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Attending Funerals: What’s in it for You?

departure directions Apr 23, 2018

I love attending funerals.

I recently learned on Facebook that my friend’s father had just died. I had great respect for his dad, was sad for my friend, and was looking forward to going to the funeral. Unfortunately, I missed it. I was so disappointed. Of course I wanted to support my friend in his time of grief, which I did by calling him right away. But after I talked to him I was even more upset that I missed the funeral.

My friend’s father was a Christian Palestinian who immigrated to Canada from Gaza as a young man and became an academic scholar of Islam. I knew him also as a supporter of my previous work with Peace it Together (Youth Building Peace Through Film). His death notice in the local paper said, “He had a particular passion for connecting people of different faiths and backgrounds.” This was one of his legacies, and as I heard from my friend, it was  also a defining characteristic of his funeral.

My friend described the funeral, which was held at a downtown Anglican Church, as a multi-faith service with readings and prayers from the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions, as well as a Secular Andalusian Arab song and a reading from the Epic of Gilgamesh. He said it was beautiful and inspiring. He and his sister also spoke, which I would love to have heard.

A funeral is a community space for personal, spiritual and life reflection.

I experience funerals as opportunities to support the bereaved and honour the dead, and as a community space for personal, spiritual, and life reflection. I’m so sorry to have missed that opportunity.

I love attending funerals because I get to learn about the person who died and I almost always leave feeling inspired to apply something to my own life. In our article titled, Oh, How I love a Good Funeral! I wrote about how Don Grayton’s funeral and his printed Heart Will inspired me to live and love life more fully. At the funeral of another friend who died last summer, I learned that as a facilitator he regularly declared “love ‘em up!” to his colleagues before leading a group. Michelle and I now use this phrase before our events both in memory of our friend and also because it so aptly conveys the spirit we want to bring to our work.  

Expressing grief close at hand often triggers more grief – in a good way.

Funerals also give me the permission I sometimes need to mourn other people who’ve died. Whether consciously or subconsciously, expressing the grief close at hand often triggers more grief, which is truly a gift (even if it doesn’t always feel like it). When I reconnect with these emotions, it feels healthy and cathartic and gives me another chance to integrate previous losses into my life.

Funerals can also teach us something about an important cause or issue. When a friend of mine committed suicide some years ago, the Rabbi took the opportunity to address the taboo around suicide in a way that eased the tension around our friend’s death and changed the way I think of other people who died by the same cause.

At funerals I get connected to all the people whom the deceased and I knew in common. Funerals are social events where you may bump into people you never knew, knew your dear friend or relative. Now I’m bonded with those people more deeply and every time we see each other we reminisce about the person who died, or exchange that knowing smile that we’re richer for having known them.  

A good funeral is a village-making event.

As Stephen Jenkinson says, the mark of a good death is that it’s a village-making event. We believe this to be especially relevant when planning and attending funerals or other end-of-life rituals.

What about you?

How do you want your death to impact your world?