September 28, 2018 Brigitte Ganger

How to Memorialize a Loved One Who Asked for No Funeral

Weighing the requests of the deceased against the needs of the survivors

How to Memorialize a Loved One Who Asked for No Funeral
A funeral is an opportunity for mourners to say their goodbyes, share memories and offer condolences to the family. But what if the deceased person asked for no funeral? (Shutterstock)

Some people just can't stand the thought of their loved ones going through the trouble and fuss of planning a funeral on their behalf. For some, a funeral is a waste of money. For others, it's a waste of time and energy for those they leave behind. Still others just aren't comfortable with people mourning in general. Whatever your loved one's reason for making this request, it can be a difficult one to honor. 


Should a deceased person's final requests always be carried out to the letter? Aren't funerals for the living? How can those who are left to mourn begin their grief process without the final closure of a memorial? When is the correct time to say goodbye when the person has asked for no such ritual? 


Does there have to be a funeral?


It's not mandatory to hold a funeral. In some cases, like when the deceased person was so advanced in age that they outlived those who would have attended to mourn, those handling the death arrangements may choose not to host a funeral. 


However, if there are people who would like to mourn, a funeral service is usually planned by the family or closest survivors—unless the deceased specifically requested "no funeral."


A dying person's request for no funeral can be conflicting and painful for the family. For many. it just doesn't feel right to bury someone you love without taking the time to remember them. Others may see the request as a great way to avoid expensive funeral costs as they mourn individually. But for those families that feel they are missing out on something, "no funeral" is a very big ask. 


You don't need to host a formal memorial service in order to honor your deceased loved one. Find ways to remember them that are personal to you. (Shutterstock)


Guiding principles


There are some principles that should be considered when making decisions about funeral arrangements:


1. A person's final wishes should be honored. 


As a society, we attempt to alleviate fear of death by ensuring people that their final wishes will be honored. In order to do that, people leave verbal and written wishes with their most trusted loved ones on all types of considerations. We assure our loved ones that we will protect their assets, take care of their dependents and honor their memory once they are gone. 


These are promises that are easy to break, because the person to whom the promise is made is not alive to hold anyone accountable. It is morally and ethically important to keep our promises to the dead, so long as those promises are possible, reasonable, and won't cause harm to anyone. 


2. Funerals are for the living. 


Publicly paying tribute to the life of a loved one in the form of a funeral service is a gift to the deceased person. But this kind of event doesn't benefit them, but rather benefits their legacy. 


But mostly, funerals are for the living. This kind of event is a chance for folks to mourn together, share stories, and say a final and formal goodbye. As a funeral host, your duty is to provide adequate physical (and emotional space) for mourners to grieve. 


The funeral-less mourning process


If, in spite of your loved one's wishes, you still want a memorial service, there are several things you can do. 


1. Host a small gathering for those who are affected by the loss.


Rather than host a large funeral, you can always assemble those with whom you are close to toast the person who has passed. Raising a glass, sharing stories, and being together with those who knew the deceased person can be a low-key alternative to a full memorial service.


2. Get support from those who are mourning with you.


If hosting a small gathering is still too close to a funeral, meet with other mourners one-on-one to get support, and hear about the ways they are dealing with the lack of a memorial service. You might find that others have ways of saying goodbye that are applicable to you.


3. Find a private way to honor your loved one.


From planting a memorial tree, to honoring your loved one on their birthday or deathiversary, there are many unique ways to privately create a ritual that helps you mourn the loss. Think of the parts of the relationship that were meaningful to you, and consider making a new tradition. 


4. Create a permanent memorial that you can visit. 


Some folks like to have a grave site or other meaningful place for visiting their loved one. If there is no tombstone or place of scattering for the ashes, you can create your own place to visit your deceased loved one. A memorial plaque or bench can give you a place to return to in order to pay your respects, while also publicly showing your love for the deceased person. You can also visit any place that was meaningful to you and your loved one, such as where you met.


5. Don't ignore your grief.


Just because there was no funeral does not mean it's business as usual. You still need to process the loss, get emotional support, and work through the phases of bereavement you experience. 


Create a tradition that's right for you


You don't need a full, formal funeral service in order to say goodbye to your loved one. Be intentional about how you ritualize your mourning, and you can reap the benefits of closure while respecting your loved one's wishes. 


Memorialize your loved one with a Beyond the Dash obituary. Our obituaries are free to post, and you can share the online memorial with loved ones. 


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