Creating Meaningful Ceremonies
Funerals and Society
Every culture throughout history has marked death with a ritual or ceremony. Funerals play an important role in helping family and friends cope with loss, heal the pain, and understand death.
However, because our society has become fast-paced, youth-focused and death-denying, the traditional funeral has lost meaning for some. Many experts are concerned that contemporary, simple funerals that do not incorporate meaningful ceremonies fail to provide the comfort loved ones can find in more traditional ceremonies. Successfully planning a meaningful service does not require a religious affiliation or a huge budget. It takes a thoughtful awareness of the practical requirements and emotional needs. See our article on Celebrations of Life.
The needs of mourning
“Rich in history and rife with symbolism, the funeral ceremony helps us acknowledge the reality of the death, gives testimony to the life of the deceased, encourages the expression of grief in a way consistent with the culture’s values, provides support to mourners, allows for the embracing of faith and beliefs about life and death, and offers continuity and hope for the living.”
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, noted author, educator, and practicing clinical thanatologist
According to Dr. Wolfelt, a funeral helps the bereaved meet 6 basic needs of mourning. Bereaved people who meet these needs are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.
- Acknowledge the reality of the death.
Planning and attending meaningful funeral ceremonies helps us move past the intellectual understanding of death to acknowledgement of the reality that the person has died.
- Move toward the pain of the loss.
The funeral helps us express and embrace the pain of our grief enabling us to begin to heal.
- Remember the person who died.
A meaningful funeral enables us to share memories of the person who died. This initiates a shift in our relationship with the deceased from one based on physical presence to one based on memories.
- Develop a new self-identity.
Loss of a loved one often changes our role. We may no longer be a husband, or a daughter, or a parent except in memory. The funeral serves as a “rite of passage” that begins the process of developing a new self-identity for the bereaved.
- Search for meaning.
A funeral provides an opportunity to explore the meaning of life and death. This may help to reinforce our faith and provide comfort. It may also help us to confront our own mortality.
- Receive ongoing support from others.
Funerals serve as a central gathering place for mourners. Our attendance at a funeral demonstrates support for the bereaved and provides a venue for them to accept support in their grief.