Funerals serve an important purpose

Far from being outdated and unnecessary, funerals are an important ritual that help us to acknowledge death, remember the person who has died and support each other during a difficult time.

Rituals are symbolic. They help us express our deepest thoughts and feelings about important events in our lives.

Baptism celebrates the birth of a child and their acceptance into the church family. Birthday parties honour the passing of another year in the life of someone we love. Weddings publicly acknowledge the love shared by two people.

A funeral is a ritual too. It is a public, traditional and symbolic means of expressing our thoughts and feelings about the death of someone important to us. Funerals help us to acknowledge the reality of death, express our grief and mutually support those around us.

Funerals help us say goodbye. They help us to begin to acknowledge the reality that someone in our life has died.

When we experience the death of someone we love, a funeral serves to satisfy a number of needs:

  • The need to acknowledge the reality of death. When someone you love dies, you need to openly acknowledge the reality of the death if you are to move forward with your grief. Typically, you will embrace this reality in two phases. First you acknowledge the death in your mind. Then, over time, you will acknowledge it in your heart. A funeral serves to help you understand in your heart that your loved one is gone.
  • The need to move toward the pain of loss. Healthy grief means expressing your painful thoughts and feelings, and a funeral allows you to do just that. It provides a setting for openly expressing your sadness.
  • The need to remember the person who died. To heal, you must shift your relationship with the person who has died from one of physical presence to one of memory. A funeral encourages you to begin this shift. For example, a eulogy highlights the major events in the life of the deceased and prompts memories.
  • The need to develop a new self identity. Our lives are given meaning by those around us. You may be a mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother or friend. So when someone close to you dies, your self identity changes. A funeral can help to begin the process of developing a new self-identity.
  • The need to search for meaning. When someone you love dies, you naturally question the meaning of life and death. Why did the person die? Why now? Why this way? To heal, you need to explore these types of questions if you are to reconcile your grief. This doesn’t mean you need to find definitive answers, only that you need the opportunity to think – and feel – things through.
  • The need to receive ongoing support from others. Funerals are a public means of expressing your feelings about death and they are a public setting for offering support in grief. A funeral lets you physically demonstrate your support; your physical presence is an important show of support for the living. By attending a funeral, you let everyone else know they are not alone in their grief.
The information on this page has been drawn from the work of Alan D Wolfelt PhD, a respected author, educator and consultant to the funeral industry.