In our culture today, there’s a tendency to do whatever is necessary to avoid pain and unpleasant feelings. This is one reason why people want to avoid the funeral – it brings out emotions that don’t always feel good. But pain and difficult emotions are a natural part of the human experience. In order to have good mental health and positive well-being, we need to learn how to process difficult experiences.
Nationally recognized grief counselor and death educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt puts it this way:
The pain of grief will keep trying to get your attention until you unleash your courage to gently, and in small doses, open to its presence. The alternative—denying or suppressing your pain—is in fact more painful. If you do not honor your grief by acknowledging it, it will accumulate and fester. So, you must ask yourself, “How will I host this loss? What do I intend to do with this pain? Will I befriend it, or will I make it my enemy?” (To see Dr. Wolfelt’s full article, click here.)
But why does your presence at the funeral matter? How will attending a funeral help you address any pain or complex emotions you may feel at a time of grief and loss? How will your presence provide support and encouragement to others? Good questions. Let’s discuss 7 ways attending the funeral or memorial service will help you (or your loved ones) on the grief journey.
Attending the funeral service gives you the opportunity to:
1. Honor and remember a person’s life
By attending the funeral or memorial service, you have a chance to acknowledge that a special person existed and their life was important. As human beings, we need to know that our lives matter, and the funeral provides an opportunity to affirm that. Even if you didn’t know the person well, you honor them and their surviving family members by paying your respects and participating in remembrance activities.
2. Say goodbye in your own way
While the funeral doesn’t make grief go away, it does help you grieve. Without a service, things don’t feel finished. Almost like something is missing. However, with a service, you have the chance to say goodbye in your own way and accept the reality of the death. Some may want to sit near the deceased for a while; for others, the act of attending the funeral is enough. We’re all different, but it’s important to say goodbye, especially for those who didn’t get to see the deceased before their passing.
3. Express your emotions
People expect to see emotions at a funeral service, which makes it a safe place to express yourself. You may be tempted to bottle up your emotions, but if possible, try to engage with your feelings. Let yourself experience what you feel and take note of your emotions. Someone you love has died, and that’s significant. Your emotions are normal, and it’s okay to express them.
4. Offer condolences
Another reason why your presence matters is that it gives you a chance to offer your condolences. Whether you want to give the grieving family a hug or share an encouraging word, your presence can bring great comfort. Plus, by offering your condolences at the funeral, you make things simpler for the family. It’s easier to talk to 100 people at the funeral than to experience 100 different condolence encounters after the funeral.
5. Support the grieving family
Similar to giving your condolences, you can also offer practical support to the grieving family. This could mean that you drop off food for the family in the days following the service. You could sign up to be on “clean-up duty” at the gathering, give family members a ride, or help them pack up memorial items used to personalize the service. While the funeral home staff will take care of the major details, there are other ways you can step in to offer practical support to a grieving family.
6. Reconnect with others
After a loss, you need good people surrounding you. Funerals bring family and friends together, so they provide an opportunity for people to reconnect. Though the funeral will bring tears, it will also bring laughter, joy, and connection. Families and friends who haven’t seen each other in a while can swap stories, share memories, and support each other. We’re not meant to live life alone, and we can lean on each other during times of grief and loss.
7. Realize you aren’t alone in your grief
Grief can feel lonely, but by attending the funeral, you see other people who are also grieving. You aren’t alone in what you’re feeling. The people around you at the funeral may not experience exactly what you are feeling, but they are processing emotions of their own. You can sit down together, talk with each other, unpack what you’re feeling, and provide much-needed love and support. You don’t have to grieve on your own – there are people who can stand with you.
Are there times when you shouldn’t attend the funeral?
In most cases, your presence will be welcome at the funeral or memorial service. But life isn’t always black and white; sometimes, it’s gray. Here are a few times when you should consider skipping the service or participating online:
- Your attendance at the service would be disruptive, distracting, or upsetting to any member of the immediate family
- The services are private and not open to the public
- The services are out of town and you cannot get there
- You cannot arrange for time off work
- You are ill or physically unable to travel
Additional grief resources
While attending the funeral is an important and necessary part of the grief journey, it’s not the end. For some, the deep emotions of grief last for a few weeks, and for others, they last for years. To help you (or a grieving loved one) in the days ahead, here are some additional grief resources.
- 10 Helpful Tips When Grieving a Loss
- 7 Benefits of Joining a Grief Support Group
- 8 Physical Responses to Grief
- Sleeping Tips for the Grieving
- Recognizing Unhealthy Coping Habits
- Can Grief Make You Forget Things?
- 10 Myths About Grieving You May Believe
- 5 Benefits of a Grief Journal
- Guilt, Anger, and Other Normal Reactions to Loss