Funeral was not a word I heard very often growing up. In my family, we almost exclusively called it a celebration of life. This was probably because the word funeral implied a send-off that was expensive and centred around sadness—which to my family, didn’t feel right when honouring someone we loved.
In November of 2012, a few weeks before Christmas, we got the call that my Grandfather (Papa) had passed away. After years of battling cancer, his body had finally decided it was time to rest. Despite having known what was coming for a while, there was an unavoidable sadness in having to accept that he would no longer be around to make his obnoxious jokes.
When I boarded my flight to British Columbia a few weeks later, to say that I was anxious would have been an understatement. In the wake of my Grandfather's passing, my family had agreed to stick to the original plan of gathering at my Grandparents house for Christmas, which meant 12 grieving cousins, aunts and uncles all under one roof.
To my surprise, what unfolded over the next few days was a series of events that showed me the value of choosing to honor your loved ones in a non-traditional way.
After Papa’s cremation, we divided his ashes into 12 separate bags — one for each person to scatter. We then took his ashes, some good wine, and recordings of his favourite songs and headed to a nearby beach that we would frequent when we would visit.
Upon arriving at the beach, my family and I gathered in a semi-circle, each of us with a portion of Papa’s remains and a glass of wine in hand. We honoured his love for music by singing his favourite Russian folk song [or at least trying to sing his favourite Russian folk song] before separating to spread his ashes in a spot that was meaningful to each of us.
Later that evening, the 12 of us piled into a limo and headed to a beautiful restaurant on the ocean. That night as we sat around the table, sharing food, laughter, tears and jagerbombs— one of Papa’s favourite drinks, I came to realize that even in the moments of excruciating pain and sadness that come after we lose the people we love, there can also be moments of healing, beauty, and letting go.
When making funeral arrangements for the people we love, it’s okay to stray from traditional funeral arrangements and choose something that feels meaningful to both your family and the deceased. It doesn't have to be extravagant or expensive—although there is nothing wrong with choosing to go that route. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to honour our loved ones, so I encourage you to get creative and, most importantly, make it personal.