An emotional risk is present in any situation that disrupts one’s emotional wellbeing. Emotional risks can produce obsessive thought patterns, depression, paranoia, or other psychological traumas. Confronting emotional risks can increase one’s emotional range and resilience.
The risk at a funeral is primarily emotional. The overriding concern of funeral director Amy Cunningham is that families have the opportunity to participate as actively in the funerary process as their taste allows. They can seize the opportunity to confront the reality of the death, rather than have it rush by them.
“I don’t think it was sinister,” says Amy, “but the conventional funeral industry worked very hard to take away risk and fear. In doing so, they robbed all of us of any chance to heal and learn something from the death. When you are so protected and kept so far in the distance, 5 weeks after the funeral you’re sitting there thinking, ‘Well what the hell was that all about? I spent $15,000, Dad’s still dead, and my memories are pretty much of watching the funeral directors carrying the casket.’” What Amy describes is an instance of worthwhile risk being mitigated too directly, destroying the transformative value of the experience. In Amy’s view, what was initially designed as a relief for the families has backfired. Lack of involvement in the process and insulation from the emotional risks of encountering death short-circuit the uncomfortable but healthy process of grieving.
A funeral that requires that participants engage with the risky reality of death can have far reaching benefits. Amy says of funeral goers, “They will have a courage and fearlessness reserved in the back of their mind that will serve them for the rest of their life and any other death they encounter, including their own. It fills you up, it fortifies you in amazing ways.”