Why do we have funerals?
It never hurts to examine why we do what we do. Every day, the staff at LakeRidge Chapel and Memorial Designers works to ensure that major life events go off without a hitch. But behind all the hustle and bustle of arranging for flowers, transporting remains, and washing vehicles, what is going on? What is the purpose of a funeral?
“Funerals are important because they set us on the road toward healing,” says Santos Moreno, owner of LakeRidge Chapel and Memorial Designers. “They help us come to a place of acceptance and renew our sense of hope after a loss.”
Each aspect of the funeral service plays an important role in helping those who grieve, Moreno went on to explain. The different parts of a funeral are able to work together to help those who are grieving process their emotions and come to terms with the death of a loved one:
A visitation takes place before the funeral and is a time to gather together with family and friends to receive their love and support. Often, a visitation includes a viewing of the body. Seeing and spending time with the body is an important step in the healing process; it helps us acknowledge the reality of the death. As the initial shock and denial begin to wear off, we start to come to terms with the death that has occurred. We are also able to receive the comfort of our closest friends and loved ones and activate our support system.
The visitation helps us come to the funeral service in a clearer frame of mind, ready to listen or even participate. For many families, the viewing or visitation is one of the most significant and defining moments of the funeral service.
The Funeral Service/Memorial Service
A good funeral or memorial service truly reflects the unique personality of the person who has died. It is best if the officiate who is chosen has personally known the deceased. Often, friends and family also get up to share their memories or thoughts in honor of their lost loved one. They might share a eulogy, a song, a story, or a letter written by the deceased. A video tribute or special music might be played. Funerals give us time to confront our grief and emotion. All too often in our society, we are discouraged from experiencing our true emotions. We are told to “let it go,” or “move on” when we’re really not ready to. These words are very unhelpful when all we want to do is remember. The funeral service is our chance to work through the pain of our loss, and fully experience how much we will miss this important person in our life. We feel the void left behind, and search for meaning in the loss. The service, whether religious or not, should offer hope and words of comfort to those left behind.
The procession takes place after the funeral service as mourners make their way to the burial site for the committal service. It is a powerful symbol of our mutual support of one another and a public honoring of the deceased. It is a truly touching moment when we see those who love and care for us travel alongside us on our journey to say our final farewell. Sometimes symbolic actions speak much louder than words.
The Committal Service
The committal or graveside service is our opportunity to say our final goodbyes. Usually a speaker shares a few parting thoughts and mourners may place a flower or special token on the casket. The committal service brings closure to the funeral as we see our loved one laid to rest.
Following the committal service, an informal gathering usually takes place in which friends and family continue to share memories and express their condolences after the loss. Normally, a meal accompanies this gathering. It is often a time of gratitude and thankfulness for a life that was well-lived. Slide shows, personal anecdotes, photos, and memorabilia are often shared, and usually the family emerges from the funeral experience with a sense of hopefulness and a knowledge that life continues to unfold, even in the face of death.
A Note on Cremation
If cremation is chosen as the method of final disposition, all of the phases of the full funeral experience can still be incorporated. A viewing can be held along with a funeral service and procession, only the body is taken to a crematory rather than a cemetery. Just as with a committal service, a few words may be said with the chance to say final goodbyes before the cremation takes place. Afterward, the cremated body may be buried, scattered in a scattering garden, placed in a columbarium, or kept at home in a decorative urn.
For thousands of years, we have sought to memorialize those who have gone before us, from the great ancient tombs of Egypt, to the modern Vietnam Wall. To remember and be remembered is a basic human need. That is why we have funerals. To honor, remember, and cherish the life of those we love still, even after they are gone. It is amazing how the funeral tradition that has developed over the years does just that. It helps us remember; it helps us begin to heal; it helps us move into a renewed sense of hope after our world has been turned upside down.