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10 Story Books on Grief for Children Ages 3-12

By Grief/Loss

There’s no denying that grief is taxing, difficult, and stressful, no matter your age. For children, grief can be particularly confusing because they haven’t emotionally and cognitively developed enough yet to examine and name their feelings. When they feel an emotion, it comes out in their facial expressions, their play, or their behavior (crying, acting out, etc.) because they don’t yet know how to identify and deal with their emotions in a healthy way. That’s where you – the parent or caregiver – come in. You can use books and story to help your child name their emotions and begin to process them.

Through storytelling, we can help our children identify their emotions, see themselves in others, and begin to understand complex situations. On top of that, reading books centered on certain topics – like grief – can open conversations that will allow you to talk to your child and educate them on important life topics.

Below we will review 10 different books for children ages 3-12 that focus on grief, loss, and death. These are certainly not the only books available, but they will give you a place to start. Let’s begin!

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr (Ages 3-6)

Told from the point of view of a fish who has lost his companion, the book weaves a touching story of how to say goodbye. Touching on a wide range of emotions and responses to loss, Todd Parr gently reminds readers that it’s okay to not have all the answers and that you can rely on others to support you when you’re sad.

Click here to view the book.

“There are many little ways to enlarge your world. Love of books is the best of all.” – Jacqueline Kennedy

I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas (Ages 4-7)

If you are looking for a more straightforward approach, Pat Thomas discusses grief and death in a simple, factual manner. Practical at its heart, the book shares reasons why people die, introduces the concept of a funeral, explores how to say goodbye, and assures children that it’s normal to feel sad after a loss. I Miss You will open opportunities for discussion with your child so you can help them understand the difficult topics of death and dying.

Click here to view the book.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst (Ages 4-8)

With more than half a million copies sold, this picture book has touched the hearts of readers, young and old alike. The Invisible String shares the story of two siblings who discover that there is an invisible string connecting them to their loved ones through life’s hardest situations. The book offers a simple approach to dealing with loneliness, separation, and loss while helping children explore deeper questions, such as how we are connected to each other through love and unbreakable bonds.

Click here to view the book.

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.” —Kate DiCamillo

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola (Ages 4-8)

In his beloved and signature style, Tomie dePaola tells the story of four-year-old Tommy, his grandmother, and his great-grandmother. Through beautiful illustrations, dePaola explores the concepts of aging, compassion, loss, and taking care of our elderly loved ones. Perfect for children who have lost or are facing the loss of a grandparent, they can follow along with Tommy as he learns how to say goodbye.

Click here to view the book.

Ida, Always by Caron Levis (Ages 4-8)

Inspired by two real-life polar bears, this endearing tale is a moving depiction of loss and friendship. With its focus on long-term illness, the words and pictures blend together beautifully to create an unforgettable exploration of the complicated emotions associated with the death of a loved one. Simple, graceful, and gentle, Ida, Always will help you navigate through your child’s emotions and give them the chance to ask their questions in a healthy way.

Click here to view the book.

There is no substitute for books in the life of a child.” —May Ellen Chase

The Memory Box: A Book About Grief by Joanna Rowland (Ages 4-8)

Sometimes the best way to grieve is to remember. Told from the viewpoint of a young child who is afraid she might forget someone who has recently died, this comforting book shares the power of creating a memory box, filled with mementos and cherished moments, to grieve a loss. Whether the loss of a friend, family member, or pet, this book will help parents and their children discuss the complicated emotions of grief while also giving them a practical activity to help process death and loss.

Click here to view the book.

Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant (Ages 4-9)

For many children, the first loss they experience is the loss of pet. In both Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven, author Cynthia Rylant offers comfort and a look into what could be. Each picture book features bright, bold images to show a peaceful and happy heaven where dogs receive delicious biscuits, and cats never lack a soft angel lap for naps. Slightly unconventional in its depictions of God and heaven, the book has brought comfort to many families.

To view Dog Heaven, click here.

To view Cat Heaven, click here.

It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” —Katherine Paterson

Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen (Ages 8+)

Filled with wisdom, comfort, and practical tips, Tear Soup focuses on assuring the reader that grief is natural and normal. Its pages address the different emotions a child may feel after loss. Additionally, the book offers a cooking tips section that is full of guidance and solid suggestions for processing grief. With this book, you and your child can navigate the grief journey together, giving you the opportunity to sensitively answer your child’s questions along the way.

Click here to view the book.

A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith (Ages 8-12)

Children in the 8-12 age range have most likely come into contact with grief in some way. It could be the loss of a friendship, the death of a pet or loved one, or some other life-changing event. At this age, children already have a foundation for loss. Even so, it’s good to bring in story and books to help them ask questions and process emotions.

In A Taste of Blackberries, the author follows the friendship of two young boys when something terrible happens. Honest and open, this book will be a conversation starter with your child. It will give you the opportunity to explore how we move forward in a healthy way after loss.

Click here to view the book.

Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything.” —Tomie dePaola

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (Ages 8-12)

Another opportunity to learn through story, Bridge to Terabithia is a compelling tale of loss, friendship, and coming of age. Written by Newbery Medal-winning author Katherine Paterson, this children’s classic dives into the bonds of friendship and how people change us in positive ways, even if we only know them for a short time. Its encouragement to deal with grief in a healthy way and to rely on loving family for support will help your child learn how to deal with loss and lean on loved ones.

