In the 1970’s, the world was introduced to a defined process of grieving.  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance became the buzz words for anyone facing the death of a loved one or their own terminal illness.  Known as the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, these five steps were widely accepted as an inevitable part of the human condition and for the most part, have remained unchallenged for over 30 years.  Now, however, all of that is changing…and changing fast.

One study conducted by Yale University and another by the Grief Recovery Institute in California recently demonstrated little or no evidence that the five-stage Kübler-Ross paradigm exists in today’s society.  And they’re not the only ones.  In the last five years, nearly one hundred books have been published on the subject of how humans are now coping with death and bereavement.

One such book, “The Other Side of Sadness:  What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After a Loss”,  was published in September 2009 by George Bonanno, professor of clinical psychology of Columbia University.   Bonanno’s book not only debunked the Kübler-Ross five-stage theory, but it concluded, based on two decades of rigorous scientific studies, that human beings have a natural resilience that directs us through our grief.   And while 10-15% of us have an extremely difficult time, most of us are able to manage our grief and function even after a period of two short weeks.  How does this translate into how families are planning and carrying out the funeral services?

The change from my perspective, as a funeral home owner/director, has been evident.  Traditional visitations are still the mainstay, but now more families are requesting unique, personal elements that are more celebratory in nature.  It is as if the funeral service is being embraced as a special family event or gathering, one where they are creating comforting memories to carry forward in their healing.   The grief and sadness are still there and obviously the circumstances of death are a factor, but it seems that creative expressions of love and honor are a fantastic tool in the healing process.

What kind of creative expressions have I seen?  Well, besides the customary photo/video montages and traditional ethnic ceremonies, families are now arranging for everything from balloon launches, web-casting of the services (or having them professionally videotaped), the releasing of doves, displays of hobbies and memorabilia (even a few antique automobiles) and color coordinated pall bearers, to name only a few.  And while most of these services do not bring in any revenues to the funeral home, the pay-off is huge in customer satisfaction.

Naturally, there are still many families who are more comfortable with the traditional approach of quiet grieving and reverence, but it is clear that for those who seek a more expressive farewell, they are doing so with gusto!