Though my 83-year-old neighbor was a gregarious man, his funeral was sparsely attended. Maybe several dozen people were there – and many of those were family.
They sat in the first three rows. The next 10 or so rows were empty. I sat in the back, along with some of my neighbor’s elderly friends. I was one of only two nonfamily members there under the age of 70.
Young people don’t go to funerals. Middle-aged people rarely go either. I’m thinking that even old people don’t go any more.
And that’s wrong. Funerals aren’t for the dead. They’re for the living.
For the Family of the Deceased
Some people say they don’t go to funerals because the dead don’t know we’re there, or death is uncomfortable, or everybody handles grief in his or her own way.
They may be right. But that’s not the point. A funeral is a long-held human ritual that not only memorializes the dead but also brings comfort to the living.
Our presence at a funeral is a sign of support and consolation for the family. Here we as an extended human family grieve together. We confirm that the deceased family member mattered, made a difference, was valued and loved.
Like it or not, an empty church or a partially filled funeral home sends a bleak message about how little the deceased meant to us or how little the friendship of the family matters to us.
Attending a funeral – even if we do nothing but sit there –
- Validates a mourning family’s sorrow
- Acknowledges the value of the life of the deceased
- Confirms that the friendship is important enough to us that we’ll take an hour of our day to grieve with friends or family
- Conveys the metaphysical message that we’re willing to shoulder the burden of grief – that we are united as a human family and share in the sorrow of the passing of one of our own
Going to funerals is beneficial for our own souls, too.
When a friend or family member dies, we’re faced not only with his or her absence, but also with the awareness of our own mortality.
At a funeral service, we can literally stare death in the face when we view a body in a coffin. Any way you look at it, we face the reality of death.
For most of us, that’s difficult. Dealing with death and dying are indeed uncomfortable. They bring about emotions we don’t want surfacing. But funerals are the right place to deal with these emotions.
The crying, the heartache, the overwhelming grief that come with acknowledging the temporariness of human existence are necessary emotions to experience on occasion. They’re cathartic. They help us avoid the detachment from one another that accompanies 21st-century life and instead serve to unite us and help us relate to each other in a shared bond of bereavement.
Funerals also offer us the opportunity to reflect on our own lives and the imprint we’ve made in this world ~
- What will be said at our own funerals?
- Have our own lives had meaning and purpose?
- Are we creating good memories for our families, friends, and co-workers?
- Are we reconciled with family, friends, and co-workers?
- Have we left a legacy of good?
Funerals remind us to effect the change in our own lives that we need to make while we still can.
For Our Families
When mentors, teachers, or other adults who’ve invested their time in the lives of my children have died, I’ve taken my children to their funerals. Almost always, my kids are the only nonfamily children at the memorial services.
I’ve received a lot of criticism for taking my kids to funerals. People think it’s weird. Or inappropriate – “Funerals aren’t the place for children.”
The visitation, the hearse, the eulogies, the pallbearers, the burial service – all of these can be points of departure for necessary discussions with elderly parents, teens, or kids regarding the meaning of life ~
- What is the purpose of life?
- Why are we here?
- What does it mean to live?
- What does it mean to die?
- Why do we die?
- Is death forever?
If we haven’t thought about these things, we should. When we reflect and meditate, examine and discuss questions about life and death, we may find answers that enrich and enhance our lives and the lives of our families.
Next time you hear of the passing of a family member, friend, or co-worker, don’t pass up the opportunity to go the funeral. It can make a difference in a life.