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7 Elements of a Meaningful Funeral

It seems like over the last couple of years death has been on the “main stage” in America. We have seen funerals for the wealthy and well-known, and we have seen funerals for those who died too young and too early. In last week’s article we looked at the six functions of a funeral since the beginning of time (click here to read) and most, if not all, of the funerals we have seen, or in some cases attended, serve the purpose of properly executing these functions. However, with the onslaught of death within our culture, we continue to see that human life is being devalued and the way we honor our dead is the last bastion of hope for maintaining some of our humanity.

Although the funerals we have witnessed have been from various cultures and diverse ethnic backgrounds, they have successfully used some, if not all of the 7 elements of meaningful ceremony to say “hello” to their loved ones on their way to saying “good-bye”.

Music and Readings are two important elements of the funeral that serve to provide people a way toward expression of their feelings, recalling the life of the deceased, and even drawing people together in unity and support. Whether it is the required liturgical readings of a Catholic service, or the pop music that defined the generation of a deceased, Music and Readings call upon those who hear to be moved in some way.

The Visitation before the funeral, and the Reception or Gathering after are two other elements that serve to provide a way for the community to show their support to the family for their loss. Additionally, these two elements serve to provide an outlet for the expression of memories and recall through the telling of stories about the deceased loved one. This act of story-telling is how we must first say “hello” on our way to saying a proper “good-bye”.  These elements also provide a way of coming to the reality that our loved one is no longer physically with us. This gives our mind the permission it needs to begin relocating our loved one from head to our heart.

Similar to the Visitation and Reception/Gathering above, the Eulogy provides all in attendance a way to recall the life of the deceased person. It is also a time for the person speaking to provide words of comfort and support. A well-crafted Eulogy will move you to tears one minute and have you laughing the next as expression of the many feelings and emotions surrounding death is encouraged. The Eulogy is not a time to try and “preach them into Heaven” or “save those in attendance” but a well-crafted Eulogy can open eyes to the life lived and cause those in attendance to examine their own direction in life.

Another element of a meaningful funeral ceremony is the use of symbols. Of course the ultimate symbol at a funeral is the body, or cremated remains of the deceased; something that in today’s culture is becoming more and more absent. Other symbols can aid those in attendance to grasp the reality of the death, express complicated feelings, and even vividly recall the life of the loved one. Candles, the flame of which signifies the spirit of the deceased and life’s continuation after death; the cross, which symbolizes faith; flowers, which are a demonstration of love, beauty, and support; water, signifying the source of life; and, food, which is an expression of support and a provider of comfort, can all be used to facilitate proper mourning.

The final elements of a meaningful ceremony are the actions that we perform. The act of prayer, the wearing of our “Sunday best” as we pay our respects, the standing or kneeling together, and even the act of following the deceased and the family to the cemetery in a procession are all actions which encourage the expression of feelings, the recall, or remembrance of the deceased loved one, show support to the family, help the mind grasp the reality of the death, and even help us wake up and further examine the value of a life well-lived.

In today’s culture we are not only seeing the devaluing of human life, we are seeing the devaluing of the life lived. Not using the elements of meaningful ceremony to facilitate the six functions of a funeral creates a climate of uncertainty and unresolved grief. Unresolved grief, which then becomes complicated, serves to further aid in the devaluing of human life and life lived through the perpetuation of a dangerous spiral. A spiral which leads to the mental and emotional decay of our communities.

Caldwell & Cowan Funeral Home provides a Grief Support Program that is open to the community and free of charge. For more information about how we can help, through our safe and non-judgmental programs, please contact 770-786-7062 and ask for someone from the Grief Support Program.  

*the information used within this article is drawn from the work of Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, PH.D., The Why of the Funeral.