It is often said, funerals are for the living, the dead no longer need anything. Funerals, wakes, and other cultural forms of communal grieving are all essential elements in helping individuals grieve the loss of a loved one. It is a coming together where individuals can express sympathy and acknowledge the loss. Research shows that cultures that emphasize communal grieving usually have far less prolonged grief disorders when the loss itself is not complicated.
Hence, funerals and wakes play a critical role in the bereavement process for the living. While religious beliefs hold firm that these events are also spiritual and prayers are offered for the dead in the afterlife, the psychological implications of mental health for the living are obvious and clear. The article, “Funerals: Study shows Irish wakes may help more with grief” by Matt Fox looks at how such communal events during grief help a higher percentage of individuals avoid complications in grief. In regards to Irish wakes and grieving, he states,
The authors of the research, which has been published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. said that “cultural differences with regard to death may be an explanatory factor” to the reduced levels of the disorder in Ireland. “For example, in Ireland, it is customary to hold a wake (i.e., social gathering prior to a funeral) during which family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and acquaintances can come to pay their respects and support the bereaved,” the authors said.”
“Funerals: Study shows Irish wakes may help more with grief”. Fox, M. (2023). BBC News.
To read the entire article, please access here
On the surface one may only spiritual needs of the deceased being met. From a religious standpoint, prayers are offered for the deceased. In Christianity, a solemn service of memorial and prayers is completed after prior to burying with ritual prayers said at the grave site. Other Christian denominations, such as Catholicism, offers a Funeral Mass for the soul of the deceased as well. In other cultures, days of prayer are also offered. In Hinduism, there are a series of days with various rituals to prepare the soul for the transmigration into the afterlife in finding a new vessel. So the importance of the funeral and wake are still very spiritual for the deceased, but again from a psychological standpoint, the memorial of life, the gathering, and the funeral itself is very much for the living.
In various cultures, intense periods of grieving are granted to the deceased. Within Judaism, there is a series of days of grieving assigned for the family. Other cultures have similar days of mourning. Some cultures have very loud and mournful events where crying and waling is encouraged, while other cultures remain more reserved. As seen above, the Irish themselves offer a wake prior to the funeral instead of merely after it. The article by Fox, emphasizes the importance of how communal events that emphasize grief outwardly and permit individuals to express it are far more healthy in the long run. Cultures, as well as individuals families, that express grief communally and come together have a far less chance of experiencing prolonged grief or even depression.
The Wake and Funeral
The wake and funeral is not only an expression of sadness for the entire family and a social expression of it, but it also aids the family in accepting the reality. Many individuals may be in denial. The funeral, calling hours, or wake give these individuals the ability to witness and come to terms with the reality of the death. The funeral itself is the exclamation mark of the true end of one’s earthly life. It verifies, it seals and ends all debate. The person is no longer with us. This permits individuals to accept but also find consolation with others in expressing the grief and pain.
In addition, the communal event permits others to cry together and to be there for each other. Instead of grieving alone, one finds solace with others. Others who may be experiencing a harder time are given the care and attention they need at the funeral. The mutual support benefits all parties involved. While its fine to celebrate the life of the deceased, it is important not to negate the mourning aspect with an overt toxic positivity. Many events celebrate and remember. Remembrance is definitely part of it. It is also an important part of the entirety of the process in accepting the death.
It also gives recognition to the person. It shows the love for that person. This creates a sense of happiness in a way to see how many loved the deceased. It can give comfort to the mourning that their closest loved one was treasured and loved by so many. It is good to see how the deceased was so beneficial and important to so many other people. This is especially beautiful for veterans, when the flag covers the casket and the shots are fired to the sound of a trumpet.
Funerals are for the Everyone
The misnomer that children should not attend a funeral is finally being dismissed as a myth. Children should also be able to express their grief and witness the finality of a person’s life during a wake and funeral. They can express their feelings, witness the finality, say goodbye, and share their feelings with others. It is an excellent example of life for children to be at a family members funeral.
Funerals again capture the finality of death and help others come to grips, find consolation, and the ability to move forward. For those closest to the deceased, funerals are the first step to a long bereavement. Those not as attached may shed a moment of sadness, but they are able to proceed in life well after the funeral, but for those closest to the deceased, the funeral is only the start of accepting the lost. It helps, but it far from heals the open wound.
Funerals and wakes are key to healthy bereavement. While some families may prefer to postpone it, the event itself, according to studies, helps prevent many prolonged grief disorders. They are mostly important for those who attend to come to grips with the loss. The social setting helps others grieve together.
Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification, as well as its Funeral Associate Certification. Both programs are online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification.
“Understanding the 6 Purposes of a Funeral”. Hospice Basics. Access here
“Should We Celebrate Funerals?”. Doka, K. (2021). Psychology Today. Access here
“Psychologist On Why Funerals Are Fundamental To Processing Grief”. Kelly, M, Doubek, J. (2020). NPR. Access here
“The Primary Emotional Purposes of a Funeral or Memorial”. Friedman, R. (2014). Psychology Today. Access here