Click here to view the book.

Now that you have a place to get started, consider which books are most appropriate for your child. Read them, talk about them, and teach your child about grief, loss, and how to honor, remember, and celebrate the lives of those we have loved and lost.

Grief & the Six Needs of Mourning

By Grief/Loss

When we lose someone we love, we experience a wide range of complex and sometimes confusing feelings. These may include sadness, fear, anger, guilt, relief, and shock or disbelief. All of these emotions are normal reactions to loss, and they can vary greatly depending on the person and the type of loss. Having witnessed this spectrum of emotions through his years of walking with families through grief, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor, author, and educator, has come to identify six needs of mourning. It is only after these six needs are met that we can move toward healing and reconciliation following a loss.

But what are the six needs of mourning, you ask?

The 6 Needs of Mourning

Everything begins with a meaningful, healing, and personalized funeral or memorial service. The more personal, the more healing. Dr. Wolfelt has found that those who take part in a meaningful service have a firm foundation for their grief journey and “through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”

People often mistakenly think of the funeral or memorial service as an act of closure. This isn’t the case. In fact, the service is only the beginning of your grief journey. The challenge ahead of you is to walk through each of the six needs of mourning along the way toward healing.

Let’s look at each need individually and discuss what each one may look like in your life.

Need #1 – Acknowledge the reality of the death

When we lose someone we love, our minds naturally rebel against the knowledge. We don’t want to believe what has happened. We reject reality. But in order to heal, we must confront the truth. So, in some way, you must come to acknowledge the reality of the death. This may mean spending time with the body before burial or cremation, attending the funeral or memorial service, visiting the graveside, or something as simple as intentionally using the past tense when speaking about the person. In time, your mind will accept the reality of what has happened, and you can begin to process through the emotions of loss.

Need #2 – Move toward the pain of the loss

Dr. Wolfelt says, “I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief.  Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center.” While the funeral or memorial service gives you a start on confronting your loss, it’s up to you to continue the journey. And that’s what it is – a journey. It will take time. It will take intentionality.

Instead of turning away from what you feel, allow yourself to grieve and heal. This may mean talking to trusted friends about your loved one, writing in a grief journal, going for long walks and talking aloud to your loved one, crying in the dark of night, or venting your anger or frustration by going on strenuous runs or using a punching bag. We all deal with our emotions differently, but as long as you aren’t hurting yourself or others, do what you must to face the pain and let the emotions out. Emotions that are stifled or allowed to fester will only lead to pain down the road, so deal with them now.

Need #3 – Remember the person who has died

In order to heal, we must shift our relationship with the one who has died from one of physical presence to one of memory. To do this, it’s important to actively find ways to remember the person who has died and to honor their legacy. In many ways, you do that by telling the story of your life with your loved one. According to Dr. Wolfelt, “the more we ‘tell the story’ the more likely we are to reconcile to the grief.”

So, be intentional about creating opportunities to share and to remember your loved one’s life. Bring friends and loved ones together for a shared remembrance meal. Don’t be afraid to share the stories of your life – growing up, in school, at work, at play, etc. Also, you might choose to create a memorial item, like a scrapbook, photo book, art piece, composition, or whatever else makes sense for you. As you create and design the memorial item, you engage with your memories and find comfort in them.

Need #4 – Develop a new self-identity

To some degree, our relationships give us an identity. Father, mother, sister, brother, friend, grandchild. You may have heard someone say, “I feel like a part of me died along with him.” This is because we gain some sense of identity from those around us. After losing someone we love, we have to step into a new identity, whether we want to or not.

Perhaps we move from a wife to a widow or from a grandchild with living grandparents to a grandchild without living grandparents. No matter the change, coming to grips with our new role – both in our family and in our other relationships – is an important part of the grieving process. In order to move forward with our lives, we must accept our new role and find a way to live it well.

Need #5 – Search for meaning

As part of the grief process, we naturally question the meaning of life and death. Why did this happen? Why now? What happens after death? The answers you find to these “why” questions will decide your reasons for living and contribute to your search for meaning. The death of a loved one confronts us with an inescapable fact: we will die. And because one day we, too, will face death, we must wrestle with how our lives look today. Ask yourself if there’s something you have always wanted to do or be known for. Have you done it? Why not? Is now the time to get started? Write down your thoughts, talk to friends or family, seek out ways to ask the hard questions, and if you do the work of grief, you will find the answers you need.

Need #6 – Receive ongoing support from others

Lastly, we need each other. We aren’t meant to go through life alone. The funeral or memorial service provides an excellent time to give and receive support, but you will still need support far beyond the ceremony. You may be tempted to work through these needs on your own – don’t. There are moments when time alone is needed, but also look for ways to invite others into your life. Find a group to support you – through church, school, or local support groups. The people around you can offer an incredible reserve of strength, kindness, and encouragement.

These are the six needs of mourning. You won’t necessarily experience them in any particular order. In fact, you may experience several at once. For example, you may sit down with a friend and receive support while also talking about your plans to make changes to your life. In this way, you are meeting needs #5 and #6. You will meet many of these needs quite naturally but still be intentional about facing your loss.

