Funerals, wakes, and memorials can help provide closure and healing after losing a loved one. They offer an opportunity to honor their life, connect with family and friends, and share memories. Additionally, they can prevent unresolved grief, heal family rifts, and prompt us to reflect on our own lives. This article explores ten reasons why holding a funeral or memorial can be a valuable step towards healing and finding meaning in the midst of loss.
1. Having a funeral will make you – and your loved ones – feel better.
This fact is the fundamental paradox of funerals. Many of us perceive funerals as depressing or draining because they are the primary vehicle for expressing grief. Experience, however, shows something quite different. Funerals make us feel better because they offer needed support and catharsis. Funerals (and memorials and wakes) give the bereaved a time, a place and a series of time-tested rituals through which to process the death of a loved one and to take the first steps towards healing. Funerals have been around since the dawn of human history for a reason: They work.
2. Funerals keep it real.
Many researchers on death and grief note that the United States has become a death denying culture, where even the topic of death is seen as morbid and taboo. Unlike in times past when loved ones often died at home, today most of our loved ones die in hospitals or nursing homes, far from families and friends. Once a death occurs, our cultural expectation these days is that mourning will be brief and that people will move on. This relatively recent and unhealthy denial of death reaches its apex in families that refuse to hold funerals or memorials. Yet, when it comes to death, we need to keep it real. In order to accept and process what has happened, we need to talk about the deceased, to share tears and laughter, and to do so in the company of others who feel the same sense of loss.
3. Funerals bring memories to life.
One of the most difficult parts of death is that survivors realize they’ll never make new memories with their loved ones again. Yet funerals provide a valuable opportunity to relive old memories and to share fond and sometimes unfamiliar stories about the deceased. Whether as part of a eulogy, through comments made on the memorial website, or just through simple conversation, these stories help bring these memories back to life – and sometimes even loved ones a totally new window into the life of their beloved. This particular gift of the funeral or memorial brings tremendous comfort to those who remain behind.
4. Funerals bring families (and friends) together.
Sadly, many families and friend groups are separated by geography, with members living on separate coasts or even different countries. Funerals bring us back together again, not only to remember the deceased but also to reconnect with one another. A funeral may be the only place you’ll see a long-lost cousin or a childhood friend, an elderly neighbor or a former colleague. You never know who might turn up at a family funeral and bring with them additional stories and memories to share. Rekindling these relationships helps build a foundation of support that will prove valuable in the days, weeks and months ahead. Thanks to today’s technology, you also never know who will watch a funeral livestream and leave a comment and offer of support via services like TribuCast®.
5. Funerals create social support.
Funerals offer the strength of the collective – and reassurance that you are not alone in your grief. Crying together, laughing together, looking at photo albums and slide shows together, or even simply holding hands in silence – all of these activities form a web of social support that is so necessary in the immediate aftermath of a loss. But the healing does not end there. A funeral also enables family and friends to check in on one another, to notice who is struggling most and to create plans of support – such as meals or visits – for loved ones of the deceased who might be suffering the most.
6. Funerals can build bridges and heal rifts.
Funerals can help heal family torn apart by squabbles or misunderstanding. Bearing witness to the finite nature of life can spur loved ones to put life into perspective and let go of old grievances and simply share in their grief. Sadness and loss can become a kind of bridge between two people or even two branches of a family.
7. Funerals help prevent unresolved grief.
People experiencing the death of a loved one need to accept the reality of the loss and to experience the pain of loss. Funerals and other rituals of death provide a way to do both. Those who don’t accept and grieve a death are more at risk for a problem known clinically as complicated grief, which happens when the bereaved still cannot move on a year or more following the death. According to the Mayo Clinic, people suffering from complicated grief
- Have trouble carrying out normal routines
- Isolate from others and withdraw from social activities
- Experience depression, deep sadness, guilt or self-blame
- Believe they did something wrong or could have prevented the death
- Feel life isn’t worth living without their loved one
Funerals help prevent some of these issues by providing a ritual for processing the death and by offering a supported environment for feeling the loss. The wake, funeral and / or memorial can also help draw survivors back into their support systems and remind them of the many connections they still share with others.
8. Funerals can connect us to the profound and the eternal.
For those of us with religious or spiritual leanings, funerals can also provide a sense of connection to the divine. Funerals offer a pause from our ordinary lives and give us the opportunity to feel a sublime spark of connection to what is eternal and everlasting. Depending on our belief system, this spark might be a connection to the Creator, to the earth, or to ancestors, just to name a few. Funerals give us the chance to contemplate the higher power we believe in and to think about what role that power plays (or should play) in our lives.
9. Funerals remind us of our own mortality.
In addition to connecting us to the eternal and everlasting, funerals also remind us of our own finite nature and encourage us to think about meaning in our own life. Although it may sound morbid, research suggests that doing so can have a powerful and positive impact. According to psychologist Steve Taylor, who has written widely on the subject, “Encounters with death indeed can sometimes wake us up. They snap us out of a trance-like state in which we are indifferent to life and unaware of the blessings in our lives [. . .] Becoming aware of our own mortality can be a liberating and awakening experience, which can – paradoxically, it might seem – help us to live authentically and fully, perhaps for the first time in our lives.”
10. Funerals teach us how to live.
As noted above, funerals can also help us lead better and fuller lives by making us think about what truly matters. Reflecting on the life of the deceased can inspire us to think more about our own lives and how we are living them. Was your loved one creative and found purpose in creating – and is this joy something you have lost in your adult life? Did your loved one have a deep connection to God? To nature? Do you wish you had the same? Was he or she a beloved friend? Are you needing to reconnect and rekindle important relationships? Thinking about our lost loved ones and what defined them best can help us think about what defines our lives – and what we might like to preserve, enhance or change.