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Is a funeral important?

funeralsThis is a simple question but the answer is a bit more complicated. It appears funerals (and good-bye rituals) have been around since the beginning of humanity.

Grief research tells us that there is good reason for a funeral ritual. It gives us symbolic, actual, and public means of saying good-bye and mourning our loved one. It allows those who loved and cared for the deceased to support each other and express their shared grief. We have learned that expressing and sharing grief is the very thing that helps us move through grief to a more peaceful place.

Our society has become increasingly reluctant to express grief and acknowledge the impact death has in our lives. While alive, our loved ones may tell us they don’t want people to be sad at their funeral (or they don’t want a funeral at all). Or others may insist that their funeral be a celebration versus a time to say good-bye. And while these ideas are increasingly popular, grief researchers are finding that forgoing a chance to participate in a good-bye ritual, and mourn with others, often has the opposite effect intended.

As Dr. Alan Wolfelt wrote, “To their credit, funerals also provide us with an accepted venue for our painful feelings. They are perhaps the only time and place, in fact, during which we as a society condone such openly outward expression of our sadness.”

Indeed, trying to only celebrate a deceased loved, instead of allowing intense grief and mourning, can end up in prolonged grief. Of course, this does not mean that the traditional funeral is the best way to say good-bye, it simply means that we find humans move through grief best when they partake in a good-bye ritual and allow ourselves to grieve with (and support) each other in a time of great sadness. You and your family should decide what good-bye ritual best suits your loved one and yourselves.

If you are interested in further reading on funeral/good-bye rituals and their importance in mourning, Dr. Wolfelt has some excellent articles I would recommend reading:
Why is the Funeral Ritual Important?
The Importance of Mourning

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