I have been thinking a lot about funerals lately. I have been to many of them – sometimes supporting friends, and sometimes on my own account (and too many of both!). Many people reflexively say that they hate funerals. And there is no doubt that funerals can be traumatic. But I think that they are also incredibly important.
3 years ago, when a very dear friend of mine died, his son arranged a “celebration of his life”. As a vehement atheist, there was no religious component to James’ funeral. It was simply a huge gathering of his friends, sharing their memories and love of him. There were tears, of course, but in an atmosphere of love and community that I will never forget. I am not afraid of tears in public (fortunately!), and I think they can be very therapeutic. The sense of community at James’ funeral was intense, and the memories that we shared were vivid and incredibly heartwarming.
In a time of intense grief, funerals can serve to remind us that we are not alone. They can be a wonderful moment to consider our lives and friendships, and to reflect on how lucky we are to have shared our lives with someone, even in those moments when we are missing them desperately. They can show us a side of our friends and loved ones that we might not have seen for ourselves, and remind us of how valued they are in our community.
When a friend’s dad died recently, I was struck by how many of my friend’s friends and colleagues went to the funeral, even though many of them had never even met his dad. There was an unspoken but strong and tangible support offered, and accepted, that day. It was a very practical way to show love and care for a friend.
It’s easy, in the grip of intense grief, to turn inwards. To feel incredibly alone and isolated. Funerals are an automatic antidote to that feeling. They force us to look outwards and see the community around us.
Funerals are never easy, but that’s because death isn’t easy. Saying goodbye with such finality can’t help but be traumatic. The funeral is an important step in the grieving process, and a way of reinforcing our support and love for each other. In a time of desperate loss, what could be more important?