And remember – grief is a journey. There’s no hurry. No set time frame. Sometimes you can move forward after three months, sometimes three years, sometimes longer. The time it takes doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are working at it. You are looking for ways to reconcile yourself to what has happened and finding a way to move forward. Those who don’t find a way to move forward often become stuck in their grief, unable to move. Don’t allow yourself to become stuck – do the work of grief and find a way to continued meaning and new hope for the future. You can do this!

5 Tips for Helping a Person with Dementia Grieve

By Grief/Loss

If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, the grief journey for both of you will be a little more complicated. It may be that you’ve lost a mother, but your father, who suffers from dementia, has lost a wife. How do you navigate him through his loss – a loss that he may not always remember – while also walking down the road of grief yourself?

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor, author, and educator, has helped many families navigate the difficult journey through grief over the years. Because of his extensive background in helping families, he has identified key ways you can help someone with dementia mourn a loss. These helpful tips will empower you to help your loved one with dementia while also allowing you to grieve your own loss.

Dr. Wolfelt states: “For people with dementia, the grieving process grows more complicated. Their brains, the traffic control centers for thoughts and emotions, literally become clogged, creating dead ends, jams and crashes. Grief is a physical, cognitive, emotional, social and spiritual journey, yet the brain is where all those aspects of the self originate and traverse. Grief is always difficult, but when someone’s brain is no longer working well, it is even more challenging, both for the person with memory loss and for his or her family and caregivers.”

5 Tips for Helping a Person with Dementia Grieve

1. Interact with Empathy

Every person’s journey with dementia is different. As you help someone with dementia grieve, remember that their cognitive and physical condition, their personality, as well as the circumstances surrounding the loss will all factor into the process. That’s why it’s important to operate in empathy.

It is easy to become frustrated or stressed when caring for a person with dementia, but what they really need is your compassion, your kindness, and your willingness to try to understand reality from their perspective. Don’t worry about trying to say the “right” words – your empathetic presence and your support are more important than any specific words you may say.

2. Realize that They May Mourn Differently

Through his experience helping thousands of people through the grief process, Dr. Wolfelt has identified six needs of mourning: 1) acknowledge the reality of the loss, 2) feel the pain of the loss, 3) remember the person who has died, 4) develop a new self-identity, 5) search for meaning, and 6) receive ongoing support from others.

Now, in many cases, a person with dementia is no longer capable of addressing these six needs on their own. That’s where you – their caregiver and loved one – come in. For example, they may not always remember that someone has died, but in certain moments, they may recall it perfectly. When those moments of clarity come, allow the person with dementia to talk about the loss and share their memories, even if they are sharing those memories for the hundredth time.

Any expression of their inner thoughts and feelings is good and helpful, though it may be difficult for you to see. They may exhibit delayed reactions or sudden emotional outbursts. If this happens, try to remain calm. These reactions may be the only way they can express what’s happening on the inside, so witness their emotions and accept them. Above all, actively listen and affirm your loved one with dementia. This is how you can show your support.

3. Include Them in the Funeral Ritual

Whether you have a funeral or memorial service, a graveside service or a scattering of ashes, don’t be afraid to include the person with dementia in these symbolic events. If it’s appropriate, you can even include them in the funeral planning process. Tell them what choices are being made. Encourage them to share any memories they may recall and consider incorporating them into the service. Additionally, while the person with dementia may not remember attending the visitation, service, or gathering, the familiar rituals can offer comfort and support. Consider asking a family friend to sit beside the person with dementia during the funeral events so that immediate family members can focus on their own grief.

On the other hand, if the person with dementia is unable to attend any of the funeral events, there are other options available to help them understand the reality of the death and work through their grief. For example, you can arrange a private viewing. Or, schedule a short service at a place where the person with dementia can attend (their own home or an assisted living facility). You could also take the person with dementia to the cemetery, columbarium, or other final resting place. The more you include them, the more likely they are to retain the knowledge that a loved one has died and can grieve for that loss.

4. Pay Attention to Their Feelings

Because long-term memory is the last to be affected by dementia, your loved one may act as if the person who has died is still alive. When this happens, it’s okay. Consider it part of their memory at work and actively join them in reminiscing. In some moments, they will be completely lucid. In these moments, try to discern any emotions they may be feeling inside and compassionately name them. For instance, “It looks like you may be feeling….” This is a form of empathy and will help them feel understood and cared for.

5. Incorporate Practical Tools

There are intentional acts you can do to help a loved one with dementia through the grieving process. For instance, introduce items that belonged to the person who has died. Allow the person with dementia to handle the items. If their response is comforting, leave the object. However, if they react negatively, remove it and try another one.

Other practical tools are:

  • creating a display of photos they can look at and interact with
  • using the past tense when referring to the person who has died
  • recounting stories that may trigger memories
  • listening to music associated with special memories of the person who has died

By including these practices, you help your loved one with dementia do the work of grief.

Helping Them Helps You

Helping a loved one with dementia grieve will not be easy, but it is beneficial. Dr. Wolfelt believes: “Patience, honesty, and, most of all, empathy and love are the keys to helping a person with dementia after someone loved dies. Always remember that though dementia may destroy a brain, it cannot destroy a soul. The soul is where love and grief live, and any efforts you undertake to help the person express what is in their heart and soul will honor what has been most meaningful in their life.”

