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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.
The six needs 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.
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.
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.