I was 15 when my father died, unexpectedly, following a very short bout with pneumonia.
He was not a flashy guy, and his religious beliefs were closer to Jewish than modern-day Christian, so he believed that when he died, he had no more consciousness–no “soul” that would be aware of anything, or watching down on us, or anything like that. He’d remarked many times over the years that when he died, we could just throw his body in a ditch for all he cared.
My mother and I wanted to respect his beliefs and wishes as best we could, and did not really want a traditional funeral, with a bunch of people filing by an open casket, gawking. We knew that, to daddy, it was all over. So, while we didn’t buy the least expensive casket available, we bought the 2nd cheapest. We didn’t purchase a fancy headstone; daddy was always proud of his time in the Navy and we thought he’d prefer the stone the DoD provides to veterans.
Enter my half-sister.
She’s 24 years older than I am, with a different belief structure. She wanted almost all of the opposite things. Big funeral, elaborate casket and stone. While daddy had remarked lots of times how he’d like to be buried on our property, at the top of the hill, my sister wanted to buy a plot in the local cemetery. She hadn’t lived with the man in two decades, and argued just about every point–how it was “disrespectful” to forgo a funeral service, or to not buy the top-of-the-line casket and vault.
As much as I could at 15, I put my foot down. As a compromise, I allowed for my sister to set up a visitation at the funeral home, which was open casket. I also allowed for a very short graveside service (which was on our property, at the top of the hill) conducted by the local Masonic lodge, as he was a Mason, and his boss/friend at work was able to participate as well.
I held firm on the headstone; for a lineman who wore no jewelry except for cheap watches, I wouldn’t allow a gaudy headstone. And we buried him in his work clothes and boots, because the man hated suits and ties.
The only decision I regret is the open casket at visitation. If my sister felt the need to see the body, I think she should have done that in private. Cadavers never really look like the person you knew, and I’d had my moment with ‘him’ in the hospital room just after he died, so seeing the corpse in the funeral home didn’t help much.
She and I, after a year-long legal battle over the estate, no longer speak.
My best friend just lost his 5-year-old daughter to Tay-Sachs disease. They chose to forgo any sort of funeral or service and simply have her cremated. A “possible” memorial service may happen in the future, but they are both still so angry and hurt that they just can’t do it at this point. My buddy in particular can’t stand anyone saying those classic things like “she’s in a better place,” or “God has a plan for everything.”
So, ultimately, I think it’s up to the survivors–there’s no right or wrong answer.
I’ve made explicit in my own will that I do not want a funeral service, nor anyone but close family (if they so choose) to gawk at my corpse.