Why a funeral is so important

As a licenced funeral and bereavement professional, I am here to serve your family should you need to say good bye to a loved one. I specialize in creating meaningful and memorable services for funerals, memorials, celebrations of life, burials, or scatterings of cremated remains. I also provide guidance, suggestions, advice, and am happy to explain the steps from death to burial and beyond as I recognize and understand many people really don’t know what to do and what their options are.

I will join you and your family and friends where ever you choose to honour and remember your loved one be it a funeral home, cemetery, your home, restaurant, community hall, beach, park, or other location. I will perform a beautiful ceremony for your loved whether it be religious or non-religious, semi-religious, or spiritual. Your friends and family are welcomed and encouraged to participate, and the feel and tone of the event is entirely up to you.


Why Have a Funeral, memorial, or celebration of life?

For thousands of years, funerals have been a means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about death. When we experience the death of a loved one, the funeral fills several important needs.

First, it provides for the dignified and respectful care of the deceased and a special tribute to their life. It encourages us to share memories and activates support during this naturally difficult time.

Equally important, the funeral service helps survivors face the reality of death. This is the first big step in taking grief from the inside and allowing us to express it outwardly through mourning. The funeral provides a safe place to affirm the worth of our relationship with the person who died and express our feelings of loss. Often, just seeing how much others care can be a tremendous help to a family in adjusting to their loss.

Why do I need to plan a funeral for my loved one?

The remembering, reflecting and choices that take place in the planning and carrying out of the funeral service are often an important part of the process of grief and mourning. And ultimately, this process of contemplation and discovery creates a memorable and moving funeral experience for all who attend.

The Funeral Ceremony:
• Helps us acknowledge that someone we love has died
• Allows us to say goodbye
• Provides a support system for us, friends, family members and our community
• Allows us to reflect on the meaning of life and death
• Offers continuity and hope for the living

The value of a funeral

Not unlike weddings or graduations, a funeral brings together families and friends and encourages them to share their thoughts and feelings. There are numerous benefits that a family will receive from having a funeral service for their loved one. Some of these benefits are:

• The funeral provides a support system for the bereaved family.
• The funeral helps the bereaved family to understand that death is final and reinforces the fact that death is a part of life.
• The funeral encourages the embracing and expressing of pain.
• The funeral reaffirms a person’s relationship with the person who has died.
• The funeral offers a time for family and friends to remember the person who died through sharing of their memories with others.
• The funeral offers a time and place to talk with others about the life and death of their loved one.
• The funeral provides a time to say goodbye.
• Most importantly, the funeral is the beginning of the grief process. A person must experience the funeral in order to move on through the grieving process.

The Importance of Viewing and Visitation

Viewing is the best way for a person to accept the death of a loved one, seeing is believing. Without viewing or visitation, there is a chance that denial will set in. Allowing ourselves, though sometimes difficult, to view a spouse, parent or grandparent is a large step in the healing process. If a person avoids viewing or visitation, then it is our imagination, and the mental picture that it draws, that we will have of our loved one. Often this mental image is more destructive than good, especially when the death has been sudden or accidental.

Whether the final disposition of a person is an earth burial or cremation, the viewing by family and friends is very important and should not be avoided. It is most important that the family has an opportunity for viewing and saying goodbye. What some people do not realize is that often friends and neighbors need that same opportunity. A person’s family can never know the exact impact that the deceased person has had on the lives of others in the community and therefore, it is important to give those people a chance to say their goodbyes as well.

What Makes a Funeral Meaningful?

Funerals are most meaningful when they’re personalized. As you’re planning, think about the qualities that made the person special and what he or she meant to others. Consider passions, hobbies, pastimes, likes, dislikes. Work together with your family, friends, and the person who’ll lead the service to find ways to capture this unique life in the visitation, funeral, memorial service or graveside committal.

Elements of a Meaningful Funeral

Meaningful funerals are made up of different parts that, when combined, create an incredibly meaningful experience for you, your family and friends. Even among different faiths and cultures, funeral ceremonies throughout North America often include many of the same elements. Your faith or culture may have its own variations and you should follow them as you see fit.

No matter what kind of funeral ceremony you’re planning, it helps to understand the parts of a meaningful funeral.

Music One of the purposes of music is to help us access our feelings, both happy and sad.

Readings Readings are a way to convey the unique life and philosophies of the person who died.

