As a society, we tend to offer platitudes like “it was for the best” and “you’ll get over it”. But, the truth is that mourning takes work. It requires a deep examination of one’s own role in the relationship and a realization that death is part of the cycle of life. It’s also important to remember that grief is a process and not a disease, and it’s okay — even necessary – to seek outside assistance. Funerals are designed to help people grieve and heal by meeting the six primary needs of mourners. They provide a framework for coping with loss and a place to share memories of the deceased.
They also help people acknowledge that the death has occurred and make it real, bringing an end to the instinctive denial so they can start moving through the stages of bereavement. Research has shown that funerals are more than a time to remember a loved one; they are an integral component in the healing process. Two recent landmark studies have surveyed bereaved families on their experience with funeral services and the aftermath of a loved one’s passing. The Dutch study reported in Boelen et al (2019) and the UK study reported in Mitima-Verloop & Coots (2020) gathered a large and usable response from 1307 bereaved individuals, providing valuable 3-year followup data. Both studies found that people who attended a full funeral service had lower levels of psychological distress than those who didn’t attend a funeral or chose an abbreviated service. This is an important finding given the increased use of healthcare services by those who are bereaved.
Specifically, those who were dissatisfied with their abbreviated funerals tended to have higher usage of healthcare and social welfare services following bereavement, including hospitalization, medical visits, pharmacy visits, financial consultation and counseling. In addition, the study indicated that a full funeral can serve as an effective safety net for those who experience financial hardship. This is important to note, especially as many people who opt for no or abbreviated funerals report high costs post-bereavement and an inability to meet their daily living expenses.
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential for more intense grief following the deaths of loved ones, funerals remain a powerful social tool to support families and friends in their mourning. Funerals allow family members and friends to express their emotions, honor a beloved soul with a meaningful memorial ceremony and come together as a community to move through the healing process. In a time when social bonds have been severely weakened in anonymous metropolises, wakes, funerals and memorial services are important opportunities for families to gather and reconnect with extended networks of friends and relatives who can support them during this difficult time.