And while helping a person with dementia grieve may seem like a daunting task – something that takes away from your own ability to grieve – remember that as you help them grieve, you will also do the work of grief. Talking to a person with dementia about the reality of the loss will help you accept it yourself. Sharing memories about the person who has died will help you remember them, too. Witnessing the painful emotions your loved one with dementia may exhibit will help you to face your own pain at the loss. And so on.

Grief is the natural consequence of love. It is exhausting, physically and emotionally. But thankfully, there is no time frame and no deadline for “getting over” a loss. In fact, it’s not about “getting over” a loss – it’s about finding a way to move forward. And that takes time. So, as you help a loved one with dementia process a loss (and as you process your own feelings of loss), don’t feel pressured by an imaginary timeline. Instead, breathe deeply and take the time you need. There’s no rush.

*Source: Supporting Mourners with Dementia, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, August 2019

8 Intriguing Funeral Customs from the Victorian Era

By History of Funerals

Have you ever found yourself wondering where some of our funeral traditions come from? The Victorian Era (1837-1901) introduced some of our current funeral traditions as well as a few customs that have fallen out of memory and practice. Some of the following customs will feel familiar while others will surprise you. Let’s take a look at a few funeral traditions from the past.

A Shift in Funeral Customs

The Victorian Era directly aligns with the reign of Queen Victoria of England. Crowned on June 20, 1837, Victoria reigned until her death on January 22, 1901. While she is the second-longest reigning monarch in England’s history, she is also notably known for her deep love for her husband, Prince Albert, and her 40 years of mourning following his death in 1861.

In response to her husband’s death, Queen Victoria went into mourning, and her very public practices influenced many nations, creating a shift in funeral customs and how grief and mourning were expressed.

8 Intriguing Funeral Customs from the Victorian Era

1. Mourning Clothes Were a Must

Following Albert’s death, Victoria dressed in full mourning for the first three years. To her death, it was unusual to see her in anything but black. Her example led to the population copying her style of dress, and certain expectations were set in place.

Mourning clothes were considered an outward expression of a person’s inner feelings. Societal rules were especially specific for women. In “deep mourning,” women’s clothing was deep black and non-reflective, often trimmed in black crepe, and worn with minimal or no jewelry. Additionally, widows were expected to wear a black silk “weeping veil” or “widow’s cap.” After a specified time, a woman moved into “half mourning” where colors like gray and lavender were permitted with minimal ornamentation.

For men, fashion was much easier – they simply wore dark suits with black gloves, hatbands, and cravats. Children were not expected to wear mourning clothes, and for those who were wealthy, servants even wore mourning clothes. Thankfully for the Victorians, if you were ever in doubt as to what to wear, you could consult Cassell’s Household Guide.

2. There Was a Set Mourning Period

In the Victorian era, society observed a specified “mourning period.” The length of time depended on the type of loss: spouse, sibling, parent, child, cousin, etc. For example, widows were expected to wear mourning clothes for two years (one year in full mourning, one year in half mourning). In addition to wearing only black during deep mourning, a widow could not go out in society except to attend church.

Societal rules for men who lost a wife were less rigorous, mainly because men were expected to remarry relatively quickly. For children mourning parents (or vice versa), the mourning period was one year; for grandparents and siblings, six months; mourning aunts and uncles, two months; for great uncles and aunts, six weeks; for first cousins, four weeks. Again, if you were ever in doubt, you could consult Cassell’s for guidance.

While there were set rules on how long you must outwardly mourn, there was no set end date. Queen Victoria is an excellent example – she mourned Prince Albert for the remainder of her days. In the Victorian era, there was no hurry to end a period of grief. People took the time they needed, and those around them respected the necessity of mourning.

3. Superstitions Were Prevalent

During this time, humanity was still learning a lot about the natural world. People were spiritual and believed in the supernatural. Because of this viewpoint, there were a number of superstitions surrounding death:

  • Victorians carried the deceased out of the home feet first so they couldn’t look back and call someone else to follow them.
  • Curtains were closed and mirrors covered until after the funeral so that the deceased’s image wouldn’t get trapped in a looking glass.
  • It was thought that you might be next if you saw yourself in a mirror at a house where someone had recently died.
  • To prevent bad luck, all clocks were stopped at the time of death.
  • And somewhat creepily, Victorians turned family photographs face-down to protect family and friends from possession by a spirit of the dead.

4. They Feared Final Rest Disturbances

The Victorian period was a time of medical advances, but in many ways, its people were still in the dark. In fact, they really did have reason to fear that their final rest might not be as peaceful. At the time, it was difficult for medical professionals to procure bodies for study, so grave robbers became a concern for everyone. Additionally, because medical conditions weren’t as well understood, a doctor might mistakenly declare someone dead. In these cases, the person was often in a coma.

To combat grave robbers and premature burial due to lack of medical understanding, the Victorians put a few safeguards into place. Some families buried a loved one with a rope in their hand, attached to a bell outside the grave. If the person in the grave awoke, they could ring the bell, signaling their need for help. Other burial options included bricking over a grave, covering it with a protective gate, or purchasing a coffin with a series of tubes and mirrors to allow the gravediggers to peer inside for movement.

5. Victorians Contributed to the Rise of Photography

With the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, some people began to take family photos. However, the cost was prohibitive for the average family. Many only took photographs at big life events, like the death of a loved one. Thus, the custom of taking a photograph with a loved one after death became a popular trend. The photograph gave the family a lasting visual reminder of their loved one.

