Anthropologist Douglas Davies states that without having some way to deal with death we would not have thrived as a species. Conscious of our mortality we may have succumbed to despair.
A death is a significant event for a family and community and brings a complex range of emotions and issues. A good funeral cannot mend all these in one go, but it can help to begin the process.
In our work we think of 7 purposes for a funeral.
To acknowledge the life of the person in a truthful way and give thanks for that life in its richness and diversity.
To acknowledge the reality of the loss of the person. It can be hard to really accept the death has happened especially when it is sudden.
To ask for the safe transition of the spirit or soul into whatever is believed to lie beyond, or simply to rest in peace.
To give the bereaved comfort and hope, with inspiration to resume their lives even though things have irretrievably changed.
To come together as a community, affirming a sense of shared rituals and cultural identity, honouring the loss of a community member. Participation in the ceremony helps with this, e.g. singing together. The gathering after is also part of this.
To put the death of the individual into a broader context, through spiritual beliefs or the cycle of nature – death as part of life.
And most obviously, to complete the physical cycle through burial or cremation.
A good funeral that meets these purposes is an important part of beginning the grieving process in a healthy way.