PURPOSES OF THE FUNERAL CEREMONY

(also read on creating a meaningful eulogy)

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Grief educator and author of Understanding Grief:
Helping Yourself Heal and Creating Meaningful Funeral Ceremonies

Funerals have been with us since the beginning of human history because they help us move from life before the death to life after the death. Funerals help us begin to heal.

FUNERALS . . .

  • confirm that someone we loved has died.
  • help us understand that death is final.
  • allow us to say goodbye.
  • help us care for the body with respect and honor.
  • serve as a private and public transition between our lives before the death to our lives after the death.
  • assist us in creating sacred time.
  • encourage us to embrace and express our pain.
  • affirm the worth of our relationship with the person who died.
  • help us remember the person who died and encourage us to share those memories with others.
  • offer a time and place for us to talk about the life and death of the person who died.
  • provide a social support system for us and other mourners.
  • help integrate mourners back into the community.
  • allow us to search for meaning in life and death.
  • transform the ordinary into the spiritual.
  • reinforce the fact of death in all our lives.
  • establish ongoing helping relationships among mourners.

Meaningful funeral ceremonies are rites of passage. Planning a funeral that will be meaningful to your family is one of the most important tasks you will ever undertake. I encourage you to embrace the funeral ceremony's healing powers.

IDEAS FOR CREATING A MEANINGFUL EULOGY

Someone you love has died. You may be feeling numb, sad, angry, helpless. Despite these natural and necessary grief feelings, you are now planning a funeral that will be meaningful to your family.

Funeral ceremonies help us begin to heal. And often, the more personalized the ceremony, the more healing and meaningful it will be to you, your family and friends. One important way of making this funeral a unique, fitting tribute to the person who died is through the eulogy.

Here are some ideas for creating a meaningful eulogy:

  • The purpose of a eulogy is to summarize a person's life in a positive way. Also called the "remembrance" or the "homily", the eulogy acknowledges the unique life of the person who died and affirms the significance of that life for all who shared in it.
  • The eulogy may be delivered by a clergy person, a family member or a friend of the person who died. This person is called the "eulogist."
  • If the eulogist didn't really know the person who died, make an effort to share with him/her anecdotes and memories that are important to you. Ask yourself, "What stands out to me about this person's life?" "What are some special memories I'd like to share?" "What were some times I felt particularly close to this person?" "What were some admirable qualities about this person?"
  • Instead of a traditional eulogy delivered by one person, you may choose to ask several people to share their memories. This may be done formally - by having three or four people speak in succession at the podium - or informally - by asking those attending the funeral to stand up and share memories spontaneously.
  • If there is time, the person who will be delivering the eulogy may phone friends and family members and ask them for recollections and stories. The eulogist can then incorporate these memories into the eulogy as he or she prepares it.
  • Not everyone feels comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. Before the service begins, you may ask friends and family to write down a cherished memory on paper you provide. Those memories can then be read later in the ceremony or collected in the form of a scrapbook. Your funeral director could even make copies of the memory scrapbook for mourners to take home with them.
  • The word eulogy comes from the Greek eulogia, meaning praise or blessing. This is a time to give thanks for a person's life and to honor his or her memory. This is not a time to bring up painful or difficult memories but to emphasize the good we can find in all people.
  • Remember- there is no right or wrong way to eulogize the person who died. If you attempt to share memories and honor the person's life, you will have created a meaningful eulogy.


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