At some point in time everyone must deal with their own mortality. America, in general, has long chosen to avoid the subject of death and dying.
According to Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1970s, it was difficult to accept death in this society because it was unfamiliar. Death was a taboo subject and we tried to hide the dying process by hiding the terminally ill patient. During much of the twentieth century, the majority of people in America died in a hospital.
Hospitals used to be considered an institution devoted to charity and a place where people went to die. Then attitudes changed and the hospital shifted to an institution of healing, curing and restoring. But with the emphasis on healing, the dying patient made health professionals appear to be failures.
Kubler-Ross helped pioneer a radical change in the perception of death and the dying process. She helped America to live with the fact that death is inevitable for everyone; it's just a matter of time. Slowly, society changed and began to accept that death is just the final stage of growth.
Through the campaigning of Kubler-Ross and others like her, the advent of home health and hospice care bloomed. This allowed more patients to die at home in familiar surroundings with their family and friends involved in the process. As the concept of death has changed, so too has the funeral process.
The funeral process has many purposes. One of the most important is to help the grieving family begin accepting the reality of the death of their loved one both intellectually and emotionally.
The denial of death can cause family members to avoid dealing with grief, which in turn can slow or prevent emotional healing.
Local funeral directors, Rob Moore and Susie French recently talked about the changes that have come about in the funeral process in the past 5-10 years. They agree the changes have been made to meet the needs of the survivors.
"The funeral gives the family a chance to reflect on the life that was lived and try to celebrate that life," Moore said. "And it allows friends to express sympathy and love for the family and offer them support. The most dramatic change has been to make it a very personal service." "A funeral service needs to be as specific and as individualized for that person as possible," French said.
Moore said that funeral directors are keepers of the ritual of death just as churches are keepers of the faith ritual. Rituals are important in a society.
"We use rituals when words are inadequate," Moore explained. "Families are sometimes so devastated by death they can't talk and cling to ritual. "
Friends, too, resort to ritual when words won't come. They sit with the family at the funeral home. Some send flowers, or food. It's something they can do to help. It's part of the tradition, the ritual. The local funeral homes are trying to transition the ritual to better meet the needs of the survivors.