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Funerals are a very valuable experience to help in the mourning process. The funeral is the first step in healing for the individual and has psychological and social healing aspects as well. The funeral has changed over time; once it was something done in the family home by the family, whereas today it has shifted to a professional service performed in a funeral home.
The basic American funeral consists of five elements:
1. The visitation of the deceased, which allows the family to express sympathy and gain support.
2. The rite of passage, which could be religious, consists mostly of ritual.
3. A funeral procession, which symbolizes the living and the dead.
4. Disposal of the body, a symbol of separation.
5. The commitment to death, committing the loved one to a final resting place (Raether and Slater, 1997).
The funeral is often the initial step toward separation from the deceased - the beginning of the grief process and re-establishing a place in our community without the loved one (AFD 66). The funeral is oftentimes a good means of closure for the living, a time to say goodbye, and a time to begin living again without the loved one. We see the funeral as a time for the living the spend one last moment with the deceased, and address society's need to confirm the value of life (Canine 183).
There are also psychological and social benefits to be fulfilled during a funeral. The funeral ritual makes the death a reality for those who are bereaved. Some see the funeral visitation as harsh because it often causes painful reactions. However, it is a reality and confirmation for the person grieving as to the finality of the loss, thus allowing them to begin the healing process. Funerals are often a time for remembering the deceased, and telling stories or memories, as well as rituals to help in the psychological healing.
The social benefits of the funeral help not only the bereaved, but the friends and family as well. The funeral allows for the community to support the mourners, and gives a structured time of interaction with members other than the family. The funeral also helps the community to readjust to the loss of one of its members, and reminds people of the fragility of life and reaffirms relationships, values, and beliefs (Canine 184).
The funeral ritual is helpful and valuable for all who feel the loss of the deceased. It validates life and allows us to go on living. The ritual aspect is important for closure and social reasons. Attending the funeral allows us to deal with the loss, says goodbye, and reaffirms the importance of living.
♦ American Funeral Director, Dec. 1996. "Don't Underestimate the Value of Ritual in Funeral Service."