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January 24, 2018 Beyond The Dash

What is a Funeral?

Why we gather when someone has passed away

What is a Funeral?
A funeral is a chance for mourners to gather as a group to reminisce, grieve collectively and bury their dead. (Shutterstock)

Death creates a ripple that can affect everyone in a community. People gather when loss of life occurs in order to process the death together, and reflect on the purpose of life. It comforts many people to do this with those who are also impacted by the death. 


What is a funeral


A funeral is a ceremony held in honor of the life of a deceased person. Some funerals are held in conjunction with a burial. It's not uncommon for a graveside service, viewing, wake or reception to be hosted on the day of the funeral or within the same week of the death.


These events are opportunities for survivors and friends to receive condolences, and for everyone to say goodbye. Sometimes people who never met the deceased person, or who were only acquainted with them, also attend funerals as a show of support to the bereaved. These services bring everyone together in collective grief. Early acknowledgement of pain can help the whole community move forward in a new reality of which the deceased person no longer a part.


Funerals serve three purposes: 


1. Respectfully care for the remains 


The body of a deceased person is put to final rest before or during the funeral. This is the most pressing aspect of planning a funeral. 


With more and more families opting for cremation in modern times, care of the body is typically done before the funeral service. However, traditional burials can include the lowering of the casket into the ground, and sometimes survivors will drop the first clods of earth onto it to signify the act of burying their own dead. 


2. Pay tribute to the deceased person's life


The funeral is an opportunity to remember the life and accomplishments of a person's life. It's a recap of their life's milestones, and a reminder of their unique spirit. 


At a funeral, a eulogist will often deliver the summary of their life. The more detail that goes into crafting the story, the more touching the tribute is. For those who were close to the dead person, the stories told in the eulogy will be a heartbreaking memorial to the one they've lost. For those who didn't know the honored person as well, the eulogy is an introduction. Celebration of life helps all in attendance remember that the life was worthwhile and well lived. 


3. Assemble mourners for an outpouring of grief


Although it's painful to be reminded of all the special characteristics, talents and quirks that made up their identity, we do this out of respect for the deceased person. The sharing of memories is the first step to overcoming the initial shock of grief. 


It's a time for everyone to say their final goodbyes. A time to affirm together that life goes on. Funerals bring the bereaved together for community support. Meaningful funerals are meant to begin the healing process. 


Folks who are in the throes of grief usually feel a deep desire to do something for their deceased loved one. They want to commemorate their life in a meaningful way, and do justice to them at the end of their life. Funerals also help satisfy this need. Although nothing will ever bring their loved one back, paying tribute to their life helps grievers begin to move on. Funerals help people accept the difficult reality of life and death.


Funerals in other cultures 


Every culture and civilization has a different way of caring for their dead loved ones. However, there are three universal funeral customs that seem to hold true, regardless of where you are on the globe:



  • Ceremonies or funeral rites

  • Gathering in a sacred or solemn place to honor the dead

  • Memorials for the deceased


While funeral rites might vary in all parts of the world, they all share one common goal: to show respect and honor for the deceased. 


Why do we participate in funeral rituals?


Funerals are just the beginning of accepting a loss. Prior to the funeral, mourners are usually in shock. Sometimes folks even have trouble accepting that the death has occurred


Attending a funeral is irrefutable proof of a death. It's important to go to a funeral, or take part in some kind of memorial—whether together with loved ones, or privately—in order to take the first step into grief.  


The relationship you have with the deceased person does not end at the time of their death. It continues to change and grow, as your grief changes and grows. In this new reality, the bond you held with the deceased person no longer exists in the physical world. The funeral marks the first day of your new relationship, now made of memories. A proper memorial service provides grievers with time and space to acknowledge the death, and release emotions. 

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