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Meaningful Funerals

Why Should the Body Be Present?

By Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Meaningful Funerals 2 Comments

In this video, Dr. Wolfelt discusses the importance of the body and shows how having the “guest of honor” present contributes to a healthy and healing funeral service.

Acknowledging the Reality of Death

Historically, the body was the focal point of the wake. Having the body present allows the reality of the situation to sink in. Often, mourners approach a body and literally say things like, “she really died.” While some people may think that this sounds strange, it’s a necessary part of the road to healing. It is important that you give yourself every opportunity to fully process the passing.

Referring to the Body

In an effort to emphasize the spiritual life or the soul of an individual, you may hear people refer to the body as a shell. While this is well-intended, it is often unhelpful. We shouldn’t underplay the importance of the body that animated life. We want to refer instead to the precious body of a loved one.

Hurting and Healing

It’s natural to feel conflicted about having the body present. You may think that viewing the body is going to hurt. But we can’t forget that hurting is a part of healing. By allowing yourself to face painful emotions, you open the door to growth and acceptance.

Recalling the Life

Often, friends and family will gather around the body to recall memories of the loved one’s life. For many people, it’s an essential element of the funeral process. Not everyone feels this way, but it’s important that we help people to understand its value so that they can make an informed choice.


Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. Visit him online at www.centerforloss.com.

 

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

By Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Meaningful Funerals, Music 4 Comments

In this video, Dr. Wolfelt talks about the role that music plays in allowing you to process your feelings about a loved one’s passing.

The Inadequacy of Words

Music is an important part of the grieving process because it allows you to get in touch with the feelings that are so hard to put into words. After the shock of a loss, you may find it hard to process your thoughts. These profound emotions are hard to describe. Music functions as a channel between the head and the heart, allowing us to connect with our true feelings about the passing of a loved one.

Memories

The music at funeral services is often tied to specific memories of the loved one. This allows you to reflect on details from a loved one’s life, bridging the gap between past and present. In a time of grieving, it is essential that you move backward before moving forward. Music is a great way to take this positive step backward, allowing you to fully appreciate the life of your loved one and to get the most out of the ceremony.

Connection

In addition to helping you remember the life of a loved one, music also serves to strengthen your relationships with others who are grieving the loss. Music is a communal experience. It provides a way for everybody to acknowledge their grief, honor the life of the loved one, and lean on each other for support.

Ceremonial Importance

When you attend a wedding or any other rite of passage, you can be reasonably sure that there will be music. Music has become an essential component of our most important cultural ceremonies.  Adding music to the funeral provides a feeling of cultural significance. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the life of a loved one.


Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. Visit him online at www.centerforloss.com.

 

What is a Eulogy?

By Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Meaningful Funerals One Comment

In this video, Dr. Wolfelt discusses how the eulogy allow us to process grief in a healthy and meaningful way:

Recalls the Life

The eulogy is a period of remembrance. The term eulogy is a faith-based term meaning, “to give praise or blessing to the life lived.” It refers to a period of time in the service where we go back and remember the life and legacy of a person who has died.

Tells the Love Story

A good eulogy tells the love story of the person who has died. The lives they touched, the difference they made, and people they helped…all these stories help to create a picture of the beautiful tapestry of a life well lived. Whether life was long or all too brief, the love story shared will inspire others to begin to understand the depth of the loss felt by those who survive.

Helps us Go Backward

A good eulogy helps us to reflect on the life that has been lost. After all, we must listen to the music of the past so that we can sing in the present and dance into the future. A ceremony that misses an element of going backward lacks an understanding of one of the basic functions of the funeral. A funeral is a rite of initiation; it gets us off to a good start. But we can’t start until we take a step back and reflect on where we have been and what we have lost. Only then can we begin to move forward in any kind of meaningful way.


Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. Visit him online at www.centerforloss.com.

What is the Difference Between a Celebration of Life and a Party?

By Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Meaningful Funerals No Comments

In this video, Dr. Wolfelt discusses the important role that grief plays in the funeral ceremony.

Celebrating a Life

Our culture encourages us to avoid sad or painful feelings. This mentality has colored our perception of funerals. Of course, funerals are celebrations of life. However, without an opportunity for the bereaved to mourn and acknowledge their feelings of sadness, we lose an essential function of the funeral. A celebration of life is not a party. Rather, it is a chance to honor the life of a loved one while coming to terms with the reality of the situation.

Paradoxical Emotions

Honoring a life does not mean that we should only focus on sad emotions. It’s good to share inspirational stories or humorous memories about a loved one. But grief is an essential part of the process, and the family and friends should feel comfortable expressing a wide range of emotions. Don’t be surprised if you experience paradoxical emotions at a funeral. Often, you will move quickly from laughter to tears, from joy to grief, and all of these experiences are healing and helpful.

