Why do we have funerals?

Funerals are as old as human culture itself, maybe older. Some of the earliest evidence for primitive burial rituals was found in Pontnewydd Cave in Wales where early Neanderthals may have placed flowers on bodies laid to rest 225,000 years ago.

Although funeral traditions have changed throughout the ages, taking care of the deceased is as much a part of our culture today as it has ever been. But why do we do we have funerals?

In the earliest religious societies and for believers of many faiths today, the funeral ceremony is a way to usher the dead on to the next life. In ancient times, without the rites and rituals of a properly conducted funeral, many believed that their loved ones simply would not be able to cross over.

Most modern funerals are as much about a dignified and affectionate exit from this world as about securing entry to the next. And for believers and non-believers alike, the funeral plays an important part in the process of coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.

Time to think

For the family, there can be a lot to do immediately after a death and the funeral may be the first real opportunity they have to stop, with friends and family, and begin to acknowledge that the deceased is really gone.

Litsa Williams, co-founder of the What’s Your Grief website, writes that a funeral can be a place to start your 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.”

The opportunity for people to gather together is important, to demonstrate love and respect for the deceased, but also to offer support and sympathy to the bereaved. The death of someone close is obviously a difficult time and knowing that there are people around that care how we feel can be an incredible comfort.

A celebration

More and more, the funeral is also an opportunity to celebrate a life well lived. As fewer people have strictly regimented religious ceremonies, funerals feature unique elements that reflect the personality of the person that has passed.

From quirky music choices to light-hearted dress codes, funerals can be a wonderful opportunity to reaffirm the special character of a loved one missed but not forgotten.

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.

Well known ceremonies offer predictability at a time of great upset. We recognise many of the symbols and surroundings of a funeral, the people who attend, the words spoken and the songs sung. That familiarity reduces some of the burden of having to think about what to do next and lets us focus on our feelings.

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.

Golden Charter works with the largest network of independent funeral directors in the UK. For more information on arranging a funeral plan with Golden Charter, allowing you to choose from more than 3,300 independent funeral directors across the country, visit www.goldencharter.co.uk or call 0800 111 4514.