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Honouring Ali

A life well lived and a death well celebrated

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Muhammad Ali


Death is the one constant in life, but even as the ravages of Parkinson’s disease left Muhammad Ali unable to continue to speak out against discrimination and intolerance, he still loomed larger than life itself. As the people’s champion, he was equally comfortable talking to world leaders as he was fist-pumping with the average fan on the street. He taught the world that you can be “the greatest” if you believe in yourself.

Sadly, on June 3, 2016, the world had to admit that Muhammad Ali was indeed human. He died at the age of 74, but will continue to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee in our collective conscious.

Presidents and past presidents, actors, former opponents, religious leaders, and ordinary people all around the world are mourning the loss of this icon, this man of the people.  Ali is remembered by all as a man of integrity who appreciated differences and preached tolerance. He was a religious man in the purest sense of the word. He thrived on the differences that made us all the same.

So how do we reconcile the loss of such a public icon? How do we say good bye? Do we have to? Even in death, Ali was a man of conviction. With the greatest attention to detail, he pre-arranged his own funeral services years ago, influencing how he wanted to be remembered.

Ali was a man of the people and he wanted to bring the world together to grieve his passing. His service was to be open to and accepting of everyone, and intolerant to any bias. His pall bearers included a Jewish leader, an actor, and a former fight opponent.

Ali was to be laid to rest in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky and his funeral would be open to everyone. And everyone showed up – young and old, black and white, Muslims, Christians and Jews.  There were messages from the Pope, past and current Presidents, actors, family and a wide and very diverse circle of friends. Even in death he helped bring us together and bridge the gap.  

Ali’s pre-planned funeral

Muhammad Ali was a wise man. He knew that saying good bye in a public way would help us grieve, so we could then move forward. It would provide an opportunity to come together, reflect, remember and celebrate.  It would give the world a chance to say good bye, to run alongside the casket, grace it with flowers, to hold up hand-written notes, to touch the man who touched the world. And the world attended.

There were more than 14,000 tickets for the inter-faith service, millions more watched by live stream, and more than 100,000 people lined the streets along the route to the cemetery. Tickets for the next day’s memorial were gone within an hour, and 6,000 admirers from around the globe attended the traditional Muslim funeral service.

Whether the loved one is a family member, a friend or, as in Ali’s case, a public icon who we may not have known personally, every loss we experience needs to be grieved. The funeral service helps us in so many ways, including:

  • It helps us face the reality of the death.
  • It allows us to express our grief, support others and be supported.
  • It helps us adapt to the loss as we go on living. It reminds us that life has changed, but life goes on and needs to be lived.
  • Sharing our memories helps us validate the legacy of the person who died.    
  • It reminds us that life is precious.
  • It helps us share our pain with others (and in Ali’s case, the world).
  • A pre-planned funeral does all this and helps you plan the service you want.

Humans are tactile beings and we need to make sense of the new normal following a death. Hearing what people have to say about the life lived gives us additional memories. Seeing the body makes it very real. Touching the casket or placing flowers at the gravesite helps us validate our loss, say good bye and continue to move forward in the life we have left to live.

Categorized under: grief, pre-planning

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