Someone you love has passed away, and your life will never be the same. This is a time filled with grief, confusion, questions, and perhaps doubt as to the wishes of your loved one if no prearrangements have been made.
Funerals serve a very important purpose during a difficult time in our lives. They are significant occasions that help us cope with our loss. Funerals help us transition from our lives before the death to our lives following the death. In many ways, funerals help us to begin the healing process.
We also have the opportunity to gather with our friends, extended family members, co-workers, and church family. Through the funeral, our support system is activated and we are able to connect with others.
From the viewing or visitation, to the actual service, procession, graveside committal, and even the final gathering, each phase of the funeral is important on our journey to recovery and healing.Viewing
A viewing or visitation is a gathering of friends and family before the funeral service, often in the presence of the deceased's body. Some family members may fear that seeing their loved one in an open casket will become their final memory of the person. However, nothing really has the power to take away our cherished memories. In fact, many grief experts agree that a viewing can actually help us on the road to recovery. When we have the opportunity to spend time with the body, the initial shock and denial we often feel starts to fade, and we begin to acknowledge the reality of the death. This is a very important step on the road to healing.
Of course, it is often impossible to have an open casket because of circumstances. In that case, a visitation still serves an important purpose. During the visitation, we are surrounded for the first time after the death by our closest friends and loved ones all in one place. This is often an informal time of reminiscing, when stories are told, embraces are given, and emotional support is extended to those who are mourning.
Following the viewing, there is time to go home and return the next day for the funeral service in a much clearer frame of mind. While it is ultimately a personal choice, many families have expressed to us that the viewing or visitation was one of the most significant events in the entire funeral experience for them.The Funeral Service/Memorial Service
A good funeral or memorial service is one that truly reflects the unique personality of the person who has passed away. It is best if an officiate is chosen who has personally known the deceased. Often, friends and family also get up to share their memories or thoughts in honor of their lost loved one. They might share a eulogy, a song, a story, or a letter written by the deceased. Funerals give us a time to confront our grief and emotion. All too often in our Western society, we are discouraged from experiencing our true emotions. We are told to "let it go," or "move on" when we're really not ready to. These words are very unhelpful when all we want to do is remember. The funeral service is our chance to work through the pain of our loss, and fully experience how much we will miss this important person in our life. We feel the void left behind, and search for meaning in the loss. The service, whether religious or not, should offer hope and words of comfort to those left behind.The Procession
The procession takes place after the funeral service as mourners make their way to the burial site for the committal service. It is a powerful symbol of our mutual support of one another and a public honoring of the deceased. It is a truly touching moment when we see those who love and care us travel alongside us on our journey to say our final farewell. Sometimes symbolic actions like this speak much louder than words.The Committal Service
The committal or graveside service is our opportunity to say our final goodbyes. Usually a speaker shares a few parting thoughts and mourners may place a flower or special token on the casket. The committal service brings closure to the funeral as we see our loved one to their final resting place.The Gathering
After the committal service, there is usually an informal gathering where friends and family can continue to share memories and express their condolences after the loss. A meal usually accompanies this gathering. It is often a time of gratitude and thankfulness for a life that was well-lived. Slide shows, personal anecdotes, and memorabilia are often shared, and usually the family emerges from the funeral experience with a sense of hopefulness and a knowledge that life continues to unfold, even in the face of death.Cremation
If cremation is chosen as the method of final disposition, all of the phases of the complete funeral experience can still be incorporated. A viewing can be held along with a funeral service and procession, only the body is taken to a crematory rather than a cemetery. Just as with a committal service, a few words may be said with the chance to say final goodbyes before the cremation takes place. Afterward, the cremated body may be buried, scattered in a scattering garden, placed in a columbarium, or kept at home in a decorative urn. The ashes may also be divided as desired.Permanent Memorials
Whether the body is buried or cremated, keep in mind the importance of a permanent memorial for current and future generations. People need a place to come and remember. That is why we visit important historical places and monuments such as the Vietnam Wall. We need to read the name of our loved one and see that that person existed. It is a basic human need to remember and be remembered. If cremation is chosen, be sure to consider what your options are for permanent memorialization.Direct Cremation/Direct Burial
These are the simplest two service options. The funeral director oversees the burial or cremation of the body as soon as possible. A memorial service or even a scattering service may be held some days later allowing family and friends time to gather. The options are virtually endless, and it is really up to the family to decide what the best choice for them is.Anatomical Gift/Donation to Medical Science
Arrangements can be made for those who wish to donate their organs to recipients or for those who wish to donate their remains to scientific study. If this is important to you, the key is planning ahead and putting your wishes in writing.Personalization
No two funerals are alike, nor should they be. A funeral should be a personal reflection of the person who has passed away-what they were like, the things they valued, the love they shared with others, the faith they had. What made them laugh and what they were passionate about.
Services may be personalized in many ways. Families may choose to include special memorabilia, pictures, art objects, or hobby items. Favorite music might be played; even vehicles or special places can be incorporated as part of the service. There are many different options for casket styles or embellishments, as well as symbolic actions such as dove or balloon release, green options that are good for the environment, live music, even favorite foods that can all work together to give those left behind a healing and deeply meaningful funeral experience.