Let’s bring funerals back to life

As an end-of-life doula, I assist with funerals, memorial services and so much more. These gatherings of loved ones come with a variety of comforting traditions and no two ceremonies are alike.

This past year, attending services in person hasn’t been much of an option.

Funerals have either been held remotely or postponed.

Thanks to technology, many daily routines can be done effectively online. Office work, for example. Some of us attend school, shop for groceries and reconnect with friends who live on the other side of the world.

The internet has helped during an otherwise difficult and isolating year. But it can only do so much.

As society re-opens, some of us are still in a remote mindset. A recent funeral service had more attendees online than in person.

This is troubling for many reasons.

Grief rituals play an important role in almost every religion and culture. Certainly, important components of these traditions involve honoring the dead and the disposition of their bodies.

But they also benefit the living.

Funerals formally acknowledge the one certainty we all share. No matter our status, race, gender or background – we are going to die. Funerals and memorial services help us face that reality in a meaningful way.

They also normalize grief. Sorrow’s appropriate expression, depending on our background and level of observance, allows us to move through the mourning process. It is often our most reliable way.

Funerals provide context and continuity. Arriving with compassion and stories to share. Surrounded by caring family and friends. Reciting prayers or poetry. All a component of lifesaving grace for those who must find the strength to go on living.

Embracing, hugging one another and holding hands often translates to hope and reassurance.

These gifts cannot be fully received through a WiFi connection.

The lack of human touch, the absence of in-person care and concern, agonizes family and loved ones who’ve already suffered a heavy loss. Mourners attempting to make sense of despair should not be made to endure technical difficulties or faulty internet signals on top of everything else.

Literally holding each other during times of heartbreak – that’s how we heal.  

It’s what we give and receive when we show up to funerals in person.

Now that we are gathering together again for other life cycle events, let’s make time and space in our community for funerals and memorial services. Let’s leave our homes, phones and computers behind for a few hours and console one another.

Let us mourn. Finally. Not just for the recently deceased, but for all who’ve left us these past 15 months.

Publicly acknowledging this great loss, a loss too many have had to face alone, is a way to truly honor the dead and comfort the living.

Many traditions say our souls cannot exit this world without help from rituals. Souls left behind can’t heal without them either.

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