It isn’t uncommon for us on a semi frequent basis to be asked, “Why do we have funerals?” This is, truly, a tough question to answer, especially when asked by family members who have suffered the death of someone they love. So…why do we have funerals?
Margaret Mead, a foremost anthropologist, described America’s increasingly common response to death as follows, “When a baby is born, we rejoice. When a couple is married, we celebrate. And when someone we love dies, we pretend nothing happened.” Many people today don’t understand why we have funerals. Things that we don’t understand, we tend to be skeptical of, even fearful of.
There are many misconceptions people have about funerals, but I’d like to highlight a number that tend to turn up the most frequent.
Funerals make us sad – When someone we love dies, we NEED to be sad. Funerals provide us with a safe, supportive place in which to embrace the pain we have when we’ve suffered the death of someone we love.
Funerals are inconvenient – Taking a few hours out of your week to demonstrate your love for the person who died, and your support for his or her survivors is a privilege, not an inconvenience.
Funerals are rote and meaningless – They don’t have to be. We are always stressing that Every Life Tells a Story. With forethought and planning, funerals can and should be personalized rituals reflecting the uniqueness of the deceased and their grieving family. Funerals provide an opportunity to tell that story which can be shared for generations to come.
Funerals are only for grown-ups – Anyone old enough to love is old enough to mourn. Children, too, have the right and privilege to attend funerals. I’ve heard frequently that adults have ‘learned a thing or two’ from children who are grieving as well.
This is by no means a complete list of funeral misconceptions, but I do hope this has shed a little light as to why we have funerals. I would also like to offer myself as a resource to you, your church, or your civic group to come speak about any death, dying grief or funeral topic you may want more information on.