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:
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."