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What is a funeral? Copy

For thousands of years, funerals have combined the disposal of mortal remains with an event which provides people with a means of expressing their beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the person that has died. Funeral rites are as old as human culture itself,  pre-dating the evolution of Homo sapiens, and there is evidence of funerals dating to at least 300,000 years ago. The disposal of the body alone does not constitute a funeral – it simply meets the environmental health requirements for disposal of a body. All dictionary definitions of a funeral confirm that it includes a ceremony, held shortly after a person’s death, usually including the person’s burial or cremation. For a funeral service to have taken place, it must therefore also meet the needs of the living too.

The author, educator, and grief counsellor Dr Alan Wolfelt established that a funeral service can fulfil a number of important requirements:

  • They provide for the dignified and respectful care of the deceased
  • They help us acknowledge that someone loved has died
  • They allow us to say goodbye
  • They provide a support system (for family and friends of the deceased person)
  • They allow reflection on the meaning of life and death; and
  • offers continuity and hope for the living

Dr Wolfelt developed the ‘Hierarchy of the Purpose of Funerals’ to help us understand the different ways in which funerals meet an important need in society:

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