Visitation/Reception Receiving friends through a visitation activates your support system and allows others to express their love and concern for you.

Eulogy/Remembrance Often the eulogy is the most remembered and meaningful element of a funeral ceremony.

Symbols When words are inadequate, the presence of symbols like flowers, food and candles help us express our thoughts and feelings.

Procession The procession is a symbol of mutual support and public honoring of the death.

Committal Service or Scattering Accompanying a body to its final resting place and saying a few last words brings a necessary feeling of finality to the funeral process.

Gathering This informal time allows family and friends to share memories, to laugh, cry and show support for one another.

Memories Through memories, those who have died continue to live on in us.

What Clinical Scholars Say About Funerals

Although a few popular websites and books deride the value of the funeral and downplay its importance, opposite beliefs are generally held by the professional bereavement caregiving and scholarly community.

Here are a few excerpts from the published writings of eminent scholars and clinicians in the field:

J. William Worden, PhD Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner (4th ed) “But the funeral service, if it is done well, can be an important adjunct in aiding and abetting the healthy resolution of grief… Seeing the body of the deceased person helps to bring home the reality and finality of death. (In cremation) the body can still be present at the funeral service in either an open or closed casket and then the cremation done after the service. In this way, the funeral service can be a strong asset in helping the survivors work through the first task of grief.”

Therese A. Rando, PhD. Grief, Dying and Death: Clinical Interventions for Caregivers “Participating in the funeral ritual-standing at a wake and repeatedly looking at the deceased in the casket, attending a funeral service, accepting the condolences of others, witnessing the casket at the grave-graphically illustrates to the bereaved that the death has indeed occurred. Even if it cannot be emotionally accepted at that time, the memories of these experiences will later help to confirm to the bereaved the reality of the loss of the loved one.

“Viewing the body has been criticized in recent years, as some mourners have wished to avoid the painful reactions that seeing the body can engender. However, it is precisely the impact of the finality of the loss that viewing seeks to promote. Clearly, the body of the deceased is the best symbol of the individual and therefore the most effective one to focus upon in attempting to perceive the deceased in a new relationship, as someone who is no longer alive and will only exist in memory.

“Despite recent criticism, funerals fulfill critical psychological and social needs following a death. A rite of passage is necessary after the death of a loved one, for the passing of that person must be recognized, his survivors must be supported as they start a new life without him, and they must be reintegrated into the community, which itself must reaffirm its continuity after the loss of a member. By design, funerals catalyze acute grief response, prescribe structured behaviors in a time of flux, and encourage recognition of the loss and development of new relationships with both the deceased and the community.”

Kenneth J. Doka, PhD Disenfranchised Grief: New Directions, Challenges, and Strategies for Practice “A significant body of literature affirms the therapeutic role of funeral rituals… These benefits are enhanced when the funeral ritual allows personalization and participation by significant others.”

Thomas G. Long, PhD Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral “The stakes are high here. I am persuaded that in this, our moment in history, we are going through one of those periodic upheavals in the ways we care (or don’t) for the dead that are inevitable signs of an upheaval in the ways we care (or don’t) for the living. To put it bluntly, a society that has forgotten how to honor the bodies of those who have departed is more inclined to neglect, even torture, the bodies of those still living. A society that has no firm hope for where the dead are going is also unsure how to take the hands of its children and lead them toward a hopeful future.”

Catherine A. Sanders, PhD Grief: The Mourning After: Dealing with Adult Bereavement “While the bereaved is inwardly screaming, “No, no, it can’t be,” the bereaved is outwardly moving through the paces of the funeral preparation and burial. The cadence is slow but relentless. Yet, the rituals of death become the glue that holds the bereaved together during this first phase.”

The Role of Ceremonies in Bereavement

From earliest history, people have used ceremonies to acknowledge death. Even with broad diversity in specifics, many common factors are shared across generations and cultural groups. You will find many examples of this “commonality in diversity” profiled in our section on cultural and religious funeral customs.

Why does this human need for gathering seem so universal? Sociologists, anthropologists and counselors generally believe that humans have a deep need to find our psychological moorings after a death in the family, clan or community. Gathering with others helps manage our experience with death and begin the process of adapting to the loss. Perhaps that is why there is virtually unanimous support for funerals among leading clinical scholars, the respected specialists who have dedicated their lives to counseling the bereaved, studying how bereavement affects people, and teaching others how to care effectively.

