When in Doubt, Go to the Funeral

Elderly couple smiling in a garden.

Nobody is immortal. This means everyone, at some point in their life, will lose someone they care about, including you. And every person you know will lose someone they care about. Life and death are not opposites—death is part of life, each only existing with the other. And with death comes funerals and memorial services, events that no one ever wants to have to go to. Funerals are hard. Grieving and seeing others grieve is hard. Facing the reality of death is really hard.

But funerals exist for a very important reason. They are valuable rituals that help strengthen our families, our communities, and our appreciation of life in the most difficult of times. If you feel nervous, anxious, or unsure about attending a funeral or memorial service, you’re not alone. If you don’t know what to wear, or what to say, or what to expect and you’re thinking about skipping the services, we have advice for you: go anyway.

French Funerals has helped families through loss for almost 115 years. In that time, we’ve seen first-hand the benefits of gathering together in grief, as well as the extended grief that comes with not attending services. What we’ve also seen is that people rarely, if ever, regret going to the funeral.

Funerals are about more than death.

No one wants to think about death, but funerals force us to. But funerals aren’t just about death. They’re about remembering a beautiful, unique life. Funerals and memorial services are just as much about celebrating an individual as they are about saying goodbye. Funerals are where memories are shared, families and friends are reunited, and a community honors the impact the deceased had on them. Funerals renew your appreciation for the relationships you have. To come together in grief is a critical step in healing from loss.

What if it’s too painful?

Many people want to skip the funeral because they prefer to avoid the pain that comes with them. Whether it’s their own grief or witnessing the grief of others, sadness is difficult to bear. The thought of showing emotion in public makes some individuals uncomfortable. While we can’t promise a funeral won’t be sad, what we can promise is that everyone will be there because they care. Sharing the many emotions that come with grief with the people we care about helps us connect to each other and begin to heal from loss.

Grief is unavoidable.

Choosing not to attend funeral services may let you put off the pain of the funeral itself, but it can’t make grief go away. In fact, not going to the service may actually worsen it.

A funeral is one of the most powerful and productive ways to begin the process of healthy grieving. For millennia, every culture on Earth has formed rituals around death and grief that involve their loved ones and their community. These rituals are a way for people to create connection and acceptance around something beyond their control, and to begin moving forward.

Skipping the funeral can delay the grieving process, which means it could take longer to heal. People have a need to connect in loss, and when you don’t attend services you rob yourself of seeing others and sharing in that loss. When you don’t attend a service, you will likely run into many people who want to express their condolences and talk about the deceased. In our own experience, this can be more painful in the long run than if you had gone to the funeral.

What if I wasn’t close to the deceased?

Why would you attend the funeral of someone you hardly knew? What do you say to the family? Does it really make a difference if I’m there?

Every kind of gathering in loss – funerals, rosaries, wakes, sitting shiva, celebrations of life – they’re communal for good reason. Even if you aren’t personally grieving a loss, being present at these events makes a difference to those who are. Your presence tells them that you care, that they’re surrounded by a supportive community, and that their loved one made an impact on others’ lives. It can also be comforting and a relief for a grieving family to speak with people who aren’t grieving.

If you didn’t know the deceased well and you are invited to their funeral or it’s a public funeral, go. If services are invitation only, we still encourage you to reach out to the family to express your condolences.

There will never be another funeral.

Many people express regret at not attending services, especially if the person was someone they cared about. What helps make funerals healing experiences is their timeliness. They are events that occur when those grieving are in need of acceptance, closure, and the support of others, experiences that are crucial to the healing process. There will never be a second funeral for you to attend.

Find a way to come together, even if it can’t be in person.

Sometimes it’s just not possible to attend services in person. This has been especially true for families who have experienced loss during the current pandemic. But the need to connect in grief holds true regardless of circumstances. Live streaming will never be a replacement for being physically present, but it has provided an opportunity to show up and be in attendance.

If you or a loved one is grieving, remember that there are people who can help. Reach out to family or friends, or talk to a grief counselor.

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