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 Us

The elements of funerals help us express what everyday words and actions cannot.


Viewing / Spending Time With The Person Who Died One Last Time

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 mourners.


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

Alan Wolfelt

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 experiences.

For more information, visit www.centerforloss.com.

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