Spirituality in Contemporary Funerals by Margaret Holloway


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Margaret Holloway's presentation at the British Sociological Association Death, Dying and Bereavement Symposium - November 2009

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Spirituality in Contemporary Funerals by Margaret Holloway

  1. 1. Spirituality in Contemporary Funerals Margaret Holloway , Sue Adamson, Vassos Argyrou Peter Draper, Daniel Mariau
  2. 2. Method <ul><li>Phase 1 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Observations of pre-funeral meetings (FDs and celebrants) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Observations of funeral </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In-depth interviews with bereaved families </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Vast majority lower socio-economic groups </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Phase 2 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Semi-structured interviews with Key Informants </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Funerals attended 39 Meetings of family with funeral director 34 Meetings of family with officiant 20 Interviews with family post funeral 31 Celebrants: Humanist 12 Church of England 11 Roman Catholic 3 Salvation Army 5 Methodist 4 Jehovah’s Witness 1 Independent Evangelical 1 Civil celebrant 3 Family withdrew before funeral (CofE) 2 Meeting observations and interview but family asked researchers not to attend funeral 1 Memorial service (non denominational) 1
  4. 4. Main Tree Nodes
  5. 6. Personal meaning-making <ul><li>Music </li></ul><ul><li>Readings </li></ul><ul><li>Dress </li></ul><ul><li>Rituals, symbols and memorials </li></ul>
  6. 7. Conceptualising death Celebrants <ul><li>“ Christ has conquered death”. </li></ul><ul><li>“… the deceased had earned her promotion to glory….death is not the end, not a full stop but a comma”. </li></ul><ul><li>“… face the mystery of death”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ We cannot do anything about death but we can do something about living. …She was a member of the ‘great human community’. ” </li></ul><ul><li>“… a day for reflection because death comes to each one”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ The cycle of life and death where the earth is replenished and life is eternally renewed”. </li></ul>
  7. 8. Conceptualising death Bereaved - religious <ul><li>Contained within belief framework </li></ul><ul><li>Reflected in liturgy, choice of readings, hymns. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Because of imperfection from the first couple, Adam and Eve, it’s an inherited imperfection, some people die young, some people die old and it’s just because we’re not perfect. I don’t believe God takes us or anything like that”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ T hat’s quite interesting. Because that recognises the diversity of religious belief. And there was quite a universal streak in it as well ... I mean that, that bit about you know my dad might not have been a church going type but it only takes one moment and you know….Erm so that appealed to me, I thought that was good theology”. </li></ul>
  8. 9. Conceptualising death Bereaved - materialist <ul><li>Son has no religion – thinks death is the end, nothing after. Wife said we will have to see. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Erm she wasn’t a great one for symbolism. Erm so in her view it was a kind of I’m dead that’s it. End, end of.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ M y personal opinion is, that when you are dead, you are dead”. </li></ul><ul><li>“… my thoughts are that we die. You know we’re mammals, like all animals we’re born, we live and we die. It’s as simple as that you know it’s just a matter of logic to me”. </li></ul>
  9. 10. Conceptualising death Bereaved - eco-spiritual <ul><li>“ I think this planet governs itself for life”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ I don’t believe that you can die and your energy or your soul whatever you want to call it can just disappear. I think it is somewhere…I don’t know where but you can’t destroy energy. It just may be takes a different form or what have you and that’s what I believe.”. </li></ul>
  10. 11. Conceptualising death Bereaved - dualism <ul><li>“ But I do believe that we all have a soul and that soul is us, the or whatever is wrapped round it is irrelevant to a certain extent and that soul goes on, erm…”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Well physically we die but spiritually we don’t die”. </li></ul><ul><li>Younger daughter said saw her mother when paramedics came – mother was not there, just a body. </li></ul><ul><li>“ When the hearse pulled up initially I got a knot in me stomach and I just went over to it and stared at it, I thought, it’s a box. Its just like I said when I went to the interview, the person inside it is me mother, but whether you’re religious or not religious its just the shell”. </li></ul>
  11. 12. Conceptualising death Bereaved - transition <ul><li>“ Erm well we sleep in death”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ ..and I can’t remember the words, but where it comes over as saying, you know, I haven’t left you I’m in the room next door”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ erm there’s supposed to be this tunnel that you go through towards the light…And all the people you’ve known and loved are there beyond this light”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ death has got to be a no no”. </li></ul>
  12. 13. Afterlife - Continuing presence <ul><li>“ … a warmth and a presence…I’ve felt it quite a few times. All of a sudden she’d maybe go (pauses) and then she’s back again”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Daft as it seems, I say it…and he (dog) knows…last night…he pricked his ears up, stood up, laid down there, his head went up, his ears pricked up and he just sat there looking at me, and I thought, that’ll be me mam”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ And we said oh, it’s here again. Haa, it in’t something that I find scary …I mean, we had a little radio with a slide button and it used to keep turning itself off and on, and I used to say Vera’s here again. She’s putting radio on to let us know she’s around, and you know it in’t something that scares me this…. I don’t believe in the Bible. I think it’s just like fairy stories”. </li></ul>
