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How funerals help with grief

When somebody dies, there is usually funeral. If not, there is probably some sort of memorial service or gathering to mark that person’s passing. But, there are still rituals sounding a death and these can help us with the grieving process. 

Rituals are part of life and there are some we all observe. You might always have a birthday cake, have particular things you do as a family on Christmas Day or somewhere you pop in to pick up a coffee on the way to work each day. Rituals make us feel ‘safe’ and give us routine and often some comfort as well.

Interestingly, there are examples of rituals surrounding death in the animal kingdom. Elephants may place dirt and branches over the dead, while ants, bees and termites have dedicated members of their societies who dispose of the dead. 

Some earlier cultures, such as the Ancient Egyptians, are well known for their complex funeral rites, such as burying the body with valuable treasures, while the Mayans were often buried with maize in their mouths, as food for their onward journey. 

Funerals have many rituals – whether it’s the way the coffin is brought to the chapel or simply the way everyone sits or stands at the same time. There are ways we behave at that time which are part of the ‘ritual’. Psychologists believe that these rituals help us in times of ‘chaos and disorder’. Having a set routine or certain rituals to perform helps people by bringing a sense of control and security. 

Academic Jonathan Jong said: “Despite this wide diversity of practice, it seems our death rituals serve the same psychological functions: to make us feel less helpless in the face of our sorrow and terror.”

After somebody has died, some people find comfort in doing things which reminds them of their loved one, perhaps something they always used to do – which might be as simple as giving the cat a cuddle before going to bed or listening to their favourite song. These rituals can continue long after somebody has died. 

Although her daughter died 15 years ago, one lady told us recently that she always has smoked salmon sandwiches on her birthday, as it was her favourite snack in hospital. She added that if she ever treated herself to a G&T before Sunday lunch, it always brought back memories of her Dad, who enjoyed one at that time of the week and how he’d always refuse ice as it would ‘water it down’. 

Embracing the rituals associated with a funeral and of a death itself are an important way of saying goodbye to the person you love and begin the long process of rebuilding your life.

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