Often called “death photography,” this practice continued throughout the Victorian era. It was especially common to photograph children since they had the highest mortality rates. Though the practice has died out, we do still take postmortem photographs. Now it’s more often in the context of forensics and pathology.

6. Personal Mementos Were Common

In addition to a photograph, some families also created mementos using a loved one’s hair. They artfully arranged their loved one’s hair in shadow boxes, wreaths, fabrics, corsages, and particularly in jewelry. Though a woman was not allowed to wear jewelry (other than jet black gemstones) during deep mourning, they often wore a jewelry memento afterward. Queen Victoria was known to wear a locket that contained a picture of Prince Albert and a lock of his hair.

This may seem like an unusual practice, but actually, we do something quite similar – memorial or cremation jewelry. Instead of hair, we place a portion of a loved one’s ashes in jewelry and wear it in their memory. Although the method of memorialization has changed over time, the basic idea is the same.

7. Stately Monuments Came into Prominence

Before the Victorian era, burial plots near home and churchyards were most common. With the advent of public cemeteries, the desire to memorialize and grandly mark a grave came into fashion. While grave markers had been more simplistic, during the Victorian era, they became much more elaborate. While some markers were still simple, others could be large – almost like a private mausoleum – and might include urns, wreaths, columns, or carved figures. Today, we still see large cemetery monuments, though we have toned down the opulence in exchange for something simple and personal.

8. Families Planned Ahead

The Victorians had no illusions about death. Mortality rates for children were high, and even if you survived childhood, many adults didn’t live past 50 years. In this era, death was so certain and people prized an elaborate funeral service. Because of this, many families saved for years to pay for a funeral service. In fact, women frequently made their own shrouds and included them in their wedding trousseau.

Today, we shy away from talking or even thinking about death. In reality, we could learn something from the Victorians: it’s okay to talk about and plan for death. The Victorians didn’t focus on death, but they accepted it as a reality and planned for it. While their methods seem strange to us today, the Victorians did understand the value of celebrating a loved one’s life and honoring their memory. We could greatly benefit from more openness, less fear, and a willingness to have these important conversations with our families.

How Funerals Help Us Accept the Reality of Death

By Meaningful Funerals

Since the beginning of time, humanity has recognized the need to observe the death of a loved one through some form of funeral. While the tradition of the funeral has changed from culture to culture over the ages, the fact remains that every culture finds a way to  remember and honor their dead. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief expert, counselor, and educator, has found that the funeral is more than just a ritual – it is an essential part of the grieving process because it helps us meet the six needs of mourning.

The 6 Needs of Mourning 

After talking with thousands of families, Dr. Wolfelt found that there are six essential needs of mourning. He believes these six needs are “the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

A funeral that meets all six of these needs creates a deeply healing and meaningful experience. A funeral like this can bring comfort and peace and helps each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us begin to accept the reality of death. 

Funerals Create an Opportunity to Begin to Confront the Reality of Loss 

When a death first occurs, our minds often refuse to accept the reality of it at first. In some ways, we rebel against our new reality, and it’s only with time that the death begins to sink in. For those whose loved one battled a prolonged illness, accepting the reality of the death may come sooner, simply because the death was anticipated. However, for most deaths, we will experience a period of time – whether brief or long – where we (often unconsciously) refuse to accept what has happened and the change it brings to our lives.  

However, to experience healing after a loss, we must acknowledge what has happened, and the funeral is the first step. At the funeral, we are surrounded by people who are also mourning. If the family chooses, we may also view the body, which often helps the reality sink in. Once we see something for ourselves, it becomes true, and we begin to accept it. Until then, we can deny the reality. Whether the body is present or not, the service serves as a time to come face to face with our new reality.   

Funerals Move UToward Healing and Reconciliation 

After a loss, the goal isn’t to “get over” your grief; the goal is to reconcile yourself to the loss you’ve suffered and incorporate it into the story of your life. It’s about learning how to move forward. 

In order to begin the process of reconciliation, we must face the pain of loss. Dr Wolfelt says, I have learned that we cannot go around the pain of our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it. This is hard but absolutely necessary work.” personalized and meaningful funeral is the first step toward healing and reconciliation. As we accept the reality of our loss, we can begin to process what this change means for our lives and create forward motion in our grief journey. Without a funeral, we can become stuck in our grief journey. It can take much longer to say goodbye, accept what has happened, and begin to move toward reconciliation.  

Funerals Help UShift Our Relationship to One of Memory 

Part of coming to grips with the reality of death is acknowledging a change of relationship. We no longer have a relationship based on the presence of our loved one; we now have a relationship based on memory. The funeral makes the loss more real, helping us transition to our new relationship status.  

It is normal, valuable, and right to mourn the loss of someone we love. We should find ways to honor their memory, like setting a place at the table, writing them a letter when we’ve left things unsaid, or carrying on their favorite traditions. But these helpful grieving actions can become less effective if the reality of loss is never accepted.  

Perhaps you’ve known someone who had trouble acknowledging the reality of a death. They can’t believe their loved one is gone; they continue to speak of the person in the present tense; act as if that person were still alive; do things a certain way because that person would have wanted them done that way. In order to heal and find continued meaning in life, we must accept our new reality and reconcile ourselves to the loss. The funeral is an important first step on that journey toward healing.  

