The Value of Funeral Rituals
A funeral ritual is an act that people do after a loss of life by performing an act of sharing sympathy to the ones that have been impacted personally. A few examples of funeral rituals that convey sympathy are sending flowers or condolence cards, flying the flag at half mast, erecting a memorial monument with names or wearing in loving memory apparel or black arm bands.11Th`vFuneral rituals come in many different forms and are only limited by the imagination. Because every funeral or death is different, rituals can vary from family to family, culture or religion. The common denominator is the same and that is providing comfort and therapy to mourning the loss of a life.
Funeral directors are a good example of ritual providers and designers but often the best rituals are born from the families themselves.
Examples of Rituals
In a burial, the sprinkling of sand over a casket or urn with the words “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is a common ritual performed at the gravesite. The officiant holds a small brass shaker holder containing sand and sprinkles. If the homeland of the deceased is near a shoreline, the family may have sand of their own and wish that to be sprinkled upon the resting casket because it carries more significance to the loved one. This is a beautiful example of a unique and meaningful act personalized especially for the deceased. Further, the homeland’s sand can provide cherished memories of the shoreline homeland with their loved one. So this simple act personalized can have profound affects internally to the surviving family members, even if the rest of the attendees are not aware of its personalization.
Public service men and women who died in the line of duty or through natural means may have a casket carried by a vehicle of their profession. Funeral processions led by a horse and buggy to a gravesite can be animals special to the deceased. Rituals strengthen us spiritually and psychologically because it fills a need for the members of the family and the community.
Many religious sects incorporate funeral rituals within the ceremony itself such as the use of pallbearers, incense, holy water, selected readings and hymns. A great example is in the Jewish faith where it is customary at the cemetery to walk the casket to the gravesite. Once the casket is lowered into the earth, some attendees shovel dirt on top of the casket. Other types of services, may through a single stem flower upon the casket or even special mementos to be buried with the deceased.
Comfort in Rituals
The special acts are an actual source of comfort which is why so many opt to include one or more in the funeral planning. Sometimes, families may not always realize that when rituals are done, it can help psychologically. When my own mother passed, she was cremated. I never thought about having a viewing of the body prior to cremation because I thought it was only done prior to a traditional burial. But because she died in another state, my sister wanted us to be able to see our mother because she was finally set to rest. I can’t tell you the closure it gave me to take part in this type of ritual. I now realize and am at peace with my final goodbye although I didn’t realize it then.
Rituals are also found in the preparation of the viewing by the selection of clothing and personal items. Whether you select a favorite dress or tie for your loved one, it adds an extra special touch to the viewing itself. If the funeral was not prearranged or the deceased was not involved in the planning in any way, families often find comfort by saying to themselves “she would have wanted it this way.”
Funeral rituals strengthen and comfort grieving hearts. They will vary from culture, nationality, religious affiliation and beliefs. It is essential and the cornerstone of a funeral service and the value it provides is priceless for those who mourn.