Funerals, Memorial Services and Rituals

Funerals and memorial services mark the momentous transition from life to death. They can serve both as a celebration of a particular life as well as a mourning of its passing. In this highly symbolic context, eulogies can be important in solidifying the story of the person’s life and his relationships. Eulogies that serve this purpose often happen automatically and seem to be an effortless result of the funeral ritual. In situations in which there is a significant partnership, but not a marriage or a traditional recognition of the partnership, this ritual of transition can become one of discounting, and may cause pain to the survivor.

A gay physician in New York City reports going to countless funerals of gay men who have died of AIDS where the recognized principle mourners are biological family members and not family of choice. By his account family members in this situation talk about their lost member as if his life ended at about the age of 14. In reclaiming the parts of these men’s lives family members understand and approve, they deny the relationship that may be central to the grieving partner and to the man who has died. Instead of the funeral helping the surviving partner’s transition, it causes increased pain.

The practice of airing videotapes made before death at a funeral is one way some couples have addressed this problem. Another possibility is creating a smaller, private memorial tribute where the partnership and the person who has died can be honored. This tribute need not be formal. On the first anniversary of her partner Kathy’s death, Doreen invited their closest friends for hot fudge sundaes, which was Kathy’s favorite dessert. The guests ate ice cream and told stories about Kathy.

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