Funeral and burial traditions have been dated as far back as 100,000 years ago with modern human remains found in Qafzeh, Israel. There are even some findings which suggest evidence of intentional burials by Neanderthals dating back 250,000 – 300,000 years ago, however many of these sites are a topic of controversy between experts.
With evidence of burial traditions dating back throughout the ages, taking care of the deceased remains part of our culture today despite changes in funeral traditions. But why do we do we have funerals?
For early societies with religious beliefs, and for believers across many of today’s faiths, a funeral ceremony will usher the dead on to the next life. During ancient times many had believed their loved ones would not be able to cross over to the next life if they did not have the rites and rituals of a properly conducted funeral.
Modern funerals can tie to the sentiment of securing entry to the next life but generally involve a much more dignified and affectionate send off for the deceased. Whether the funeral involves religious beliefs or not, it still plays a very important part in coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.
Time to stop and think
Immediately after a death there can be a lot to do and the funeral might be the first real opportunity the family have to stop, and begin to acknowledge that the deceased is really gone, with their friends and family.
A co-founder of the What’s Your Grief website, Litsa Williams, has written about how funerals can be the starting point for grieving.
“It can be a really important ritual and the first step for so many people, and as much as you may be dreading it, you may be surprised at the comfort you find in meeting people you may never have known were touched by your loved one in some way.”
A funeral can be an important opportunity for people to gather together and demonstrate their love and respect for the deceased while offering support and sympathy to the bereaved. The death of someone close is clearly a difficult time and having people around that care for the bereaved and the deceased can be a considerable comfort.
A celebration of life
More often now the funeral is seen as an opportunity to celebrate a life well lived. There are less strictly regimented religious ceremonies with the funeral featuring more reflective elements which are unique to the personality of the person that has passed.
From a cheerful dress code to a quirky music choice, funerals can be an opportunity to remember the wonderful personality of a loved one who is missed but never forgotten.
At a time of great upset, a funeral with well-known ceremonies can offer some familiar structure for people close to the departed. The familiarity of words spoken and songs sung during these ceremonies can reduce some of the burden of having to think about what to do next and instead let us focus on our feelings.
No matter how people choose to mark their passing or the passing of a loved one, the familiarity of funeral ritual is also a factor in why we take such care over funeral planning. Whether to prepare the way for the next life, to gather friends and family to say goodbye or just to have one final opportunity to demonstrate our individuality, funerals are an important part of our passing.
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