The ceremonies we observe when a loved one dies accomplish several important purposes, not only for the immediate family but for the entire community of friends and associates. Here are some of those important reasons for creating and using meaningful ceremonies.

Ceremonies provide stability and order in the chaos of early grief. Even though grief is likely an unfamiliar landscape for individuals and families, the social community has been through the experience of saying farewell many times. Whether the highly prescribed funeral ritual of Roman Catholicism, the beating of a tribal drum on the African continent to notify the entire village of a death, or some other community behavior, ritual gives order to the chaos.

While many decisions rest with the immediate family, an overly individualistic approach to funeral arrangements can create as much chaos as it resolves. People who have just suffered a loved one’s death don’t generally know what kind of ceremonies will prove best able to help them adapt to the death. In the absence of socially-prescribed rituals, bereaved people are left to create meaningful tributes during a period in which they are emotionally overwhelmed. Funeral directors help fill that gap.

Ceremonies help confirm the reality of the death.

Most clinical scholars in the field of bereavement point out the “reality” function of funeral ceremonies. Even though the death certificate records a precise moment of death does not mean everyone accepts that fact emotionally. For most of us, a loved one’s death is much more of a process-requiring hours, days, and even weeks to fully believe the reality. Because this realization of death is not instantaneous, funeral rituals help people gradually accept that their loved one has made the transition from here to there.

Ceremonies help us validate the legacy of our loved ones.

When a person dies, we tend to highlight the character qualities and values worth imitating. We choose words that describe the attitudes and behaviors of the person who died, describing her as kind, compassionate, brave, respectful, enthusiastic, generous, fun-loving, faithful, warm, peace-loving, and heroic. Effective ceremonies provide a socially-sanctioned way for mourners to say to one another what perhaps they never found opportunity to share with the deceased: how his or her life actually impacted the lives of those who are left.

Additionally, there is value to saying these words aloud in the funeral. Whether they are expressed in the eulogy, the minister’s words, a life tribute video, or the shared memories of people who attend, these words are “recorded for posterity.” As bereaved people reflect on these words months and even years after the death, it is amazing to hear how these qualities first uttered during the funeral rituals still echo in the hearts of hurting people.


Ceremonies reassure continuation of the society.

If you have ever watched a state funeral, you recognize the orderliness of the service. But the memorial ceremonies of people who are not political leaders have the same function. They remind us that even though dramatically changed, life will continue in spite of the death of this individual, because life is bigger than an individual. One of the community’s important tasks in the face of death is to stand at the emotional “fork in the road” for bereaved people and lovingly point the way through the experience. Funerals help calm our anxiety.

Ceremonies remind us of what still needs to be done.

Ceremonies can help ignite a passion for needed change. Sometimes death comes after great injustice and the funeral ceremony helps galvanize the effort to create change as witnessed in the funeral for Dr. Martin Luther King. With family permission, leaders have addressed the importance of suicide prevention at the funeral ceremonies for teens who have died by suicide. And attendance at the funeral for a young mother killed by a drunk driver reminds many people of the dangers of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Whether the ceremony incites a generation to action or not, funeral ceremonies remind us of the precious, limited amount of time we all possess. Nothing provides as stark a reminder of the frailty of life and the finite nature of time as much as seeing a friend’s casket being carried from church to hearse to grave. The ancient wisdom writer had it right when he wrote, “I would rather go to a funeral than a feast, because funerals remind us of the destiny we all share” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

The ceremonies of bereavement remind us that our own pain of loss is shared by the community. Funerals, memorials services, and the other observances we share in the face of death possess important social meaning that transcends simply getting the dead buried or cremated. These ceremonies remind us all of the ancient notion that when someone dies, it is important to stop what we are doing, turn aside, and note the fact that our hearts are heavy, our support for each other is unwavering, and our loved one’s life is worth remembering.

Six Characteristics of Helpful Ceremonies

Some elements of funeral ceremonies owe their beginnings to the oldest funerals about which we have written records or artifacts, spanning every inhabited continent and thousands of years. When included in death-related ceremonies, these six common characteristics have historical precedent for helping family and community in adjusting to a loved one’s death.

