Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when it means letting go of someone you love. For many, the thought of a funeral can be simply too hard to bear, or even think about.
With the pain of grief at times overpowering, there’s been a rise of people choosing to forgo a funeral, instead opting to mourn independently without the support of family and friends.
As an author, grief expert, and someone who has experienced the pain of grief firsthand, I know just how important having a funeral is. In addition to giving your loved one the send off they deserve, funerals can also serve a much greater purpose for the living.
So why is having a funeral important?
Funerals are about good grief
While it may not seem like it at the time, funerals are about good grief for adults and children. A funeral provides a safe and appropriate place to show and share our feelings with each other – where we come together to support each other.
While you may not be ready to face the world after a loss, the reality is, you cannot avoid grief just because you don’t want to experience it, or you don’t want others to see you upset. As human beings, we need to grieve. Studies have found participating in funerals helps to counter the initial effects of grief like shock, numbness, autopilot and disbelief. Funerals also reinforce the reality that the death has actually happened.
Funerals are for the living
We can underestimate how important it is for people to gather together when someone has died – to talk, to support each other, to reminisce, and to pay their respects. Throughout all cultures, funeral ceremonies and rituals have been the accepted way people expressed their respect for the dead and the family who belonged to them.
Without a funeral, people often don’t know if it’s okay to contact you or to bring up the subject of what’s happened. The funeral is seen as the ‘right’ time and the ‘right’ place to approach you. Having this kind of support is vital in the weeks and months after the funeral when the reality of the loss really starts to sink in, and we have to adapt to a life without the person who is linked to us through family ties or friendship.
Funerals are changing
The look and feel of funerals have undergone a positive transformation. We are learning that people want more involvement, more creativity, and more personal touches – they want the funeral to be meaningful, relevant and true to the life that was lived.
Funerals can be relaxed, not stiff or formal; funny not just serious; colourful, not sombre; filled with music, not just words; outdoors or in a favourite place; themed around hobbies or achievements – the important element is that the funeral reflects the life that was lived and how that life mattered to others. Funerals will have more meaning and value if they are real and reflect the person who died and how it feels now that they are no longer here.
Funerals have two components
When we think of a funeral we often think of the ceremony, but this is just the public component of a funeral.
The private component is called the viewing and provides family members with additional time to spend with someone and say goodbye before the public ceremony. This opportunity can have a helpful emotional effect as it lessens the possibility of regret and ‘unfinished business’ which can both contribute to grief complications later.
While they are certainly tough, funerals help us heal and pave the way to move forward. Of course funerals are about honouring and remembering a person who’s died. But they are also there to help those left behind to begin to face the reality that they have to learn to live without someone who was special to them.
If you find yourself in the situation where you lose a loved one, the first step is to find someone that can support you. A useful resource is www.funeralplanner.com.au as it offers information on how to arrange a funeral and advice on how to deal with grief.