Funerals are important... because life is important
For thousands of years, funerals have been a means of expressing
our beliefs, thoughts, and feelings about the death of someone we
love. As you enter into the planning process, you may find it
helpful to remind yourself why we have funerals.
The funeral ceremony:
- helps us acknowledge that someone we love has died.
- fosters our memories of the person who died and encourages us
to share those memories with others.
- offers a time and place for us to talk about the life and death
of the person who died.
- provides a social support system for us and other friends and
- allows us to search for the meaning of life and death.
- offers continuity and hope for the living.
One of the most important gifts of planning a funeral is that it
helps you and your family to focus your thoughts and feelings on
something meaningful. The funeral encourages you to think about the
person who died and to explore the meaning of her life and the ways
in which she touched the lives of others.
The remembering, deciding, and reflecting that take place in the
planning of the 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.
Wolfelt's Hierarchy of the Purposes of
The multi-coloured triangle depicts the many reasons why we have
had funerals since the beginning of time. The most practical reason
is on the bottom of the pyramid, and the most spiritual and
significant is at the top.
Let's talk a little bit about each layer of the pyramid.
When someone we love dies, we are faced with acknowledging a
difficult reality. It is hard to truly accept the finality of
death, but the funeral helps us begin to do so. At first we accept
it with our heads, and only over time do we come to accept it with
Funerals help us begin to convert our relationship with the
person who died from one of presence to one of memory. When we come
together to share our memories, we also learn things we didn't know
and we see how the person's life touched others.
Funerals are social gatherings that bring together people who
cared about the person who died. This reason for having funerals is
especially important to remember if the person who died liked to
say, "I don't want a funeral. Don't go to any trouble." Funerals
are in remembrance of the person who died, but they are for the
living. Those who loved the person who died need and benefit from
having a special time to support one another in
So many thoughts and feelings fill our minds and our hearts when
someone we love dies. Collectively, these thoughts and feelings are
what we mean by the term "grief." In other words, grief is what's
inside us. When we express our grief-by crying, talking to others,
sharing memories, taking part in a funeral ceremony-we are
mourning. Mourning is grief communicated outwardly. When we grieve
but do not mourn, our sadness can feel unbearable and our many
other emotions can fester inside of us. Mourning helps us begin to
heal. The funeral is an essential time for mourning.
Did the person I love have a good life? What is life, anyway?
Why do we die? There are no simple explanations, but the funeral
gives us a time and a place to hold the questions in our hearts and
begin to find our way to answers that give us peace.
Funerals have a way of getting us to wake up-to think about what
we truly care about and how we want to spend our precious remaining
days. Ultimately, funerals help us embrace the wonder of life and
death and remind us to live deeply, with joy and love.
About the author
Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a respected author, educator, and consultant
to hospices, hospitals, schools, universities, funeral homes and
other community agencies. His life's work of companioning those who
grieve has lead him to advocate for the value of meaningful funeral
For more information, visit www.centerforloss.com.