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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Virginia Fenner

I am Pastoral Associate at a Catholic Church in Oklahoma City. We usually begin the funeral the evening before either at the funeral home or in church with a wake, vigil service. There are scripture readings, a homily And the opportunity for friends and family to speak about the deceased. The funeral comes the following day. After that the family follow the priest to the cemetery for burial. Prayers for the deceased are spoken by the priest or Deacon. From there the family returns to the church for a lovely meal served by our Bereavement Group.
During this time the family has pictures and mementos on display and May also choose to show a video of highlights of the deceased’s life and their family.
Jenny Fenner
Pastoral Associate
Epiphany Catholic Church
Oklahoma City Oklahoma
BK Books replied:
Hi Jennifer, that is beautiful and sounds very supportive for the family and community. Blessings to you in the work you are doing. Barbara

Judy Brennan

Thank you for this wonderful article. You are right … visitations are not as often as they once were. End of life services/celebrations are more common. At the church I belong to, there are very few caskets anymore – mostly cremations. But the people who come and help us through those incredibly difficult times are there. They are there to help us through the next few months. I appreciate you Barbara.

BK Books replied:
Hi Judy, haven’t heard from you in a while. What do you mean “help us through the next few months”? Use my personal email barbara@bkbooks.com if I can be of help to you. Blessings! Barbara

Kathleen Putnam

Oh, my heart! As an end-of-life doula and grief coach my heart aches after my mother-in-law died, and the family decided not to have a funeral or any service. My daughter and I are trying to find rituals and ways on our own to grieve and mark time and celebrate her life and memories of her. The funeral is for those of us left behind. Thank you for all you contribute to the world of knowledge at end of life. Kathleen Putnam with the Gentle Passage Doula Collective
BK Books replied:
Hi Kathleen, I know some kind of closure is so important. Have you thought about you and your daughter writing your mother-in-law a letter, put all that you need to express yourself down on paper and then burn the letter and scatter the ashes to the wind. You and your daughter might do this together as your own goodbye. My blessings are with you both. Barbara

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