How Funerals Help Us Process the Pain We Feel

By Meaningful Funerals

While the depth of feeling varies from person to person, we can all agree that when someone we love dies, we feel many different emotions, like sadness, anger, relief, regret, among others. These feelings are absolutely normal – and nothing to be ashamed of – but how do we begin to process the pain we feel so that we can find peace and move forward with our lives? While it may surprise you, the funeral ritual is an important part of the grieving process, helping us begin the process of dealing with the pain we feel following the loss of someone we love.  

The 6 Needs of Mourning 

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief expert, counselor, and educator, has found that the funeral is more than just a ritual – it is an important part of grieving well and discovering the ability to move forward. After talking with thousands of families, Dr. Wolfelt found that a meaningful funeral helps meet six essential needs of mourning. He believes these six needs are “the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

A personalized funeral that encompasses all six of these needs becomes meaningful and healing. It creates a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace and helps each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us begin to process the pain we feel.  

Facing the Reality of Loss 

Dr. Wolfelt says, From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of people I have counseled over the years, I have learned that we cannot go around the pain of our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it. This is hard but absolutely necessary work.” In other words, we cannot take shortcuts. We must face the pain of our loss in order to move forward. The funeral or memorial service provides an opportunity to confront the reality of our loss. We can’t pretend or ignore what’s happened. With the presence of the body or cremation urn, we are encouraged to accept what has happened and begin learning how to incorporate the loss we’ve suffered into the story of our lives.  

Finding Outward Expression for Feelings of Grief

Losing a loved one brings a variety of emotions to the surface, sometimes conflicting and confusing emotions. The funeral provides an opportunity to express those emotions outwardly, among friends and family who love you and are there to support you. The funeral is time and place when you can safely express your feelings without fear of judgment or reprimand. Rather than keeping your emotions bottled up inside, the funeral ritual encourages you to release the pain you feel. For many people, this means crying, sharing memories, and even laughing at stories that are shared. So, take advantage of the funeral or memorial. It is a special time dedicated to help you outwardly express your inward feelings.  

Putting You on the Path to a Healthy Grief Journey 

You may have heard that a funeral brings closurethis isn’t technically true. The funeral does bring a close to the logistical parts of loss – service, burial, cremation, etc. – but it doesn’t end the grief journey. In fact, the funeral marks a clear beginning to the grief journey. Before the funeral or memorial service, you may feel numb or stunned and confused by the loss. In a very real sense, you are “bereaved,” or ripped apart by the grief. But to reconcile yourself to the loss you’ve suffered, you need help putting the pieces back together, and the funeral is the first stage of the reconciliation process.

In fact, a meaningful final tribute creates a launching pad for a healthy grief journey. Not only does a meaningful service help you process and confront the pain you feel, it gives you the opportunity to express yourself, remember your loved one, and find a community of support for the days and months ahead. A well-planned funeral does not end your pain; it unveils it. And as Dr. Wolfelt says, “We cannot go around our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it.” With the loss of a loved one, a part of you is missing. The funeral sets you on the path toward reconciliation by helping you confront the pain of the loss rather than repress and ignore it 

After the Funeral is Over 

While the funeral begins the process of dealing with the pain we feel, it is only the beginning of the grief journeyDepending on the depth of loss you’ve gone through, it may be too much to deal with all of your emotions at one time. In fact, it’s often best to process everything a little at a time. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way: You will probably discover that you need to dose yourself in embracing your pain. In other words, you cannot (nor should you try to) overload yourself with the hurt all at one time. Sometimes you may need to distract yourself from the pain of death, while at other times you will need to create a safe place to move toward it. 

Ultimately, the goal is to reconcile yourself to the loss you’ve endured. It’s not about forgetting or never feeling sad again because you’ll always remember. Instead, it’s about finding a way to become a whole person again, without the physical presence of your loved one. It’s about learning to enjoy life again and finding renewed purpose and meaning so that you can live a healthy, peaceful life. The funeral is just one step in the grief process, but a necessary and important one. In many ways, it’s the door to a journey you didn’t want to take, but must. The funeral or memorial service will help you begin the hard work of grief by meeting your six primary needs as a mourner. 

How Funerals Help Us Remember a Loved One

By Meaningful Funerals

While the form and tradition of the funeral has changed from culture to culture over the ages, the fact remains that every people group finds a way to remember and honor their deadWe still have the same need today. There is something necessary and beautiful about marking the passing of our loved ones and remembering their lives. But how do funerals actually help us remember a loved one?  

The 6 Needs of Mourning 

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief expert, counselor, and educator, has found that an authentic funeral helps meet six essential needs of mourning. He believes these six needs are “the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

The personalized funeral that encompasses all six of these needs becomes meaningful and healing. It creates a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace and helps each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us remember a loved one. 

 

A Time to Remember

One of the key purposes of a funeral is to allow people to take time out from all the everyday, busy things of life and focus on one person, one life. We take time out of our lives to acknowledge, remember, and actively share our cherished memories and recollections. 

A person’s life is made up of a series of relationships, interactions, choices, dreams, and activities. At the funeral or memorial service, we have the opportunity to visit the memorable moments of a person’s life and share the impact of those moments with other grieving people. Together, our memories create an accurate and often beautiful portrait of the person we love.  

