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Why We Have Had Funerals Since the Beginning of Time

Reality

Funerals help us begin to truly acknowledge the reality that someone has died.


VISITATION/RECEPTION

When we have a visitation before the ceremony with the body present, we cannot help but acknowledge the reality of the death. Others choose to have a reception without the body present, and still, this gathering is held for the very purpose of acknowledging the death.

MUSIC

The very fact that we are listening to music in the context of a funeral ceremony gently forces us to consider the reality that someone has died. We move from knowing this in our heads, to knowing it in our hearts.

READINGS

As with music, the very fact that we are listening to readings at a funeral gently forces us to acknowledge the death.

EULOGY/REMEMBRANCE

The eulogy speaks of the person who died in past tense. This honors the life, of course, but in doing so, it also acknowledges that the life is over.

SYMBOLS

The body is the ultimate symbol that acknowledges the reality of the death. But other funeral objects, such as the casket or urn, also dose mourners with the reality. Obviously, cultural/faith differences need to be respected.

ACTIONS

Actions at funerals are things you can do physically to participate, such as singing in unison or placing flowers on the casket. Physically moving your body through these motions helps your brain understand and acknowledge the reality of the death.

GATHERING

If you’re attending a funeral and the gathering afterward, you are beginning to do the hard work of acknowledging the death.

Recall

Funerals encourage us to remember the person who died and share our memories with others.


VISITATION/RECEPTION

Visiting the body surely helps us remember physical qualities as well as times those hands, that face, were present in our lives. This dedicated time to gather invites reflection on memories of how this person touched our lives.

MUSIC

Music can conjure up memories of the person who died.

READINGS

Readings that mention certain personality traits or places or activities often call to mind memories of the person who died.

EULOGY/REMEMBRANCE

This tribute recalls and celebrates the life story of the person who died.

SYMBOLS

Displayed memorabilia and photos symbolize the life of the person who died and help us recall memories.

ACTIONS

Verbally sharing memories is the action encouraged most by the funeral process. Without a funeral, when and where does this action take place? It often doesn’t.

GATHERING

The gathering is often the time and place when the most memories get shared and anecdotes told. Neighbors, old friends, and non-immediate family members tell stories that are new to the family – a precious gift.

Support

Funerals bring together people who care about each other in an atmosphere of love and support.


VISITATION/RECEPTION

The visitation is a time for friends and family to greet each other and offer their initial condolences. Words are inadequate, but being present conveys support.

MUSIC

Special people who matter to the person who died or to the family can be invited to play an instrument or sing at the funeral.

Readings Poems, spiritual or religious verses, and passages from meaningful texts offer words of comfort and support.

EULOGY/REMEMBRANCE

Listening to a eulogy is to be affirmed and supported in the thoughts we have in our minds about the person who died. After the ceremony, mourners will also often talk to one another about the particulars of the eulogy.

SYMBOLS

Flowers are symbolic form of support at funerals, as are sympathy cards and memorial donations. Receiving food allows the family to receive support.

ACTIONS

Some of the actions that take place at funerals are actions of support. Hugging, shaking hands, writing our name in the guest book, driving behind one another in a procession to the cemetery – these are ways for us to physically demonstrate our support for one another.

Expression

Funerals allow us to express our inner thoughts and feelings about the life and death.


VISITATION/RECEPTION

During the visitation, friends and family often approach the casket, touch the body, speak to the body and to each other, hug one another, cry, laugh – all forms of expression.

MUSIC

Music has a way of touching us deeply and profoundly, which in turn brings our feelings to the surface. We cry, laugh, move our bodies, and hold onto one another when we listen to music at funerals.

READINGS

Have you ever noticed people sighing, crying, laughing, or nodding their heads during funeral readings? These are all forms of expression.

EULOGY/REMEMBRANCE

The eulogy or remembrance gives voice to our inner thoughts and feelings about the person who died. As we listen, we smile, nod, cry, and express our grief.

SYMBOLS

When we cannot express our thoughts and feelings, symbols can help us. They are like society’s shorthand for emotions that are too profound and difficult to express in words.

ACTIONS

When we place a rose atop the casket or throw a handful of dirt on the casket as it is being lowered into the ground, we express our sadness, our respects, and our final goodbyes. When we kneel, we express our faith. All funeral actions are some form of expression – usually something that can’t be expressed in words.

GATHERING

It is often at the gathering that we “let our hair down” and feel a sense of relief and release that allows us to express any unexpressed thoughts and feelings.

Meaning

Funerals mark the significance of the life that was lived. They help us find meaning and purpose in our continued living.


VISITATION/RECEPTION

The visitation is often the time when those who love the person who died can see, with their own eyes, that the body was not the person inside – that though the body is still present, the soul is gone.

MUSIC

Song lyrics often help us find meaning.

READINGS

We often find insight and understanding in the profound words we rely on to guide our lives.

EULOGY/REMEMBRANCE

In remembering the person who died in this way, we look for connections and ways in which this unique life touched others’.

SYMBOLS

Objects such as displayed belongings of the person who died, crosses or other religious items, and even flowers give concrete form to our search for meaning in life and death.

ACTIONS

When words are inadequate, physically participating in the actions of ceremony moves us toward a sense of meaning and purpose.

GATHERING

At the gathering, we have time to talk with others who cared about the person who died and affirm that their ongoing lives still have meaning. It is at the gathering that people often talk about how they move forward in their lives.

Transcendence

Ultimately, funerals help us embrace the wonder of life and death.


VISITATION/RECEPTION

If the visitation can help us see and understand the difference between the body and the soul, it can help us embark or continue on a journey to transcendence.

MUSIC

Our favorite music is timeless. It is a human-made creation, yet it endures forever. Also, heaven is often thought to be filled with beautiful music, so perhaps music is a connection between this world and the hereafter.

READINGS

Sometimes just the right words not only give us comfort and understanding, they also transport us to a place of wordless knowing.

EULOGY/REMEMBRANCE

A story of a life, well told, can indeed help us feel a larger sense of meaning and continuity in the circle of life.

SYMBOLS

Spiritual/religious symbols such as the cross, the yin/yang symbol, the moon and star of Islam represent humankind’s most transcendent hopes and beliefs.

ACTIONS

Like dance, actions at funerals are physical motions that together somehow mean so much.

GATHERING

If love and connections among people transcend the limitations of this life here on earth, then the gathering provides a time and place for that transcendence to unfold.

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