone who committed suicide.
A cemetery is another place where modern and traditional beliefs could clash.
If the deceased is a different religion or race than the rest of the family, don’t assume the cemetery will be as accepting as you are. Most cemeteries try to keep families together, but again, please check in advance.
Although you may not be bothered by the deceased’s tattoos, certain religious cemeteries do not approve.
If you’re planning to take advantage of military veteran benefits, you need to be sure that you can prove that the deceased was honorably discharged. You need to fill out the DD-214 form to obtain the plot in the cemetery, as well as receive other veteran benefits. Don’t forget, this is applicable to the spouses and minor children of the veteran as well. If the deceased was dishonorably discharged then there are no benefits available.
Other Thoughts About Death And Lifestyle
Not all funerals are traditional. Some people treat them like parties, which could be disruptive for some venues. While it’s impossible to come up with every situation, here are a few to get your mind thinking:
If the deceased was in a gang, or had criminal or controversial dealings that lead to their death, a venue owner may pass.
If the deceased rode motorcycles, the place might not want a bunch of loud bikes zooming through the parking lot.
Then there are interesting lifestyle choices where it’s up to the family to use their judgement and common sense. If the deceased was a nudist and requested that some of his buddies show up in the buff, or if they really loved smoking pot and wanted people to get high during the ceremony, you’re probably not going to find many places willing to accommodate. Also, this is what a post-funeral receptions back at home are meant for. (We’re not here to judge. We just want to give you some options...and keep you out of jail.)
It’s understandable for a person to get upset and angry if someone judges you or your loved ones, especially in death. It hurts and can make the grieving process that much harder. But when it comes to honoring the deceased it’s best to try to work together and get through it with as little friction as possible.
Be as open as possible with your funeral director (that’s what you’re paying them for) and the venues you may want to use. Inform them of your wishes in advance, and if they’re unwilling to accommodate don’t get discouraged. Always remember that there’s a perfect location for every funeral.