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The 6 Purposes of a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Precare

No matter how far back you look in history, you will find evidence of funeral rituals. Within us, we have an innate need to honor, respect, and remember those who have died. Those we have loved. Funerals, as a ritual, don’t exist simply to exist. They have purpose and intentionality and meaning.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, respected grief counselor, author, and educator, has done extensive research into the purposes of a funeral and why we, as people, need them. He says, “The funeral ritual…is a public, traditional and symbolic means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of someone loved.  Rich in history and rife with symbolism, the funeral ceremony helps us acknowledge the reality of the death, gives testimony to the life of the deceased, encourages the expression of grief in a way consistent with the culture’s values, provides support to mourners, allows for the embracing of faith and beliefs about life and death, and offers continuity and hope for the living.

In Dr. Wolfelt’s experience, if a funeral meets these 6 purposes, then it is often meaningful and healing. Let’s review these 6 purposes of a funeral in detail, so that we fully understand why funerals are so necessary and how they help us in our grief journeys.

The 6 Purposes of a Funeral

Reality

When someone we love dies, our minds and hearts rebel against it at first. We don’t want to accept that the person we loved is gone. The first purpose of a funeral is to help us accept the reality of the death. In order to heal and grieve, we must first accept what has happened. At a healing and meaningful funeral, mourners have the chance to confront reality and begin processing their grief. The funeral is not the end of the grief journey – it is the beginning. We must learn to come to grips with our new reality – one without our loved one.

Recall

One of the key components of a funeral is remembering the one who has died. We see this happen in the eulogy, in the tribute video (if there is one), in the songs or readings chosen, as well as in the gathering of friends and family following the service. By recalling and sharing about our relationship with a loved one, we help ourselves transition. We begin the process of moving our relationship with the one who has died to one of memory rather than presence. We must go backward into our memories before we can move forward in our grief journeys.

Support

A third purpose of the funeral is to activate support. At a funeral, we gather with other people who knew our loved one. We can share our memories, give voice to our feelings, and find support in others. When a funeral includes a visitation or a gathering, mourners have the opportunity to come together and offer a listening ear and a caring hug. When no service is held, friends may keep their distance, thinking that the family wants to grieve privately. But with a public funeral, friends and neighbors can offer their caring support during a trying time.

Expression

As human beings, we are wired to feel. When we feel deeply but actively suppress our emotions, those feelings can become unbearable and begin to fester. Funerals are meant to act as a safe place for us to get our thoughts and emotions out. By putting our thoughts and feelings into action, we begin the journey toward healing. You may need to talk, cry, or just sit quietly with a person who cares. Whatever you may need, expression is an important purpose of a funeral. Through expression, we begin to put our grief in motion and create forward movement in the grief journey.

Meaning

When someone we love dies, many questions begin to surface. Did the person I love live a good life? Why did this person die? Why do any of us die? While there are no simple answers to these questions, a funeral gives us time and opportunity to ask them and begin to find our way to answers that give us peace. By searching for meaning and allowing ourselves to find peace, we find purpose in our continued living and can work toward reconciling ourselves to the loss we have suffered.

Transcendence

The final purpose of a funeral is transcendence. This happens in two ways. First, the funeral helps us find a new self-identity. Funerals help us publicly mark a change in status. For example, someone who has lost their spouse goes from someone who is married to someone who is single. A funeral allows everyone to publicly acknowledge this change and begin offering the mourner support in their new status. Second, funerals often wake us up and make us think about our lives and how we want to spend our remaining days.

Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way:

“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 strengthen bonds with family members and friends… [and] emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

As a Whole

These purposes are not necessarily distinct steps and may happen in any order, but they are intertwined. The funeral experience as a whole is like a rite of passage. We emerge transformed, with a new identity, a new relationship with our lost loved one, and a new relationship with our community.

Unfortunately, not all funerals are successful in helping us heal. This is because we have lost part of our understanding of why funerals matter and how to create a meaningful and healing funeral ceremony that will give us a good start on the healing process. But it’s not too late to learn. For more information on funerals, their purpose, and how to create a personalized, meaningful, and healing ceremony, check out the articles below:

Do Funerals Still Matter?

Should a Funeral Be Efficient or Effective?