Create a Relationship Based on Memory 

Through active remembrancefunerals help us begin to shift the nature of our relationship with the person who died. For the rest of your life, you will love this person, but now, they live in your memory and not in your presence. By recalling memories and sharing them with others, we begin the process of internally transitioning from a relationship of presence to one of memory. This is an important part of the grieving process because it is our memory that will remind us of our love for this special person, ensuring that they are never far from our hearts.  

Reflect on Your Loved One’s Life 

Lastly, funeral and memorial services help us remember the legacy of a loved one’s life. Funerals can be personalized to reflect your loved one’s values, beliefs, hobbies, interests, and more. In other words, their unique contribution to other people’s lives. So, display photos of their life in various waysDecorate with their favorite color. Play a tribute video. Share stories about how the person’s life impacted yours; what you learned from their example; how you will carry them with you wherever you go from now on. Sharing your loved one’s legacy helps you to intentionally honor their life in a meaningful and personal way. Every story and every detail shared will help those who attend remember your loved one’s life and impact and carry those life lessons with them, even if they didn’t know your loved one very well.

When someone we love dies, our life is unalterably changed. We do not want death to occur, but it does. By taking time to remember our loved one at a funeral or memorial service, we honor their life and legacy. All in all, when we participate in a funeral or memorial, we join in an age-old tradition, one that has existed since the beginning of humanity. We remember and honor those we love, we seek to learn from their life’s example, and we acknowledge the value of their legacy, which lives on in the hearts of all who knew them. 

How Funerals Help Us Step into a New Identity

By Meaningful Funerals

While the traditions surrounding the funeral have changed from culture to culture over the ages, the fact is that every culture finds a way to remember and honor their dead. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor and educator, has found that the funeral is more than just a ritual – it is an important part of grieving well and discovering the ability to move forward.  

The 6 Needs of Mourning  

After talking with thousands of families, Dr. Wolfelt found that an authentic funeral helps meet six essential needs of mourning. He believes these six needs are “the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

A personalized funeral that encompasses all six of these needs becomes meaningful and healing. It creates a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace and help each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us come to terms with a new self-identity. 

Funerals Publicly Acknowledge a Change in Identity 

As social beings, part of our self-identity is formed by our relationships with others. We all have roles to play based on the people closest to us: husbands and wives; parents and children; grandparents and grandchildren; best friends; mentors. All of these identities are based on the relationships around us.

As soon as someone you love dies, the identity you’ve built in relationship to that person becomes fractured. We become literally “bereaved,” or “ripped apart” by the loss. The closer the relationship, the greater the sense of the loss of identity. For instance, your identity may shift quite suddenly from being a “wife” or “husband” to being a single mother or father. Or you may go from being a loving parent to being childless. Death causes a dramatic shift in how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world. A funeral or memorial publicly marks this change in identity. 

Additionally, it’s important to remember that guests at the funeral may also experience a change in identity. Perhaps they’ve lost a best friend, and life will look very different from now onIt’s important to remember that self-identity changes don’t just affect the bereaved family. They affect everyone who found some part of their identity through relationship with the one who has died.  

Funerals Allow Others to Participate in this Change of Identity 

While you know internally that your identity has changed, the funeral or memorial also allows others to publicly mark your change in identity. By attending the service, it’s as if your friends and family are saying, “We see you, we acknowledge your pain, and we want you to know we care about you.” To move forward, it’s just as important for others to acknowledge your change in identity as it is for you to do so. 

We often turn to ceremonies to mark changes in identity, such as wedding ceremonies, graduation ceremonies, baby christenings, and even bar/bat mitzvahs and sweet sixteen birthday parties. A funeral is a similar right of passage into a new chapter of life, although it is not one we enter willingly. However, just as we do with other ceremonies, we welcome the people around us to join us, support us, and help us through the time of transition. As you move forward through your grief journey, the people you invite into your process will be witnesses to the transition and will offer their support and help along the way. 

Funerals Encourage Us to Embrace Our New Identity 

Even as we acknowledge our change in identity, we also have to decide what we are going to do with our new identity. Following a loss, we often ask ourselves, “What do I do now? How do I want to live my life? Death has a way of bringing life into sharp focus. We re-evaluate our priorities. We decide what we want to carry with us into our future lives and what we will leave behind. Some people are launched in an entirely new direction. Others simply embrace the preciousness of life and find a way to more deeply value the life they have.  

While we didn’t necessarily want or ask for a new self-identity, it has happened. The funeral or memorial service allows us to publicly mark this significant change in our lives. Adjusting to our new identity may mean growing pains and difficult tasks. We may have to take on roles we didn’t before, like taking out the garbage, buying groceries, being both mom and dad to our kids. With every new task or role that you take on, your confidence will grow. Take the time you need to adjust. Ask friends and family for help. In time, you will find a way to move forward, developing renewed confidence in yourself and eventually accepting your new self-identity.  

How Funerals Help Us Find Continued Meaning in Life

By Meaningful Funerals

Since the beginning of time, human beings have participated in funerals and found a way to remember and honor their dead. While the traditions look different from culture to culture, we always find evidence that family and friends were respected and taken care of with reverence after death. But how can a ritual focused on acknowledging death help us find continued meaning in life?  