1. Significant Symbols
Humans are visual so we depend on “symbols” to help us communicate beyond words. Some of these symbolic elements are used for many different rites of passage-water at a baptism, burning candles at holidays or birthdays, and the earth placed on a casket as it is lowered into the grave. In many cultures, a hearse and a casket are immediately recognized for their purposes. Favorite photographs of memorable places and occasions tell stories the words alone cannot convey. Be sure the memorial ceremonies you create include ample use of symbols-faith symbols, photos, and items from your loved one’s favorite hobby or pastime, for example. In many traditions, flowers carry special significance because their message of love and concern is conveyed by their vibrant colors and aroma. You will find many examples of cultural symbols in our section on cultural and religious funeral customs.

2. Ritual Action
From time immemorial, death demands that family and community “get into the action” and do something (or actually many somethings!) In a traditional Hmong funeral, 30, 40, or even 50 funeral helpers get involved in preparation and carrying out of the funeral rituals. Neighbors and fellow parishioners “get into the act” when they lovingly prepare the “casserole caravan” in a community of the American south or Midwest, both providing support to the bereaved and working out their own experience with grief. Traditional Jewish funerals encourage the entire community of mourners to become engaged in shoveling into the grave and at a traditional Muslim funeral, all the men of the community might take turns carrying the bier or casket to the grave. Bereaved people around the world find value in doing something.

3. Gathered People
Bereavement is best resolved in the support of caring people rather than alone. After their 84-year old mother’s death, two daughters were discussing with the funeral director whether to arrange a church funeral or a simple graveside service. “Mom has outlived all her friends,” one of her daughters explained, noting that with their small, scattered family, not many people would attend. When the funeral director explained that in their mother’s Roman Catholic parish, people choose to attend funerals, the daughters chose to honor their mother’s wish for a funeral mass in her church. And true to the funeral director’s prediction, more than 100 parishioners attended, along with many of the people from the senior center where their mom had participated. They felt supported as they realized in a fresh way the impact their mom had on her community. Consider the different groups of people with which your loved one and your family participate as you consider the most appropriate ways to gather people together to pay tribute to his or her life.

4. Connection to Heritage
Ceremonies at a loved one’s death also provide a measure of predictability in the midst of the chaos of early grief. This phenomenon might explain the choice among many non-religious people to have the Twenty-Third Psalm read and Amazing Grace sung at a funeral service. Much like so-called comfort foods, these older elements of memorial rituals provide comfort in the instability of bereavement. While you will certainly want to include elements in the memorial ceremonies that are unique to your loved one and your family, don’t overlook the use of ancient elements, too, which can create comfort as they link us to our past.

5. Healing Touch
Even among cultural groups where personal space is highly prized, those boundaries become more flexible in the face of bereavement. We are more likely to embrace a person in bereavement who we would otherwise offer a handshake. Graciously receive-and offer-embraces to the people who offer their support and to the people who need your support. An arm around the shoulder or a warm handclasp communicates volumes about our concern for others. Humans need the touch of others most acutely in periods of crisis like death and bereavement.

6. Transition of the Body
When a loved one dies, we are left with the unmistakable need to move the body from the place of death to a more permanent place. Throughout history and around the world, this transition of the body is accompanied with prayers, songs, and great reverence. Moving the body to the place of final rest is a rite entered into and shared by the entire community. In his book, Accompany Them with Singing, theologian Thomas Long suggests,

“As a practical matter, people will peel away at various points along the way, but we should strive to make it clear that we are not done here until we have handed our loved one over to the earth and to God. In short, we are carrying a loved one to the edge of mystery, and people should be encouraged to stick around to the end, to book passage all the way. If the body is to be buried, go to the grave and stay there until the body is in the ground. If the body is to be burned, go to the crematorium and witness the burning.”

Should your family require the services of a Celebrant, I am here to help guide you and your family through this sad time. Please feel free to email me at ChaplainAvril@yahoo.com to schedule a meeting to discuss final arrangements and ceremonies.

The religious affiliations I am able to adhere to include Agnostic, Buddhist, Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, No denomination, Presbyterian, Earth-based, Pagan and Unitarian.

I also offer other services which include Elopements, Civil Unions, Commitment Ceremonies, Vow Renewals, Handfastings, Memorials, Graveside services, Celebrations of life, Funerals (Religious and Non-religious)

I serve Toronto, Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa, Bowmanville, Newcastle, Port Hope, Cobourg, Grafton, Brighton, Belleville, Trenton, Kingston, Uxbridge, Port Perry, Lindsay, Peterborough, Millbrook, Bailieboro, Durham Region, Northumberland County, and the Kawartha Region.