What Does a Funeral Do?

I've been thinking about funerals. Doesn’t everyone? Maybe not. What does a funeral do? It honors the person that has died and brings support and comfort for the living. Funerals are about people coming together, a “send off” kind of gathering and sharing support for the beginning of our grieving journey. 

We used to lay the body out in the living room. Family and friends came to our home, paid their respects to the one that died and gathered around the grieving. Sometimes church and clergy were involved but often not.

Gradually, as we became more "civilized," our end of life rituals became more varied and elaborate. Visitations were held in funeral homes, and funerals were conducted in a church for the grieving before the gathering at the cemetery.

Today, we are looking, thinking, re-evaluating the comfort found in end of life rituals and services. 

We are considering Life Celebrations before we actually die so we can enjoy the party. I’m not sure there is much support for the grievers there, but there is lots of love and affirmations for the person facing the end of their life.

We are having in-home gatherings, going back to having the body in the "parlor".

Memorial services with the body not present are popular, generally with a nice portrait picture in place of the body. It tends to deflect the pain, or so people say. I’m not so sure about that.

When planning your burial in your Advance Directive, here are some things to think about:

Funerals are for the living. They are to bring comfort. Recognizing the life lived by the person that died is comfort to the living.

Funerals in churches are tradition. They tend to be attended because that is what we do when a life ends. Funeral services are about listening. Listening to others share kind words, listening to clergy saying redeeming words, singing praising songs. If you are not “churchy” then you can skip a church funeral. Have a service of sharing, of pictures; a gathering of friends and acquaintances in the funeral home with the body present. (There is something reflective about seeing the body laid out. Yes, my special person is dead).

Visitations, I’m sad to say, are becoming less and less a part of the end of life traditions. Why sad? Because visitations are about visiting, about sharing, about interacting, all of which is support for the griever. A visitation is a community experience at a time when support is the most comforting. A time where words have less meaning than a hug, an embrace, or a presence just sitting quietly.

Something More about...  What Does A Funeral Do?

Planning our Advance Directive is not only something that benefits us- our choices for how we want things to unfold, but it is a gift to our loved ones.  When we haven't set up our end of life plans, our grieving loved ones have an even heavier weight to carry.  In By Your Side, A Guide for Caring for the Dying at Home  you will find many ideas for making your plans.

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Jennifer Duncan

Barbara, thank you for raising such an important subject.
Watching a loved begin to fail due to a fatal disease is so very hard. I know, I’ve been by their sides-my late husband, my mother, and father, and twin brother along with 4 close friends.
Here’s one way that our family celebrated with mom before her passing. Because it was clear the 4 year battle with cancer had the “upper hand”, my father and I collaborated on a request letter to family and friends to send a one-page special personal memory they shared with mom and if possible a photograph. The “Memory Project” would be assembled into an album to present to Mom for her upcoming birthday, as a surprise. We provided the stationary, self-addressed stamped envelope and a thank you. The response was beyond expectations! Thankfully Mom remained well enough to enjoy ! She would have me read several letters at a time to her. We laughed and cried together. She passed 1 month later. Of course, she was warmed by all the kindnesses and fond memories. The family and, I believe all involved, also had some comfort and joy along this often grief experience.
With love,
BK Books replied:
Jennifer, I love that. I’m going to add it to my list of ideas. Thank you so much for sharing. Blessings! Barbara


Hello Barb, I used to receive your helpful emails all the time but for the last year or two I have not gotten any. This is the second in the last 2 months and I am so glad to hear from you again. I am happy and lucky to still have my husband but he will be 90 in March. I am unable to put my words on paper. There are so many feelings to describe and I am terrified. For the last 10 years we have had no family nearer than Austin, TX. but my husbands daughter and her husband will retire soon and are moving here because their son-in-law will be in medical school in our large city. My daugter hates snow so I hope it sticks. Please continue to commemt on life you always make me feel less alone. Thanks, JB
BK Books replied:
Hi, JB, I don’t know why you stopped getting the blogs and are getting a couple a month now. Actually a new one comes out every week. You might go to my website and resign in. Blessings! Barbara

Yvonne Marlow

Beautifully said. I feel we, in my opinion, we as a society do not want to talk about death and dying and avoid these experiences and conversations. To be able to talk about it and about the loved one lost honor them and lifts the spirits of those experiencing the loss. Thank you for talking about the difficult part of life.
BK Books replied:
Hi Yvonne, thank you for your comment. You and I are thinking alike. Blessings! Barbara

Pam Katz

Hi Barbara,

I work as both an oncology and hospice nurse. A trend that I would like to see happen are life celebrations before the loved one passes, so that people can share their memories and kind thoughts with the person before they go. There are so many things that can be done after the death that lovely to support the family/grievers. I have seen cremation more common these days. But finding ways to honor the person before death and support the family after are key in my mind. I know many don’t find the need for the formal funeral, so much as those closest to the deceased gathering to share their love and support one another.
BK Books replied:
Thank you Pam for sharing your ideas. Blessings to you in the work you are doing. Barbara

Dwight Dulsky

Even with a lot of preparation and conversations beforehand, I was taken a bit by surprise by how exhausted I was mentally and physically following the death of my wife about 5 months ago. We had done preplanning about 6 weeks before she passed, and this took a lot of pressure off knowing what our initial steps would be and that arrangements were already made. She elected to be cremated, and this was an unexpected gift of time given to us following her death. Our family needed some time to heal and recover from 3 1/2 months of hospice (following 4 years of cancer treatments). I could not fathom the rush/rush of a traditional funeral all happening within a few days. All her friends and family knew she was in a better place and out of pain. No need to rush now. We took our time and had a beautiful and meaningful gathering several weeks later. This idea that you must have the funeral within a few days so you can have closure is a bit overated. Your closure will come, when it is right for you. Your grieving will take it’s own course. Work your way through this time at a pace that is good for your family and situation.
BK Books replied:
Dwight, Such wise words. Blessings! Barbara

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