The death of a loved one is one of the most painful and most stressful experiences in the world. It’s literally the end of a family structure, and a push towards life without the person who passed away. While funerals and death ceremonies can never heal wounds or bring what’s lost back, they can provide symbolic closure to a difficult moment.
Why are funerals and death ceremonies so important when grieving? Consider the following:
Acknowledgment of Pain
The family is in pain, and rituals can help acknowledge the fact. Funerals and death ceremonies provide that moment when each member can say “I am devastated.” Being able to feel the emotions that come with a loss is the first step in grieving and eventually moving on. If feelings are repressed, they just get bottled up inside the person — which can force grieving in less than optimal ways. In a way you can say that funerals and death ceremonies are the family’s way of saying: “it’s alright to feel confused, sad and angry.”
Moments of Support and Sympathy
Funerals and death ceremonies are family events, and also involve non-family members who are significant to the person(s) who passed and their survivors. This is because the death of a loved one is a situation difficult to manage in isolation. You need the support of all the people who care about you — your friends, neighbors, co-workers and extended relatives. Funerals and death ceremonies are opportunities for those who lost a loved one to help each other get through the worst. It’s also a way for people to express their sympathies, prayers and wishes to the family.
An Opportunity to Say Goodbye
In the events leading up to funerals and death ceremonies, the loss may not be really felt in full yet. Shock and confusion may still be the prevailing emotion, as well as normal denial of the situation. The rituals, then, provide family members with the opportunity to say goodbye — and acknowledge that the deceased has gone, but will be remembered. For example, seeing the deceased’s casket lowered to the ground can be a symbolic way of letting go. The same goes for leaving flowers and candles on the grave. Many people who, for some reason or the other, never get to attend the funeral and the death ceremony of a loved one often have trouble accepting the loss.
A Way to Close Open Issues
It’s not unheard of for unfinished business to exist between the person who passed away and his or her survivors. Perhaps there were things that were left unsaid. Or maybe the relationship with the deceased wasn’t always pleasant and left a mark. Funerals and death ceremonies provide opportunities to be able to close these issues in a positive way. Family members, for example, can create a ritual where they all get to express a final message about or to the deceased. Letting go of the person can also involve letting go of past resentments, unmet needs and things that will never be.
Children and Funerals
Children find funeral and mourning rituals as helpful as adults do. However, some young children may find burial services traumatic. For deaths that are not involving very close family members like parents, siblings and grandparents, it is not necessary to bring young children to the cemetery burial. When close family members are involved, take the personality of each child into consideration before deciding what to do. If possible, get advice from a professional or clergy member. Older children may benefit from attaining more closure after witnessing burial (just like adults do) but some younger children may develop fears and anxieties around loved ones “suffocating” in a box or in the ground. Each child is different. Whether or not a child attends the burial, however, it is important for all children to partake of mourning rituals in order to facilitate grieving and healing. Family get-togethers, “shiva” in the Jewish religion and other ceremonies help surround children with loving familial and communal support. It breaks the isolation of loss and helps them feel that life and loving support, continues. Consider professional grief counseling if you see that your child is suffering from intense and/or unremitting grief after loss.