Honouring, Remembering, Healing
For centuries, funerals have helped us say goodbye. Funerals
honour and remember the person who died. They also surround us with
the loving support of friends and family.
Whether you are planning a traditional funeral ceremony or a
contemporary memorial service, it helps to understand the parts of
a meaningful funeral. Each piece serves a unique purpose and plays
an important role.
When you put the pieces together, you create a ceremony
deserving of the special life that was lived.
Common Funeral Elements and How They Help
The elements of funerals help us express what everyday words and
Viewing / Spending Time With The Person Who Died One
The viewing is a time for family to support one another in their
grief. The body is present in an open coffin or casket, allowing
you and others who have loved the person who has died to
acknowledge the reality of the death and to say final goodbyes.
You may consider giving close friends the opportunity to attend
the viewing enabling them the privilege of spending time with the
person who has died, and allowing them to express their concern and
love for you.
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. Music that has
personal meaning to you or the person who died expresses what words
alone could never say.
Poems, spiritual or religious verses, and passages from
meaningful texts offer words of comfort and support. They
eloquently capture our beliefs and feelings.
Eulogy / Remembrance
Also called the homily or tribute, the eulogy recalls and
celebrates the life story of the person who died. It gives voice to
our inner thoughts and feelings about him or her and helps us begin
to embrace the meaning of this unique life.
The word "eulogy" comes from the Greek eulogia, meaning praise
or blessing. This is the time to give thanks for a person's unique
life and to honour his or her memory. This is not the time to bring
up painful or difficult memories but to emphasize the good we can
find in all people.
Objects such as displayed belongings of the person who died,
crosses and other religious items, candles, and flowers give
concrete form to our search for meaning in life and death.
Funerals give friends and family members the opportunity to
do something with their thoughts and feelings, such as lighting a
candle, placing flowers on the casket, or offering a handshake or
hug. Joining the procession to the cemetery and attending the
graveside committal service are also meaningful actions for
After the funeral, friends and family members gather to share
memories, express what's on their minds and in their hearts, and
support one another. Bonds are often strengthened, and mourners
return home with a sense of community and love.
Generally, using many elements in a funeral creates a more
meaningful and healing ceremony. Together they are greater than the
sum of their parts. Involving friends and family members makes the
funeral even better. Invite as many of them as possible to
participate. Someone can be in charge of the guest book. Others can
do readings. Maybe someone can sing or play an instrument. Still
others may want to provide food for the gathering.
When people and ceremony come together, meaning emerges and
healing begins to unfold. If you've been to a special birthday
party, wedding, or funeral, you've experienced the magic of
ceremony. It is important to plan an element-rich funeral for the
person you 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.