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Meaningful Funerals


The funeral ceremony allows us to say hello on the pathway to goodbye. As you enter into the planning process, you may find it helpful to remind yourself why we have funerals. For thousands of years, funerals have been a means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of someone we love.

Meaningful funeral ceremonies make a significant difference in how families channel their grief toward health and healing. During the funeral, the community comes together and responds to the reality that someone has died, and also to the reality that those remaining will need support, compassion, love, hope, and understanding. The funeral encourages you to think about the person who has died and to explore the meaning of their life and the ways in which they touched the lives of others.

The remembering, reflecting and choices that take place in the planning and carrying out of the funeral service are often an important part of the process of grief and mourning. And ultimately, this process of contemplation and discovery creates a memorable and moving funeral experience for all who attend.

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 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.

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
Importance of mourning
While your grief journey will be unique, all mourners have certain needs that must be met if they are to heal. Though these reconciliations needs of mourning are numbered one through six below, they 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.

The six needs of mourning:

  1. Acknowledge the reality of the death.
  2. Move toward the pain of the loss.
  3. Continue the relationship with the person who died through memory.
  4. Develop a new self-identity.
  5. Search for meaning.
  6. Continue to receive support from others.
Importance and reason for ritual

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.

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.

The Elements of a Meaningful Funeral
For centuries, funerals have helped us say goodbye. Funerals honor and remember the person who died. They also surround us with the loving support of friends and family. No matter what kind of funeral ceremony you are planning, it helps to understand the parts of a meaningful funeral. Each element serves a unique purpose and plays an important role.

Meaningful funerals are made up of different parts that, when combined together, make for an incredibly meaningful experience for you, your family and friends. Even among different faiths and cultures, funeral ceremonies throughout North America often include many of the same elements. Your faith or culture may have its own variations on the elements below and you should be encouraged to follow them as you see fit.


Music is an important part of many social rituals. One of the purposes of music is to help us access our feelings, both happy and sad. During the funeral ceremony, music helps us think about our loss and embrace our painful feelings of grief. Consider music that was meaningful to the person who died or to your family. Most funeral homes and many churches and other places of worship have the capability to play CDs or music from iPods. Check out the quality of the sound system and if it doesn't meet your standards, find an outside source to provide a high quality system. If you'd like to have live singers or musicians, your funeral director or clergyperson can help you contact and schedule them. Most funeral homes and churches will have their own organist or pianist.
Including readings helps those attending the funeral to acknowledge the reality of the death and to move toward the pain of the loss. Religious funeral ceremonies typically contain a number of standard readings from the faith's body of literature. Like secular ceremonies, they may also allow time for readings that in some way represent the person who died. Readings can be selected that capture the unique life and philosophies of the person who died. It is completely appropriate to inject humor if it is a true reflection of your loved one.
Receiving friends through a visitation activates your support system and allows others to express their concern and love for you. They will remember you invited them and often stay more available to you in the months that follow the death. In other words, having a visitation encourages you to openly and honestly mourn the death.
Often the eulogy is the most remembered and meaningful element of a funeral ceremony. Be creative as you discuss ways to share memories of the person who died. Try to avoid having someone who didn't really know the person who died give the eulogy. While some have learned to give excellent, personalized eulogies, other clergy members may speak a few generic words about the person who died or resort to sermonizing about life and death in lieu of personalizing their message. If your family would feel comforted by a religious sermon during the ceremony, by all means, ask a clergyperson to give one. Just be sure to have someone else (or several people) deliver a personalized eulogy in addition to the sermon.
Symbols say for us what we could not possibly say in words at this time. When words are inadequate, ritual and the presence of symbols like flowers, food, candles and even the body of the person who has died, help us express our thoughts and feelings.
  • Procession - The procession is a symbol of mutual support and public honoring of the death.
  • Committal Service - Accompanying a body to its final resting place and saying a few last words brings a necessary feeling of finality to the funeral process.
  • Gathering - This special and essential time allows your family and friends to tell stories about the person who dies, to cry, to laugh and to support one another.
Memories are the most precious legacy we have after someone we love dies. Your family can choose to provide opportunities for memory-sharing beyond the eulogy. As we all realize, not everyone feels comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. Through memories, those who have died continue to live on in us.
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