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The Importance of Funerals

Today, people all over the world commemorate their loved ones with ceremonies that reflect their religious or cultural attitudes toward death. Just as we have rituals for other passages of life, such as graduations and weddings, we need a ritual for death - one of the most significant of all passages.

Funerals just don't recognize that a life has ended; they recognize that a life was lived. They offer survivors a chance to gather and recall what mattered to them about the deceased's life: his or her accomplishments, friendship, guidance or love.

The funeral ritual also helps the survivors to heal emotionally. When someone we love dies, we experience grief, which, though it hurts, is not something to avoid. Grief is part of the healing process that allows us to separate ourselves from the deceased person and go on with our lives.

An important step in grieving is expressing the emotions that may accompany death: anger, guilt, fear, sorrow, and depression. A funeral gives mourners a place to express those feelings. Funerals stimulate mourners to talk about the deceased, one of the first steps toward accepting the death. The funeral brings together a community of mourners who, by supporting each other, can help themselves through a difficult period.

To resolve their grief, mourners need to accept the reality of death not only on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level as well. It is for this reason that the traditional funeral is usually preceded by an open-casket visitation period. This may seem unnecessary; but many grief experts say that nothing helps you accept death as much as seeing the dead person. Viewings help with grieving because they show that there's no return.

Perhaps no other moment in the funeral process is as powerful as the final disposition. For survivors, this is a strong symbolic moment, a confirmation that they must let go of the person who dies and look ahead to a changed life.

For this reason, it is important families choose the kind of final disposition most meaningful to them and most appropriate for the deceased.

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