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

5 Meaningful Actions to Personalize a Funeral

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

Estate Planning for the Blended Family

By Estate Planning, Explore Options, Precare

In today’s world, it’s more and more common to be part of a blended family. For many families, being blended creates a sense of belonging and harmony. For others, it may be a source of contention or strife. No matter which category your family falls into, blended families introduce some potential challenges when it comes to estate planning.

The Challenge

According to Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Americans are in a “step” relationship of some kind. This means divorce, remarriage, and widowhood are a part of many lives. But what’s the estate planning challenge here?

With estate planning, the challenge revolves around whether the correct people are listed on your important documents or not. In general, we are a bit lax about updating our accounts, files, or beneficiaries as often as we should. For instance, you might have taken out an accidental death & dismemberment insurance policy with your employer five years ago, but since then, you’ve divorced and remarried. Do you know which spouse is listed as a beneficiary on your policy? Is it the correct spouse?

A Few Questions to Ask Yourself

For those who have a blended estate plan, it’s helpful to think through some important questions as you put your affairs in order.

  1. Does your will explicitly say how to handle your assets after your death?
  2. If you are unable to make decisions for yourself, who should serve as your proxy?
  3. If you have children, who should take over their care should something happen to you?
  4. Regarding your assets, do you need to strike a balance between a current spouse and a former spouse? Or children from one marriage versus a second?
  5. When you make your estate plans, do you need to include a former spouse in addition to a current spouse?
  6. Does a former spouse have a fair claim to any portion of your assets?
  7. Do you need to make a distinction between what children from one marriage are to receive versus children from a second marriage?

5 Important Estate Planning Documents

It’s never too early to put together an estate plan. After all, our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed. So, no matter your age, review these 5 important estate planning documents and decide if any of them are right for you in your current season of life.

1. Financial Power of Attorney

For some families, you may be unable to take care of everything on your own, or you may just want to have someone else who can help out with the details. With a financial power of attorney, you grant an agent – often a spouse, adult child, or trusted friend – the ability to conduct financial transactions on your behalf. This means that the agent can access bank accounts, pay bills, obtain loans, and perform other financial acts on your behalf. If you previously signed a financial power of attorney and would now like to change your agent, speak to your estate planning attorney to update your records.

If you become incapacitated without a financial power of attorney and no one else has access to your accounts, it may be difficult for your loved ones to take care of your financial affairs. They will likely have to petition the courts for permission to conduct your affairs. This means time and money lost.

2. Medical Power of Attorney

Similar to a financial power of attorney, the medical power of attorney grants your appointed agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. Your agent’s powers will work in tandem with your living will (discussed below), if you have one. Also, make sure to sign a HIPAA release form. This document allows your appointed agent access to health, care, and treatment information.

A medical power of attorney allows you to appoint the best person to make decisions regarding your medical needs. By making your medical wishes known, you take the burden of decision making off your family. Any family can experience stress or strain when medical wishes are unclear. For blended families (especially those who don’t always see eye-to-eye), the medical power of attorney can help prevent disagreements and strain among family members.

3. Living Will

Whether you set up a medical power of attorney or not, it’s good practice to complete a living will, which is a document that clearly outlines what medical treatments you would and would not like to be used to keep you alive. This type of list provides peace of mind to family members, giving them confidence in any medical decisions they may need to make on your behalf.

Because the list is extensive, talk to your doctor and family members about your medical wishes. If you want to update your medical directives to include a new spouse, you can do so at any time. Just make sure that you dispose of all copies of the old directives.

4. Legal Will

Following a death, the legal gives clarity to family members by providing instruction for the distribution of your assets. In general, a will is a simple document that identifies beneficiaries, names guardians for minor children, appoints an executor to the will and/or a property manager, and leaves instructions on how to pay for debts and taxes.

If you are part of a blended family, a will may become especially necessary in case a former spouse, estranged children, or even step-relationship try to make a claim. If there are certain individuals whom you’d like to prevent from gaining access to your assets, a legal will is the best way to prevent it. Plus, you can revise a will at any time so you can make changes when needed.

5. Revocable Living Trust

Though most people need a will, not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are a bit more complicated than wills. You transfer your property into the trust, naming yourself the trustee, and then adding a successor trustee to take over upon your death. The successor trustee then distributes your assets according to your wishes.

If you have a large number of assets, a living trust is very helpful. Plus, you avoid the necessity of probate court and can keep everything private. Like a legal will, a living trust can be revised at any time.

