The Value of a Funeral

Funerals serve two immediate purposes.  The first purpose is to mourn the loss of the person that died.  The second purpose is to celebrate the life of the person that died.

Dr. John Canine, PhD, one of the premier grief counselors in the U.S., states that before the 1900’s, people were not afraid of death – it was an accepted part of life.  When a person died, it was usually at home, and everyone was involved in preparing the body for the funeral.  In the past couple of decades, that has changed.  Our culture tends to ignore death and even tries to deny it by giving up the funeral ritual.  However, by foregoing this ritual, a very important step is missed.  That is – the first step of the grieving process – the sharing of grief with those around us.  All of the rituals in our lives, including births, marriages and deaths are marked by sharing with those around us.

Fortunately, our ideas and thoughts about death are again beginning to change.  More and more people realize that not only do they need to grieve the loss their loved one, but they also want to celebrate that person’s life.  We are doing this in new and unique ways by personalizing the funeral service.  The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) states the following:

Funeral service consumers are seeking a service that is as unique as the person who died. The idea of personalization has resulted in an explosion of unique and meaningful services being held. Families want the funeral ceremony to no longer focus on death, but rather the celebration of life.

Through personalization, funeral services can be more creative, unforgettable and meaningful. Funeral directors can offer various ideas to make the service more personalized and are very open to family suggestions and creativity. NFDA encourages all funeral service consumers to discuss their ideas with the funeral director to ensure an individualized ceremony fitting of the person who died.

Whether personalized or not, every aspect of the funeral service has a special purpose, with the ultimate purpose being that of healing.   There are several steps in the grieving process and the funeral allows us to take the first step by acknowledging the reality of the death.  It also offers us an opportunity to express our grief and gain support from those we love.  There are times in our lives when words are hard to find and when words alone are often inadequate to express our feelings.  The funeral ritual speaks for us at one of the most difficult times in our lives.   In addition, the funeral allows the community to acknowledge the death and provide support to the family and friends of the deceased.  The funeral gives the grievers the time they need to say good-bye to their loved one and serves as a rite of passage.   We must remember that the funeral is not for the deceased; it is for the loved ones who are left behind.  To skip the funeral is to skip the very first step in healing from the loss of the person we love.

Psychologists and grief counselors tell us over and over that those who skip the funeral completely or request no viewing of the deceased have the hardest time afterward.  They typically are the folks that turn to consuming alcohol, tranquilizers and other drugs to reduce the huge amount of anxiety they are experiencing.   The trained counselor will advise them to first go back and have a funeral for the person.  This ritual or rite of passage does not need to be formal nor take place in a funeral home or church.  You could stage it in your own backyard if you had to.  The important part is acknowledging the death, sharing the loss with loved ones and taking the time to properly grieve.  Having the body present during the funeral is very important.  Therefore, even those who choose cremation should always have the decedent’s body present (in either an open or closed casket) as having the deceased present brings home the reality and finality of death.

As mentioned earlier, the second purpose of the funeral is to celebrate the life of the person that died.  As visitors come to pay their respects to the family, they share memories and stories of how the deceased affected their life.  Many families are pleasantly surprised to know their loved one touched so many different people in so many ways.  This sharing brings comfort to the grieving heart.

The last topic to touch on is that of pre-planning.  The NFDA recommends that everyone preplan his or her own funeral.  Doing so can offer emotional and financial security for both you and your family.  By pre-planning a funeral you will get the kind of service you want and your family will be unburdened from making decisions at a stressful time.  Pre-planning does not necessarily mean pre-funding, although that is a wise choice as you can lock in at today’s prices and your money is guaranteed safe by U.S. government regulations.

Finally, a quote by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, sums up the need for the funeral:

“Healing in grief requires contemplation and turning inward.  
Quietness and emptiness invite the heart to observe signs of sacredness 
– to regain purpose, to rediscover love, to renew new life!”