Resources for an Atheist’s Funeral February 14, 2010

Resources for an Atheist’s Funeral

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put together a few helpful resources in the sad event you have to speak at the funeral of an atheist. (Or if you’re proactive and want certain things to be said about you at your funeral.)

The poetry section is enormous, but here’s a sample memorial service:

During the tribute or memorial portrait, a family member or a chosen speaker remembers the person who has died. This talk can incorporate personal anecdotes, achievements; whatever it is that best describes this person. Audience members can be invited to share memories.

You may wish to point out the skeptical views of the person being remembered. For example: _________ did not believe in life after death; __________ believed in life before death. But _______ does live on in a natural sense, in the memories of those who remain, ________’s children and grandchildren [if applicable], and in __________’s accomplishments. (This leads to the memorial portrait or tribute).

Most freethinkers craft their own unique program. A friendly colleague or family friend may officiate. Families personalize the event with picture boards or other memorial displays. Don’t be afraid to be different. Even a favorite recipe of a good cook — brownies! etc., — can be distributed (or served). Talented friends or family can be included in the program. Songs, music, poems or sayings personal to the deceased can be featured. Many memorials provoke as much laughter as tears. Music can begin and end the event, and be interspersed throughout.

Note: If religious relatives are involved, you may wish to include a “moment of reflection” somewhere during the program to keep the peace. It’s up to you.

It’s something you never hope you have to use… but if you do, there you go.

Are there other resources you know of to use during funerals of atheists?

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  • mkb

    Without Burnt Offerings: Ceremonies of Humanism by Algernon D.Black, In Memoriam: A Guide to Modern Funeral And Memorial Services, 2d Ed., by Edward Searl. Black was an ethical culture leader, Searl is a UU.

  • revyloution

    I think I might have the oddest funerary wishes.

    I want my corpse burnt (after they pull out any usable parts! Make sure your’e an organ donor!!) and the ashes mixed with paint. I want the paint applied to a bass guitar. Then I want the bass hocked at the local pawn shop. That way I get to keep on rocking in the afterlife!

  • A couple of cases of Grey Goose and some mixers?

    I’m all about celebrating the life of the person instead of focusing on the death, therefore I hope there is one huge fucking party when I die.
    I bet most people will be happy I’m dead though..which isn’t really my intent and I hope those people suffer an excruciating hangover.

    Anyway, there are Humanist Officiants who can do these sorts of ceremonies for people – which I think is a great idea.

  • My parents were agnostic UUs, and when my dad died the chaplain lent me a book of readings to look through. Some were “religious”, but the there was all sorts of non-theist material, too (Santayana is a good hunting ground for quotes).

  • @ Revyloution

    I have a very bad joke that incorporates your organ and bass guitar, but I think I’ll spare you.
    Consider it a gift.

  • Tim Stroud

    A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants.

  • Razzle

    It doesn’t matter what people call you once you’re dead. If people incorrectly called me a Christian, or even if they called me a rapist. None of that matters if I’m dead.

  • Revyloution

    @ Lagunatic

    That reminds me of something I always wondered about Catholics and transubstian. Do any good Catholics wonder if they get any Jesus penis in their cracker? Do closeted Catholic homosexuals hope for some?

    And when it comes to me, never hold back on a bad joke. The only deprecation I love is self deprecation.

  • Julia

    Whatever your wishes, please, please make them known to your loved ones and write a will empowering an executor to carry out those plans. I’ve had to plan a funeral without any wishes known and it sucked because you are constantly second guessing yourself. That’s when people get talked into expensive, unnecessary things because they’re trying to error on the side of respectability and honour you. Also, money seems so trivial and petty compared to loss of a loved one. I’ve also had to plan a funeral when I had information to go on. It was so much less stressful, although it was still aweful and hard.

    Suggestions on a place that you would be comfortable having your funeral / celebration of life / whatever are extremely helpful as otherwise, the default is often a church even for non-church goers. Also an MC (for lack of a better term) that knows you, but isn’t so close that they cannot function would help (again the default church has a default pastor to frame the service). It is so much easier for you to plan some details now (even just suggestions!) compared to your devastated spouse/sister/parent trying to come up with something when they are reeling.

  • Claudia

    Even if you don’t care what happens to your body, giving your family/significant other etc. simple instructions is a good idea, because preparing a funeral can give survivors something to do other than simply dwell on your loss and contributes to making people feel just a little less helpless. Its a favor to the living.

    If nothing else, say clearly that you don’t want one of those awful gaudy caskets. I’ve seen documentaries on how grieving relatives are cruelly manipulated into buying overpriced, over-decorated caskets because anything less would mean you didn’t really love the dead person. Makes my blood boil.

    Personally I think cremation (once any useful bits have been donated to those who need them, of course) is the most respectful thing. Personally I’d like my ashes to be mixed with earth and used to fertilize a big bunch of flowers. In a silly sentimental sense, it would make me still “alive”.

  • bmg61

    Why are we trying to adapt to religious death ceremonies? Dump the body in a pit and move on.

  • Wendy

    My motto is “funerals are for the living”. Personally, I don’t care what my service will be like. If my friends/family want to chant or pray or ask Jesus to save my soul, that’s fine by me — whatever helps them deal with their grief. I won’t care one way or another… I’ll be totally dead!

  • BoomerChick

    If you don’t want to donate body parts consider being a cadaver for science. Call your state university about body donation.
    Science rules!

  • Suz

    I agree that you should let your wishes be known in advance. Last year my 85 year old uncle passed away. He was adamant that he did not want a church funeral and did not want a minister/preist/whatever officiating. He wanted the family to wait until summer, then have a BBQ. He wanted it to feel more like a family reunion than a funeral. It was the best funeral I’ve ever attended.

  • muggle

    Definitely for the living. I tell my daughter all the time, whatever’s cheapest.

    It wouldn’t make any difference to me if I were dumped in a dumpster. But I know she’d need the comfort and closure of some sort of service and, of course, it would matter to her if I were just dumped in a dumpster (as it would me if she were).

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