One more note: a living trust does not take the place of a will. You must have a will to appoint guardians for minor children, designate an executor, and assign a property manager (if property must be maintained until a minor child comes of age).

Now that you are aware of some of the estate planning challenges and are familiar with the five most important estate planning documents, start talking with the people closest to you about how to set things in place so that no matter what tomorrow brings, you’re prepared!

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.

Permanent Placement Options for Cremated Remains

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools, Precare

These days, it’s not uncommon for the family to keep the cremated remains of a loved in an urn at home. While keeping a loved one nearby can be helpful during the grief process, it’s important to have a permanent plan for your loved one. It’s unrealistic to expect family members to continue to amass a larger and larger number of urns through the years, so in order to ensure that your loved one is cared for after you’re gone, it’s best to put together a permanent plan.

You have many options for permanent placement of cremated remains. And you don’t have to make up your mind at the time of loss. You can keep your loved one close for a few years, and then visit the idea of where you want to inter them as a final resting place.

Reviewing the Options

Urn Burial

The first option is burial. Some cemeteries have landscaped urn gardens while others offer burial plots similar to those used for traditional burial. If you choose a burial plot, the cremated bodies of multiple people can be buried together. As with traditional burial, urn burial requires an outer burial container.

Another form of urn burial is green burial. The main difference from traditional burial is that the urn must be biodegradable, and the cemetery must be specifically set aside for green burials. The number of green cemeteries in the United States is limited, so you may need to travel a distance to lay your loved one to rest. One thing to remember: an outer burial container is not needed for green burial.

Columbarium

An above-ground structure, the columbarium is filled with niches (wall spaces) where urns are placed and interred. Each niche typically includes a memorial plaque that acts as a grave marker, listing the name, dates of life, and an epitaph (if the family wishes). All columbaria are communal, though a family can purchase a family-size niche to allow multiple urns to be placed together.

Scattering

Scattering is the act of taking a loved one’s cremated remains to a special place (or places) and scattering them. The possible locations for scattering are numerous. You could elect to go to a scattering garden, which is a designated, beautiful space attached to a cemetery that is simple and environmentally friendly. With a scattering garden, the cemetery often provides a means of adding a permanent physical memorial like a plaque or grave marker.

Alternatively, you can go to the ocean, the mountains, or some other place that is special to you and your loved one. If you do decide to scatter your loved one somewhere other than a cemetery, make sure that you check the laws and regulations for that place.

Should you decide to scatter all of a loved one’s ashes, take time to prepare yourself emotionally. For some, it is an emotional shock to realize that everything remaining of a loved one is gone.

Planting a Memorial Tree

It is now possible to plant a loved one’s ashes so that a memorial tree will grow. The cremated remains don’t actually cause the tree to grow. Instead, you will place a special, biodegradable urn in the ground. In the top section, seeds and soil mix together. There is a separate section underneath for the cremated remains. First, the seeds grow in the soil, and once they reach a certain level of growth, the roots spread down to the cremated remains, and everything mingles together. This option is inexpensive, and afterward, you can visit the memorial tree anytime you wish.

Options at Sea

Underwater Mausoleum

Off the coast of Florida, you can have a special urn placed in an underwater mausoleum (similar to a columbarium). With different options available for memorialization, it’s an option for those who love the ocean.

Barrier Reef

Another option is to mix the cremated body with concrete to create an artificial coral reef. These artificial coral reefs assist in the repair and conservation of natural coral reefs by positively impacting the ocean’s habitat. As a memorial to your loved one, consider affixing a plaque to the artificial reef.

Burial at Sea

When we think of burial/scattering at sea, we often think of military personnel. However, scattering at sea is an option for civilians as well. While the Navy will work with a veteran’s family to arrange an official scattering at sea, services are available to civilians for an eco-friendly sea burial per US Coast Guard guidelines.

Launched into Space

It is now possible to send a person’s ashes into space. If your loved one adored space and all its mysteries or was always looking for the next big adventure, you might consider this option. Of course, there will be regulations and stipulations to follow, but this option is surprisingly affordable.

No matter which option is most appropriate, make a decision on providing a permanent home for cremated remains. Keeping the urn at home may be just what you need in the beginning. But, in three, five, or even ten years, consider the benefits of setting up something permanent. A permanent home will ensure that your loved one is cared for long after you are gone.