  13. 14. <ul><li>“… didn’t even think about it just said oh come on A- show me where they are, nothing happened and I came downstairs to look for something else ….and as I picked this box up you know with quite a jerk this bag just went ‘plop’ and fell on the floor, ah so I just looked up and said thank you. So whether that’s just my mind playing tricks you know subconsciously I knew they were there, I don’t know I’ve been through it a thousand times but the fact is I said you know show me where they are and there they were….I think oh, I thought about this a lot, I think they’re there when you need them to be there, but again I think that is probably a subconscious element of yourself….but I’m not ruling out the fact that she could be there looking at me saying look in there you know that’s where it is. </li></ul><ul><li>I feel drawn to that room. Now again that could be just my subconscious, you know feeling comfortable there because that’s the last place I saw her or could it be something else that’s you know drawing me to that place, I don’t know. So I’ll keep my open mind and stay pragmatic.” </li></ul>
  14. 15. Afterlife: Continuing As protector Interviewer: So she’s still looking after you? Oh aye, I hope so, haa….now that part I do believe in .
  15. 16. Continuing in memory <ul><li>Two sons contributed brief thoughts read by celebrant. Elder son’s contribution included the words “I know you will be here in spirit”. When I commented on this to G- afterwards she said she included this because it was the son’s piece and it was not referring overtly to religion. She would not have allowed references to God etc. . The second son’s tribute included the words “You’re in our hearts forever and always” which sits better with humanist ideas – living on in memory. </li></ul><ul><li>Continued with another reference to the special gift of memories. In time only happy memories will remain and these in time will bring comfort and healing. “(name) hasn’t left you, he is still with you in spirit, by your side, for Eternity”. Implied continuation after death. </li></ul>
  16. 17. Continuing in memory <ul><li>“ There were people there on the photographs who weren’t there anymore and then dad was added to the list, you know, and ultimately life is that we’ll all be added to the list, but you know, when I go you know I hope there’s photographs of me and everybody and people …. saying oh look at, do you remember so and so and look at me mum. </li></ul><ul><li>… . giving some validation for the part they had in ( Dad’s) life”. </li></ul>
  17. 18. Continuing in love <ul><li>“ We will leave him with the sound of Barbara Streisand, one of his favourite artists, singing “Evergreen” – a love song that symbolises that love can continue even though someone’s life with us has reached its end. Love is an enduring and energising asset of human beings, which can remain with us and assist in overcoming the grief of loss.” (humanist celebrant). </li></ul>
  18. 19. Continuing as light <ul><li>Final prayer of thanks for the deceased’s legacy of love and light that remains. For memories and a sense of family bonding. </li></ul><ul><li>The minister said that this was a ‘dark time’ but there was also ‘light’—their memories of the deceased. </li></ul><ul><li>“… erm one thing that I remember was that (minister) gave thanks for erm, P’s legacy of love and light….yeah, she was a light to a lot of people. A beacon.”. </li></ul>
  19. 20. Afterlife: Resurrection <ul><li>Minister came forward to coffin, laid his hand on it and said we commend (name) to almighty God in the certain hope of the resurrection. Sense of theatre as he raised his voice to say this. </li></ul><ul><li>“… because of my faith I do believe in resurrection but it is a belief and even if we knew for sure, no it’s not true actually, if we did know for sure there was resurrection it would make a difference wouldn’t it? It would change the nature of death. Because even people of faith don’t know, we call it a Christian hope we don’t call it a Christian certainty and therefore because there is always an element of doubt and faith and hope rather than certainty and knowledge, the idea that a life, a precious human life is no more is such a massive significant thing. I don’t think that’s a morbid view of life.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ That death isn’t the end to things but there is the hope of a resurrection…So that’s the purpose of the whole service, it’s on a positive vein or a positive outlook for the future you see. </li></ul>
  20. 21. Afterlife: Reuniting <ul><li>I will not be far away, for life goes on. </li></ul><ul><li>so if you need me, call and I will come. </li></ul><ul><li>Though you cannot see or touch me, I will be near </li></ul><ul><li>And if you listen with your heart, you will hear </li></ul><ul><li>All of my love around you, soft and clear. </li></ul><ul><li>Then when you must come this way alone, </li></ul><ul><li>I will greet you with a smile and &quot;welcome home&quot;. </li></ul><ul><li>“ So erm, where do they actually go, bloody hell… I don’t know…Erm but as for where they actually do go, I don’t know may be they’ve got, my mum’s maybe got a smoking room up there I don’t know. She’s maybe sat having a fag. I don’t really know. But erm I do believe that they do come together. I believe that they do come together”. </li></ul>
  21. 22. Afterlife: Reincarnation <ul><li>“ I believe that you’re reborn again…. I believe that you’re not born into, into the world just to die… You know life. You know but it’s finding an answer. I don’t know but that’s the way I think. I don’t think it’s up there or down there. I think you do it while you’re here. You know. As far as reincarnation I don’t know, I think erm, they have regressed people haven’t they…” </li></ul><ul><li>“ So we said and I know, God forgive me for saying this, but because his mum’s dead, we was saying we wonder if this dog was his mother, you know I know it sounds stupid and that but has she come back as a dog, because it just kept disappearing and you could go and have a look and it was nowhere in sight and we thought it was, you know, really funny about it.” </li></ul>
  22. 23. To pursue further… <ul><li>Personal meaning-making located within wider religious, quasi-religious and philosophical frameworks. </li></ul><ul><li>Belief is expressed in practices not words: ‘spiritual literacy’ lacking. </li></ul><ul><li>Little evidence of wholesale secularism - death is not quite the end. </li></ul>
  23. 24. Research Team Contact Details <ul><li>Professor Margaret Holloway </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>Sue Adamson </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>www.hull.ac.uk/socsci/ </li></ul><ul><li>research/ </li></ul><ul><li>Dr Peter Draper </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>Dr Vassos Argyrou </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>Dr Daniel Mariau </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>