One of the hardest experiences of one’s life is losing a loved one. Families can experience devastation, confusion, guilt, and regret after a loved one passes. The road to healing can be difficult to navigate if essential needs and feelings are not tended to appropriately.

The funeral experience has slowly developed over time to cater to the direct needs of the bereaved. Processing the emotions that come with a loss is critical to the grieving process. A ceremony or memorial can help begin the healing process. If there is no ceremony, mourners may feel as if there is something missing. They may feel that their grief is minimalized, unacknowledged, or unimportant.

Understanding the specific needs of mourners can help you in planning a meaningful and healing celebration of life.

Need #1: To gather and comfort one another.

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Having friends and family close can help the heart heal during a tough time. Being around loved ones is a great way to feel supported and receive comfort. Families might plan a meal after the service, a wake, a visitation, or a special memorial ceremony. Grief counselor and best-selling author, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, suggests getting together with loved ones weeks, months, and even years after the death has occurred. The mourning process can take an extensive amount of time to work through. Staying in touch and gathering with others should not end immediately after the death occurs. Try to continue to gather together throughout the entire grieving process.

Need #2: To honor the memory of the one who died.

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Planning a ceremony with specific aspects that represent the life and memory of the lost loved one is a comfort to those who grieve. To personalize the final celebration/ceremony, model it after the deceased’s personality, hobbies, traditions, or other traits that accurately reflect the life they lived.

Need #3: To search for meaning after the loss.

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Whether the service is secular or spiritual, individuals can search for a deeper meaning to the loss of a loved one. Families can seek this spiritual interpretation through music, prayers, meditation, and readings. It is not uncommon for individuals to question or struggle with personal values and beliefs during the mourning process. In fact, the struggle is a healthy tool to dig deeper into grief and assist in the healing journey.

Need #4: To say one final goodbye.

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While mourners may not exactly find closure in a final goodbye, laying a loved one to rest is an important symbolic gesture. It helps provide a natural transition into life after the funeral. Saying a final goodbye can take many different forms, depending on final disposition. If the body is buried, having a procession to the service or visiting the grave site with flowers or letters after the burial might bring peace to the soul. If cremation is chosen, the ashes can be placed in an urn ark where survivors can carry the ashes to the final resting place and/or say goodbye at a scattering ceremony.

After the funeral, family and friends begin their grief journey and must face a new normal. The absence of the individual can be quite emotional for loved ones during the first holidays, anniversary, birthdays, and other celebrations without their presence. Families must now establish a new relationship, based on the memory of the lost loved one. Pictures placed around the house, valued keepsakes, and heirlooms can help keep the missed member’s spirit alive. To process the pain, the bereaved family and friends can write a letter to the deceased to cope with mourning. Writing or speaking are important steps in the healing process. These actions allow individuals to explore their feelings of hurt, resentment, sorrow, and frustration. It is helpful for mourners to express their emotions in a tangible way, instead of keeping those feelings bottled up inside.

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