Appropriate and Authentic Mourning

When we celebrate a life, we must be sure that we don’t deny others the opportunity to be appropriately sad. Matthew 5:4 tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” As a community, we must acknowledge grief by creating a meaningful funeral experience that helps us experience a variety of appropriate emotions. In so doing, we will be able to comfort those who are mourning.


Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. Visit him online at www.centerforloss.com.

 

Will a Funeral Bring Closure?

By Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Meaningful Funerals One Comment

In this video, Dr. Wolfelt dispels the popular notion that a funeral is an opportunity for closure.

A Rite of Initiation

In recent years, there has been a tendency to view the funeral as a way to provide closure for the grieving family. Historically, we know that this is inaccurate. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows that the funeral doesn’t signal the end of grief, but the beginning.

Grief Bursts

Sporadic periods of grief will follow those who mourn for the rest of their lives. This is not to say that healing isn’t possible. But we must remember that absolute closure is unobtainable.

A Good Beginning

We shouldn’t assume that the funeral will bring an end to the process of mourning. Rather, it’s a good beginning, the starting marker of a long road to healing.


Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. Visit him online at www.centerforloss.com.

What is the Purpose of a Funeral Procession?

By Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Meaningful Funerals No Comments

In this video, Dr. Wolfelt discusses the important function of the funeral procession and the impact that it has on the family and the broader community.

Honoring the Loved One

Historically, the procession has been called the cortège, which means “to pay honor.” The procession describes the act of accompanying the body of the loved one as it is moved from the funeral to its final resting place.

Community Support

A procession invites the broader community to show respect, comfort, and support for the grieving family. People who didn’t even know the member of the family can be a great encouragement by taking a moment to pause, reflect, and pay their respects.

A Tribute

The procession is an opportunity to accompany the body to its final resting place as one last tribute for the one who has passed. It’s a beautiful way to honor and celebrate the life of a loved one.


Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. Visit him online at www.centerforloss.com.

What Are the Elements of a Meaningful Funeral?

By Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Meaningful Funerals One Comment

In this video, Dr. Wolfelt discusses the heart graphic that he created as a tool to outline the elements of the funeral.

The Hierarchy

To convey the value of funerals, Dr. Wolfelt created a hierarchy that teaches the six basic functions of the funeral: reality, recall, support, expression, meaning, transcendence. To learn more about Dr. Wolfelt’s hierarchy,  visit the article, Why Do We Have Funerals?

The Heart

Because he wants to describe this process more fully, Dr. Wolfelt has developed a graphic that illustrates the pieces that work together to form a meaningful funeral experience. The heart graphic shown below shows how the various pieces relate so that a family can see how a funeral comes together to form more than the sum of its parts. The heart was chosen because it is a symbol of humanity’s well of reception. Unified at the funeral service, the individual pieces or elements, when combined, take on a special meaning. These elements are actions, the gathering, symbols, eulogy and remembrance, visitation and reception, music, and readings. The interaction of these pieces forms a unique experience, and this experience is the reason that we have had funerals since the beginning of human history.


Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. Visit him online at www.centerforloss.com.

 

Why Have a Visitation?

By Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Meaningful Funerals One Comment

Having a visitation or viewing prior to the funeral ceremony can be of great value to a bereaved family. In this video, Dr. Wolfelt shows the history of visitations and why they are an essential element of the healing process.

A visitation is like a reception. It is less formal than a funeral ceremony and generally takes place a few days prior. It is a time to receive the love, comfort, and support of friends and family. A good time of visitation can help you in several ways:

Activate Your Support Network

The visitation plays a vital role in establishing a support network for those who are grieving. It also provides an opportunity for friends to gather together to pay their respects. In addition, the visitation serves the important purpose of communicating the family’s desire for fellowship. During such a difficult time, even the most caring of friends may not know how to respond. They want to help, but might find it difficult to know how to respond if no public ceremony or gathering is held. As a result, friends may decide to keep their distance out of respect for the family’s privacy. The visitation offers an opportunity for the bereaved to receive support during a painful time of transition. By having a visitation, the family sends a message to their network of friends, letting them know that expressions of love and sympathy are appreciated.

Acknowledge the Reality of the Death

Visitations provide an opportunity for the bereaved to come to terms with the loss. When grief is fresh, the first instinct of the bereaved is usually to gather with loved ones to tell the story and try to make sense of the loss. The visitation brings friends and family together to “tell the story” as a shared experience. Going over the last moments of life, the last time you talked with your loved one and the last words spoken, helps those who grieve to process the reality of the loss. Sometimes, the family is able to spend time with the body at a visitation, whether in the visitation room or in a more private viewing area. Being able to view the body can help those who were closest to the person who died come to terms with the reality of the death.

