Why have a funeral?

We have funerals for many essential reasons. In addition to offering a way to respectfully commit the body of someone we love to the ground or to ashes, funerals have been a means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts, and feelings about life and death.

Funerals provide the opportunity to Gather, Remember & Celebrate the life we've lost. The purposes of the funeral ceremony can be summed up in the following ways:

  • Reality - It’s 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 our hearts.
  • Recall - Funerals help us begin to convert our relationship with the person who has died from one of presence to one of memory. When we come together to share our memories, we learn things we didn't know and see how the person's life touched others.
  • Support - Funerals are social gatherings that bring together people who cared about the person who died. Funerals are in remembrance of the person who died, but they are for the living. The funeral is a special time and place to support one another in grief.
  • Expression - When we grieve but don’t mourn, our sadness can feel unbearable, and our many other emotions can fester inside of us. Mourning helps us heal, and the funeral is an essential rite of initiation for mourning. It helps us get off to a good start and sets our mourning in motion.
  • Meaning - 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.
  • Transcendence - 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 of the preciousness of life.

The meaningful funeral ceremony is made up of various elements. It is only through combining them – the visitation, music, readings, eulogy, symbols, actions, and the gathering – that the essential final experience is reached.

(Adapted from ‘Educating the Families You Serve about the WHY of the Funeral’ by Alan Wolfelt, PhD)