Healing and the Funeral

By William G Hoy (Counsellor and Educator)

You may have heard a well-meaning friend suggest that funerals and memorial gatherings are unnecessary.  Perhaps your loved one even once said “I don’t want any services”.  Those of us who counsel bereaved people, however, are virtually unanimous in our perspective about the helpful, healing role of the funeral.  Today’s funeral is for the family and friends of the person who has died.  In fact, an effective funeral or memorial service helps grieving family, friends and community meet four basic needs all of us experience in the aftermath of a death.

First the funeral or memorial service helps us remember.  Through stories, photo tributes, music eulogies and video tributes, family and friends have an opportunity to reflect on the loved one’s impact on others.  Most people influence others more profoundly than they realise, and funerals give us an opportunity to reflect on those contributions.  If gardening, photography, sewing, sports, reading, crafts or any other interest were important to your loved one, your funeral director will help you select and display memorabilia to help you remember life’s special moments.  Customised service booklets and personalised caskets or urns are just a few of the options your funeral director can show you to help you tell your loved one’s story.

A personally meaningful ceremony helps us identify the spiritual principles that anchor us in the midst of loss, allowing us to reaffirm some basic beliefs and values.  For families who are connected to a faith community, the clergyperson and familiar customs of your faith will help shepherd you through this experience.  Families who don’t consider themselves religious often ask for a Funeral Celebrant to lead the service.  And if you do not have someone, your funeral director can help you find just the right person to lead the service – a compassionate individual experienced in working with bereaved families, a person who is sensitive to a variety of spiritual needs and who helps family members and friends honour the life lived even while mourning the death of a loved one.

We live in world that frequently denies death’s reality, almost as if believing that not acknowledging death somehow prevents its occurrence.  Selecting a casket or urn, seeing the body, attending the service and going to the cemetery or other final resting place all help us realise that death has occurred, that this is not just a bad dream and that the world has now changed for us.

The final need we all experience in grief is the need to release or say goodbye to our loved one.  Of course, we never completely “recover” or move past the loss, nor do we ever finish saying goodbye.  In many ways, our loved ones continue to have an impact on us for the rest of our lives.  Some families participate in saying goodbye by helping refill the grave or witnessing the burial.  Your funeral director can help you make decisions about ways to involve family members of all ages in the process.

Funerals are about healing and renewal.  Funerals help us begin the healing.  Your funeral director’s job is to work with your family, faith community and friends to craft a personally meaningful funeral or memorial gathering.  Of course, the healing process of grief does not end quickly.  When a loved one dies, our lives are changed forever, taking on a new normal.  What a well-designed gathering can do, however, is help your family and friends with the long, painful and often mysterious journey we call grief.