Is a Funeral Really Necessary?

Nathan Miller – March 22, 2017

Why should you have a funeral? What exactly is a funeral? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a funeral as “the observances held for a dead person usually before burial or cremation.” I like to use the words ceremony or ritual when discussing this subject rather than “observances”. Why do we have ceremonies or rituals? Well, they are symbolic happenings that help people express their feelings about important events in their lives. Some examples of common day ceremonies are birthday parties, weddings, and, of course, funerals.

You might have a family member or friend telling you that funeral services are a waste of money and unnecessary. I know that person means well, but that is just not true. You yourself may have even said that you do not want any services. I have heard many families tell me that their deceased loved one did not want anything big. I understand that the individual was being humble, and I respect that. However, the funeral is not for the person who has died, it is for the family and friends of the person who has died. A funeral service is extremely important and helpful in the healing process.

Having a funeral for a loved one allows us to pay tribute to his or her life respectfully. By sharing stories and photos, listening to music, watching video tributes, or simply listening to the eulogy, we get to look back on our deceased loved one’s life and how he or she has impacted our lives. Sometimes, the immediate family does not know how much profound influence their loved one has had on other people’s lives. These actions help the family and friends of the deceased to acknowledge the reality of their loved one’s death. The world today is so scared to even mention the word “death”. Some people need to be able to attend a funeral service to help them truly realize that their loved one is really dead. Even if someone is being cremated, the family can choose to still have a full traditional funeral service with the body present. Acknowledging the death of a loved one is the first step in the healing process. It is allowing the survivors to take the grief they feel on the inside and express it outwardly at a public funeral with other family members and friends. This lets loved ones offer support and provide condolences with each other. Sometimes, just being with other grievers and seeing how much their loved one impacted their lives can be a great help.

We live in a world that not only refuses to talk about death, but also does not like for us to grieve in public. A funeral is a safe place where friends and families of a deceased individual can embrace the pain they are feeling from the loss of their loved one. Believe it or not, people tend to cry at funerals. Sometimes, they can even wail. That is because a funeral forces us to focus on the fact that our loved one is dead and how we feel about that. As stated earlier, expressing our painful feelings on this subject at funeral ceremonies is essential for healing. The funeral ceremony may be the only time and place one can be openly outward with their feelings of sadness.

The funeral ceremony also gives us a time and place where we can change our relationship status with the deceased from a concrete companionship to one of memory. We achieve this shift in relationship through the stories, both good and bad, that are shared at the ceremony. At the more traditional funeral ceremonies, a eulogy is given to focus on the major happenings in the life of the deceased and the individuality of his or her personality. This eulogy helps initiate more memories causing other mourners to spontaneously share their meaningful story of the person who died. These shared stories at the funeral will help ensure the family and friends of the deceased of the value that they have placed on their loved one. We also have to start the complicated operation of developing a new self-identity. For example, if an individual’s only sibling dies, the funeral ceremony symbolizes the starting point of that individual’s life as a former brother or sister (in the concrete companionship form mentioned earlier). The funeral helps with this process because it grants us a time and place for communal acknowledgement of our new self-identity roles. Contradictorily, when there is no funeral ceremony, that individual’s peers may not know how to relate to him or her and cause the individual to feel emotionally and socially abandoned.

When someone close to us dies, we need support. A funeral is a public setting where others are invited to come and support us not only that specific day and time, but in the future as well. When someone chooses not to have a funeral, it can be perceived by the public that you do not want any support. Funerals allow friends of the family of the deceased to not only show their support emotionally, but physically as well. We can hug, hold hands, touch, and just embrace each other, whereas it may be frowned upon in any other public setting. Just physically being present for the funeral can be one of the most meaningful expressions of support for the friends and family members of the deceased. Sometimes words are just not enough.

I asked brothers and co-owners of Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes, Tommy and John McAfee, about the importance of a funeral. Tommy said that the value of the funeral can best be shown through the families who ultimately decided to have a service or gathering with the funeral director’s guidance from their knowledge and experience. He continues, “I can honestly say that I have never had a family express regret in their decision to have a funeral service, especially those who had originally planned not to have a service for their loved one. On the contrary, these people have thanked us for all we did to offer options and guidance.” John said that regardless if a body is present or not, “it is still important to have a service, ceremony or gathering to bring people together in a purposeful manner.” They both feel the same as me about the importance of a funeral ceremony regardless of what is present (body, cremated remains, or nothing).

Just remember this: your loved ones’ lives all need to be recognized and celebrated. A funeral is not for your deceased loved one. A funeral is for you and everyone close to your loved one.

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