The Purpose of Funerals

When we experience the death of someone we love, a funeral service fills several important needs.

  • Funerals helps us acknowledge that someone we love has died.
  • Funerals allow us to say goodbye.
  • Funerals offer continuity and hope for the living.
  • Funerals provide a support system for us, friends, family members and the community.
  • Funerals allow us to reflect on the meaning of life and death.

Hierarchy of the Purpose of Funerals

Funerals have been with us since the beginning of human history because they help us move from life before death to life after death. Review the titles below to learn more about how funerals help begin the healing process.


  • Transcendence
    Ultimately, funerals help us embrace the wonder of life and death.
  • Meaning
    Funerals mark the significance of the life that was lived. They also help us find meaning and purpose in our continued living, even in the face of loss.
  • Expression
    Funerals allow us to express our inner thoughts and feelings about the life and the death.
  • Support
    Funerals bring together people who care about each other in an atmosphere of love and support.
  • Recall
    Funerals encourage us to remember the person who died and share our unique memories with others, creating hope for the future.
  • Reality
    Funerals help us begin to truly acknowledge the reality that someone in our life has died.

A Funeral Will Help You To...

A funeral service pays special tribute to the person’s life. Among its purposes, it helps us acknowledge the death, remember the life and activate support during this naturally difficult time.

The funeral service helps survivors face the reality of death, which is the first big step toward taking grief from the inside and allowing us to express it on the outside through mourning.

A funeral gives friends and relatives an opportunity to express the love and respect they feel for someone who was important to them. Often, just seeing how much others care can help a family adjust to their loss.

For thousands of years, funerals have been a means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings. It helps us acknowledge that someone we love has died and allows us to say goodbye.

Download the funeral planning checklist to help create a meaningful funeral.

The Importance of Funeral Rituals

Rituals are symbolic experiences that help us, together with our families and friends, express our deepest thoughts and feelings about life’s most important events. For example, birthday parties honor the passing of another year in life. Weddings publicly affirm the private love shared by two people.

What do all rituals have in common?

    • Rituals Unite Us
      Typically public events, families, friends, church members, villages, even nations create and enact rituals. It’s a way of providing a support system for common beliefs and values.
    • Rituals Help Us Feel at Ease
      Most rituals follow an established, specific procedure. The details will change, but the general pattern remains recognizable. The predictability of rituals helps participants feel at ease.
    • Rituals Help Us Express Our Feelings
      The symbol of ritual provides a means to express our beliefs and feelings when language alone will not do those beliefs and feelings justice. Wedding rings, christening gowns and gold watches all symbolize important life transitions and commitments. Not just the objects, but the very acts of ritual are symbolic as well.

Like all rituals, the funeral ritual, is a public, traditional and symbolic means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of someone loved.

A Funeral Helps Start You on the Path to Healing

Six Steps Along Your Grief Journey

While your grief journey will be unique, all mourners have certain needs that must be met if they are to heal. Though these needs are numbered one through six below, they are not intended to serve as orderly steps on the road to healing. Instead, you will find yourself bouncing back and forth from one to the other, and maybe even working on one or two simultaneously.

Acknowledge the reality of the death

Move toward the pain of the loss

Continue the relationship through memories

Develop a new self-identity

Search for Meaning

Continue to receive support from others

Funeral Misconceptions

There are a number of misconceived thoughts about funerals. Here are some that should be considered and addressed when planning a funeral.

  • Funerals make us too sad.
    When someone we love dies, we need to be sad. Funerals provide us with a safe place in which to embrace our pain.
  • Funerals are inconvenient.
    Taking a few hours out of your week to demonstrate your love for the person who died and your support for survivors is not an inconvenience, but a privilege.
  • Funerals and cremation are mutually exclusive.
    A funeral (with or without the body present) may be held prior to cremation. Embalmed bodies are often cremated.
  • Funerals are only for religious people.
    Non-religious ceremonies are also appropriate and healing.
  • Funeral should reflect what the loved one wanted.
    Maybe not…While the wishes of the person who died should be respected, funerals are primarily for the benefit of the living.
  • Funerals are only for adults.
    Anyone old enough to love is old enough to mourn. Children, too, should have the right and the privilege to attend funerals.

Creating Meaningful Funeral Ceremonies: A Guide for Families

This compassionate, friendly workbook affirms the importance of the personalized funeral ritual and helps families create a ceremony that will be both healing and meaningful for years to come. Designed to complement the role of the clergy, celebrant and funeral director in the funeral planning process, A Guide for Families walks readers through the many decisions they will make at the time of a death.