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Why Have a Funeral?

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When we experience the death of someone we love, a funeral service fills several important needs. First, it provides for the dignified and respectful care of the person and it pays special tribute to their life. Among its purposes, it makes us acknowledge the death, remember the life and activate support during this naturally difficult time.

Equally important, the funeral service helps survivors face the reality of death, which is the first big step toward taking grief from the inside and allowing us to express it on the outside through mourning. Together, close friends and relatives can lend support and consolation when they’re needed most.

A funeral gives friends and relatives an opportunity to express the love and respect they feel for someone who was important to them. Often, just seeing how much others care can be a tremendous help to a family in adjusting to their loss.

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Since The Beginning Of Time

For thousands of years, funerals have been a means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of someone we love.

The funeral ceremony:

  • helps us acknowledge that someone we love has died
  • allows us to say goodbye
  • provides a support system for us, friends, family members and our community
  • allows us to reflect on the meaning of life and death
  • offers continuity and hope for the living

While your grief journey will be unique, all mourners have certain needs that must be met if they are to heal. Though these reconciliation needs of mourning are not intended to serve as orderly steps on the road to healing. Instead, you will find yourself bouncing back and forth from one to the other, and maybe even working on one or two simultaneously.

Importance of Mourning

Rituals are symbolic experiences that help us, together with our families and friends, express our deepest thoughts and feelings about life’s most important events. For example, birthday parties honor the passing of another year in life. Weddings publicly affirm the private love shared by two people.

Importance and Reasons for Rituals

What do rituals have in common? First, they are typically public events. Families, friends, church members, villages, even nations – any group with strong emotional or philosophical ties – may create and enact a ritual, providing a support system for common beliefs and values. Rituals unite us.

Second, most rituals follow an established, cultural-specific procedure. The details will change, but the general pattern remains recognizable. The predictability of rituals helps participants feel at ease.

Finally, and perhaps most important, rituals are symbolic. Wedding rings, christening gowns and gold watches all symbolize important life transitions and commitments. Not just the objects, but the very acts of ritual are symbolic as well. The symbol of ritual provides a means to express our beliefs and feelings when language alone will not do those beliefs and feelings justice.

The funeral ritual, too, is a public, traditional and symbolic means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of someone loved.

Funeral Misconceptions

There are a number of misconceived thoughts about funerals. Here are some that should be considered and addressed when planning a funeral.

  1. Funerals make us too sad. When someone we love dies, we need to be sad. Funerals provide us with a safe place in which to embrace our pain.
  2. Funerals are inconvenient. Taking a few hours out of your week to demonstrate your love for the person who died and your support for survivors is not an inconvenience, but a privilege.
  3. Funerals and cremation are mutually exclusive. A funeral (with or without the body present) may be held prior to cremation. Embalmed bodies are often cremated.
  4. Funerals are only for religious people. Non-religious ceremonies are also appropriate and healing.
  5. Funerals are meaningless. They needn’t be. With forethought and planning, funerals can and should be personalized rituals reflecting the uniqueness of the bereaved family.
  6. Funerals should reflect what the loved one wanted. Maybe not…While the wishes of the person who died should be respected, funerals are primarily for the benefit of the living.
  7. Funerals are only for adults. Anyone old enough to love is old enough to mourn. Children, too, should have the right and the privilege to attend funerals.

Source: Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., C.T.

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