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The funeral service has come under severe criticism, especially in the day of COVID restrictions and soaring costs. Is a funeral service necessary? There are some things a traditional funeral service can do.
(1) It can help make real the fact of the loss. Seeing the body of the deceased person makes an unreal situation a bit more real and offers some proof of the finality of death. We have made fun of some of the extremes of change in the modern funeral ritual, but the times they are a changin’!
(2) The funeral service can give people the opportunity to express thoughts and feelings about the deceased. I am not a slave to past traditions without reason. I have made my own funeral wishes known and they are written down and are in a lockbox. E.g. = I plan to be the FIRST one in my family to be cremated. There are several reasons for this that involve more than just reduced cost, but that is certainly a factor. A casket is not required, nor a vault, grave marker or even a cemetery plot. I’ll only forego the casket, but the point is that it will be my choice.
Also, I may be the only preacher around here brave enough to open up the floor for comments about the deceased. It has never backfired on me yet, and more times than I can count in a small service, this offer has been noted, used, and appreciated.
(3) The memorial service can be a reflection of the life of a person who is gone. Truly, you preach your own funeral service while you live. For several years I made my services available to a local funeral home if they should encounter the need for a free and local minister to honor the deceased. The first and only time they actually called on me was for a lady who passed, with just 3 or 4 friends that would be in attendance at the funeral, and she had no officiant. I asked her friends what they remembered about her, and they said that she liked flowers and butterflies. (Try getting a funeral message and life tribute out of that!) That was the first occasion I remember opening up the floor for discussion and remembrances by family and friends.
(4) The funeral service has the effect of drawing a social support network close to the survivor’s family members at an extremely needy time. One fact that in the opinion of many dilutes the positive effects of funerals is that they tend to happen so soon after the passing. Often the immediate family members and others most numbed and dazed by the passing simply do not have time to reflect on what is happening and the funeral service is robbed of some of the positive psychological impact that it might have! Certain cultures are better at waiting and lengthening the process, but in the end sooner rather than later scheduling the funeral seems to be a matter of convenience rather than conviction.