Celebrating A Life: An Irish Funeral Tradition

Given that we are celebrating St. Patricks Day today, I figured it would be a good time to share my story of how learning about Irish funeral traditions forever changed my views on death, dying and loss. You never really know what you will get out of a conversation, however, this particular occasion I will never forget. 

While attending university, long before ever working for a funeral home technology company, my eyes were opened to the truly beautiful idea of celebrating a life. It all happened while studying in the library one winter evening. I was approached by a friend of mine for what started out as an exchange of pleasantries and ended with a profound change of perspective.

“What did you do this weekend?” I asked.

“I had my uncle’s funeral” she replied.

I could not help but express my condolences, “I am so sorry to hear that, are you okay? I asked.

“Oh yeah, I am fine, it was not a sad funeral. It was a big celebration. We’re Irish.”

It was in hearing those words that I first encountered the word funeral associated with anything other than mourning a loss. Intrigued and curious to find out more about Irish funeral traditions, I began to ask her many questions about her experience. It turned out her family had replaced a traditionally somber occasion, for which funerals are known, with a grand celebration. They gathered to eat, drink, sing, share stories, memories and kind words about her uncle. Apparently this was an Irish tradition, one that I would later find out is mirrored in many cultures and societies throughout the world. A truly life changing revelation. Since beginning my career in working with funeral homes, I have taken a further interest in the idea of celebrating a life. And I am not alone. As a millennial, many of my contemporaries are shifting their views on death, dying and the traditional funeral.

To be honest, it all makes total sense. If given the option between an occasion of grief and sadness or one of celebration and nostalgia, it goes without saying that the latter is more appealing. That being said, it does not have to be a choice. The celebration of life ceremony is beautiful because it does not exist as a replacement to the traditional funeral, rather it is the evolution of the traditional funeral. Everyday at FrontRunner we work with innovative firms around North America, who work tirelessly to offer families with the services they want. One noticeable trend is an increased number of funeral homes have asked us to help them develop celebration of life services, both online and offline. As the modern family begins to change and generations begin to shift, so to will the demand for dynamic funeral service offerings. Two prime examples are the cremation trend and the increased popularity of contemporary, personalized and celebratory funerals.

Moving forward, funeral homes should make a greater effort to remove themselves from stringent packages and service offerings. Instead the modern firm should seek to offer families what they truly want: flexibility. The modern funeral is truly whatever families want it to be and the time is now for funeral directors to embrace it. Celebration of life ceremonies are a wonderful way to help families heal and gather with their loved ones for a positive memorial.. I suppose it is only fitting. We celebrate every other life milestone except for the end. Birthdays, weddings, graduations, promotions and retirements all have positive connotations. Why not death? It is not like we can avoid it. If you don’t mind me saying, in my humble opinion, we ought to start embracing death as simply the ending to a beautiful story. After all it is not the beginning or ending of life that truly matters, the beauty, and what is to be celebrated, is everything that happens in between. Who is with me here?

My first year in this industry has been a whirlwind, to say the least. The learning curve has been huge and there is still lots to absorb. That being said, if my wonderfully enlightening Irish friend taught me anything, it is that death does not always have to be sad. Sure, there will be times of grief, times of sadness and a range of other emotions, but isn’t a life lived worth celebrating and remembering?

From all of us here at FrontRunner we would like to wish a Happy St. Patricks Day to all of our Irish clients, readers and to all of those who are only planning to be Irish for the day. And of course, we would love to hear about those special celebration of life ceremonies that you’ve held for your families… just like the Irish!

1 Comment

  • The celebration of life that is a tradition with the Irish, as well as other groups, is a practice we encounter on a regular basis. It is a drastic change from the funerals that are turned into a dirge. All traditions have their merits and the funeral is in reality for the family.

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