The 6 Needs of Mourning 

 Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized author, grief counselor, and educator, has found that the funeral is more than just a ritual – it is an important part of the grieving process.He has found that an authentic funeral helps meet six essential needs of mourning. He believes these six needs are “the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

A personalized funeral that encompasses all six of these needs becomes meaningful and healing. It creates a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace and helps each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us find continued meaning in life.  

Funerals Give Us a Time and Place to Ask Questions About the Meaning of Life 

When someone dies, it’s natural for questions about the meaning of life and death to come to mind. Did this person have a good life? Why now and why this wayWhy do we die? What happens next? The funeral or memorial gives us a time to consider these questions. You may think about the legacy left by the person who has died and wonder if your own will be similar or different. Do you want it to be different? What kind of impact do you want to have and are you working toward that? By asking ourselves these types of questions, we are actually asking, “Am I satisfied with my life? Is there something I want to change? 

Funerals Help Us Begin to Find Answers that Give Us Peace 

Though you may not know the answers to your questions all at once, the simple act of thinking about why life is important and what it means leads you to think about how you want to live. Dr. Wolfelt says, “People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”  

So, not only does the funeral mark the significance a life lived, it also encourages us to think about our own lives, goals, wishes, and dreams. Have you done what you wanted to do with your life? Is there something nagging at the back of your mind, but you haven’t committed to it? Funerals confront us with the impact of a single life and challenge us to find new meaning and purpose in our own lives.  

Funerals Remind Us That Life is Precious 

While we don’t like to think about death, funerals reinforce the fact that one day we will die. Perhaps that’s one reason why people may not like funerals in our culture today. We prefer to avoid topics that make us uncomfortable or scare us. But in reality, we need to remember that one day, we will die. Our time is limited and precious, so we need to find meaning and purpose now. The funeral or memorial service highlights how our loved one spent their life  how they found meaning and purpose. But what about you? You still have life left to live. How will you spend the time you have? What do you want to be spoken at your own funeral? The choice is yours.  

Funerals Encourage Us to Find Meaning and Purpose in Our Own Lives 

As you’ve probably gathered from our discussion so far, funerals make us think. First, you ask yourself questions. Then, even as you begin to contemplate and answer those questions, you are reminded that you, too, will die one day. Does your life today reflect your innermost wishes and dreams? If not, what should you change to make those dreams your reality? As Dr. Wolfelt says, The best funerals remind us how we should live. How do you want to live? Are you living that way today? If you aren’t, think about the life and legacy you want to leave behind and do the good work needed to make it happen. 

How Funerals Help Us Activate a Community of Support

By Meaningful Funerals

Since the beginning of time, humanity has participated in the funeral. While the way we conduct funerals has changed from culture to culture over the ages, the fact remains that every culture finds a way to remember and honor their dead. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief expert, counselor, and educator, has found that the funeral is more than just a ritual – it is an important part of grieving well and discovering the ability to move forward. But in order to move forward, we need others to walk with us. So, how do funerals help us activate a community of support?

The 6 Needs of Mourning 

After talking with thousands of families, Dr. Wolfelt found that an authentic funeral helps meet six essential needs of mourningHe believes these six needs are the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

The personalized funeral that encompasses all six of these needs becomes meaningful and healing. It creates a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace and helps each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us activate a community of support.  

Funerals act as an invitation 

In general, we don’t like to feel like we are pushing ourselves on other people. We often shy away from a situation until we’re invited in. The funeral acts as that invitation. It’s a way of saying to others, “Come support me. I welcome your presence and compassion.” By inviting others in, you allow them to become a community of support – offering words of support, sharing stories, listening when you need to talk, and offering practical help while you grieve.  

Funerals bring people together 

The funeral brings together a wide variety of people in an atmosphere of love and support. At no other time would all of these same people be in one room. They are all present because they knew your loved one and want to pay their respects. Essentially, each person in the room is an opportunity for support. You are all going through the same loss (to varying degrees) and can all share stories and memories that can bring comfort and offer new insights into your loved one’s life. 

Funerals provide an opportunity to share memories 

A key component of funerals is storytelling. In the eulogy, at the gathering, through photo displays and the tribute video, a story is told. Your loved one’s story. Dr. Wolfelt says that “By sharing your grief outside yourself, healing occurs. Ignoring your grief won’t make it go away; talking about it often makes you feel better. Allow yourself to speak from your heart, not just your head. Doing so doesn’t mean you are losing control or going crazy. It is a normal part of your grief journey.” The funeral gives you a prime opportunity to talk about what you’re feeling to people who also know and love the person you’re grieving 

Funerals allow us to express support through action 

At funerals, we can speak words of comfort or offer an encouraging hug. We can also send flowers or give other gifts of sympathy and supportFor those who attend a funeral to support a living friend who has lost a loved one, the funeral is an opportunity to offer ways to help. “Can I watch the kids for you this week?” “What’s your favorite takeaway restaurant? I want to bring you dinner tonight.” We don’t have to walk through our grief alone. We can let others help us and support us. 

Funerals are an important social and traditional event. They give us an opportunity to celebrate, to cry, to remember, to laugh, and to truly honor a loved one’s life. Let’s do it well.  

To learn more about how to create a healing and meaningful funeral that will bring comfort and peace, click on the links below:  

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral 

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter? 

Should a Funeral Be Efficient or Effective?