Share Memories

During visitations, stories are told, memories are shared, and the family is given a fresh look at how their loved one’s life had a positive influence on the world. You may choose to share photos, a memorial tribute video, or personal items that demonstrate your loved one’s life and values. For example, if your loved one was a quilter, an artist, or a collector, this is the perfect opportunity to showcase his or her life’s work. If your loved one enjoyed sports, golf, fishing, motorcycles, horseback riding, or any number of hobbies, you could display fishing gear, golf clubs, saddle and tack…even a motorcycle. Sometimes your friends and family will be able to share stories you’ve never heard before.

Holding a visitation before the funeral service allows your family to see the deeply personal impact that your loved one had on the lives of others. The visitation offers an opportunity to express sympathy, share memories, and support the bereaved. As one of the first steps in the grieving process, a good time of visiting with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and loved ones can set the tone for a special time of remembrance and healing throughout the funeral experience.

If the Funeral is Over and You Didn’t Have a Visitation…

It’s not too late to benefit from gathering together with friends and family. Many families gather on the anniversary of the loss or during the holidays and share memories, photos, and mementos. Maybe there was no time to create a memorial tribute video right after the loss, but one can be prepared for an anniversary gathering. It’s never too late to go backward and “tell the story” of your loved one’s life all over again.


Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. Visit him online at www.centerforloss.com.

Rituals and Traditions that Help Us Heal

By AfterCare, Meaningful Funerals No Comments

Traditions and rituals help us to express our deepest thoughts about life’s most significant events. Special ceremonies like graduations, weddings, and baby dedications involve traditions and rituals that help us mark important milestones in life. When a loved one dies, rituals and traditions can also help us mark a significant event and spend time remembering and finding healing.

What makes a ritual so effective? First, rituals are symbolic. When we lose a loved one, we can use symbolic acts such as lighting a candle for the one we love, releasing a balloon or a lantern, or setting a place at the table on a birthday or anniversary. These symbols help us to remember that our loved one is always with us in our hearts.

shutterstock_285296222Second, rituals help us express emotion. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, renowned grief counselor and educator, is often quoted as saying, “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” Sometimes, we need an outlet for expressing our deepest emotions, and words are not enough. When a loss occurs, the wound is often so deep that the pain goes beyond our ability to process with language. In times of great distress, a ritual can be more comforting and healing than 1000 eloquent words.

Finally, rituals unite people in a common, shared experience. Funerals, visitations, candlelight services, memorial events, and celebration of life ceremonies help us feel a certain solidarity with others who are sharing our grief and loss. We have a unique sense of comfort from knowing that we are not alone and that others are supporting us on our journey through grief.

We know that rituals and traditions can bring healing to the wounded heart. We know that ceremonies and gatherings help us feel connected to others and supported by the presence of loved ones. We know that rituals help us express our deepest emotions as we search for healing and reconciliation with grief. Below are a few examples of how you can incorporate the power of rituals into your healing journey.

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Light a candle – Set a place at the table or set up a memorial display area at home and light a candle when you want to honor the memory of a loved one. You can light a candle every day or on special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. Lighting a candle symbolizes the light that your loved one brought to you and the memory of the person who lives on in your heart.

Release balloons, doves, butterflies, or paper lanterns – Releasing a balloon or lantern is a ritual that symbolizes releasing a lost loved one or sending loving thoughts to their spirit. Some people write notes and attach them to balloons or lanterns. Some people release doves or butterflies to symbolize a loved one’s ascension to heaven or transition into a new spiritual form.

Recall memories – Family and friends may choose to gather on special occasions to share memories and honor a loved one. This may occur on the first anniversary of the death, at family reunions, or on significant days like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

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Go to the graveside – Some people who grieve find comfort in visiting the grave of their loved one, leaving fresh flowers, or simply spending time reflecting on the loss. Mourners often visit the grave on special days or on any day that they want to feel close to their loved one.

Attend a support group or special memorial event– Certain community events such as support groups, grief workshops, or remembrance events such as candlelight vigils can also bring comfort and healing. Such events help us connect with others who are also feeling the pain of a loss, which can bring a greater sense of peace.

Carry a remembrance item – Sometimes a small keepsake, like a handkerchief, a watch, a piece of jewelry, or a small heirloom can serve as a reminder of a lost loved one. If you don’t have a keepsake, you can choose memorial jewelry that is designed to carry cremation ashes or a lock of hair or that is imprinted with the fingerprint of a person who has died. You can even have a diamond made from the ashes of a loved one! Heirlooms and keepsakes also serve as a daily reminder that often brings comfort to those who mourn.

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