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Who is the Funeral for – the Dead or the Living?

February 15, 2019

While the funeral honors the person who has died, the benefits of participating in the rituals surrounding a funeral are most important for those left behind. Funerals are ceremonies that help mourners acknowledge the reality of the death, allow for the expression of grief in a safe environment, provide support from the community, and offer hope for those left behind. In that regard, we could say that funerals are for the living.

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“Certainly, we want to honor the person who has died. The world has practiced death related rituals for thousands of years, and there’s a reason for it. You honor the person who has died, and through that ritualized process, the family gets the benefit of having the support of the community – their family and friends – so they can transition through their loss by acknowledging that the death has occurred and come to terms with the reality of it,” said Joe Reardon, Vice President for Community Development and Advance Planning at Keohane Funeral Home.

In fact, studies have shown that participating in funeral ceremonies helps people through the healing process. And the opposite is true as well – those who don’t participate in a funeral can have a more difficult time processing their grief. In a large-scale study of bereaved people, Robert Fulton, Ph.D., Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota, reported, “When we compared the respondents who had less than the traditional funeral…we found that those who had no viewing and/or [had] immediate disposition of the body reported experiencing the greatest hostility following the death, the greatest increase in the consumption of alcohol, tranquilizers, and sedatives, the greatest increase in tension and anxiety, the lowest positive recall of the deceased, and, in general, particularly among the male respondents, greater problems in adjustment to the death.”

How do you bridge the gap between what a family may need and what the wishes of the deceased may be?

Sometimes the wishes of the person who dies are in direct conflict with the family’s needs. For instance, the matriarch of a family wants a church funeral, but her family isn’t religious. Or a husband wants to be cremated without any ceremonies, but his wife and children feel the need to honor and remember him in a public ceremony.

“Some people fail to recognize that the funeral is for those who are left behind to help them transition through the loss. And we’re seeing a confrontation between what a person says that he or she wants and what the needs of the family may be,” said Joe.

The most important aspect in resolving these kinds of issues is communication. It may be difficult to talk about end of life issues, but it is so important for letting your desires be known and for the family to discuss their needs as well. Consulting with a funeral director can help both sides resolve any conflict around final wishes.

“Our funeral directors are highly skilled experts who work with families to determine what is going to bring those two sides together,” said Joe. “So, if a person says they want to be cremated, that’s great, let’s talk about the options available. If someone says burial, we can discuss those options as well.”

There are even a few people who say that they do not want to have a funeral at all. They will often say that they don’t want to be a burden to the family, or they don’t want anyone to make a fuss over them.

Renowned grief expert Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. writes for the Center for Loss and Life Transition and says, “Unfortunately, our mourning-avoiding culture has to a large extent forgotten these crucial purposes of the meaningful funeral.  As a death educator and grief counselor, I am deeply concerned that individuals, families and ultimately society as a whole will suffer if we do not reinvest ourselves in the funeral ritual.”

“If a person says they don’t want a funeral, well, what does that mean? Does that mean that they don’t want people looking at them? Does that mean they don’t want a church service? We look at what it means to that person in order to determine what is going to work best for their family because they are the ones that have to live through the loss,” said Joe.

In some cases, a loved one dies without leaving instructions regarding his or her funeral wishes. The National Caregivers Library suggests: “In these situations, think about what he or she might have wanted. Obtain a family consensus about what funeral arrangements should be made.” Again, your funeral director can help your family decide what works best for what the deceased may have wanted and what the needs of the survivors may be.

If you have further questions or would like to talk to one of our knowledgeable funeral directors, please contact us at any of our locations or call our main office at 1-800-Keohane (800-536-4263).


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