You had a funeral for a loved one. Was it a social necessity, or was it for your benefit?

My parents are now quite old and not in great health. I’m pretty sure they won’t be around in ten years, and may not be around in five.

I’m struggling to imagine what that transition will be like. a funeral or memorial service of some kind seems to be a common social custom, but I can’t see myself wanting to do that. When I lose my parents, I don’t imagine I will want to be around friends and family; I will be unable to speak or see straight, and I think I would much rather work through my grief alone.

Have you lost a close family member? Parent, sibling, child? Did you hold a funeral where you invited friends and extended family? If so, did you want to hold a funeral, or did you feel like you were obligated to do so? Was it ultimately helpful for you, or did you spend the occasion being polite while you silently wished everyone would just go away so you could be alone while you cried your eyes out?

I have to say, up until my father died, I thought funerals were ridiculous and barbaric (why are we looking at a dead body??). But, my mother was a very well-known and popular person in our small town, and at the visitation there were hundreds of people who came to express their sympathy to her. Some of them didn’t really know my dad, as he was a very quiet guy who let my mom go out and socialize. But I have to say, somewhere in the midst of that long evening of shaking hands with people, I found myself very comforted by the whole thing. It was really for my mom, and I was glad she had so many people who cared about her. But it was comforting. So you might surprise yourself by finding it a good thing. And as far as all the customs around the funeral, in a way it was good to have stuff to do, like writing thank-you cards. Staying busy helps as you’re getting through those first few days.

I guess I’m saying, don’t write the whole thing off; there are some good things about these customs.

My dad died in 2006. He stated that he didn’t want a funeral or a grave.

We had him cremated and spread his ashes along his favourite walking path.

Weeks later we held a remembrance party at the golf club, with drinks and snacks. Way, WAY better than the whole funeral schtick. These are my wishes when I die too.

I think you’re excluding an important alternate option, which is that a funeral is a opportunity for all the other people who loved and cared about the decedent to come together and grieve.

Sending flowers is a social custom. I don’t think the act of sending them means a lot to very many people. But for lots of people, seeing the body or even just an urn, commiserating with friends and family, and even comforting the children is genuinely important. I think it’s a big error to chalk that up to social custom.

To be frank, I think it’s a little selfish to deny everyone else who loved your parents the chance to mourn together simply because you’d prefer to be alone.

Incidentally, my father got very ill when I was 20 and for years I dreaded the possibility of having to give a eulogy or otherwise perform when he died. I happen to like public speaking but I knew I’d be very upset. I was relieved how little I had to do.

I was 15 when my father died, unexpectedly, following a very short bout with pneumonia.

He was not a flashy guy, and his religious beliefs were closer to Jewish than modern-day Christian, so he believed that when he died, he had no more consciousness–no “soul” that would be aware of anything, or watching down on us, or anything like that. He’d remarked many times over the years that when he died, we could just throw his body in a ditch for all he cared.

My mother and I wanted to respect his beliefs and wishes as best we could, and did not really want a traditional funeral, with a bunch of people filing by an open casket, gawking. We knew that, to daddy, it was all over. So, while we didn’t buy the least expensive casket available, we bought the 2nd cheapest. We didn’t purchase a fancy headstone; daddy was always proud of his time in the Navy and we thought he’d prefer the stone the DoD provides to veterans.

Enter my half-sister.

She’s 24 years older than I am, with a different belief structure. She wanted almost all of the opposite things. Big funeral, elaborate casket and stone. While daddy had remarked lots of times how he’d like to be buried on our property, at the top of the hill, my sister wanted to buy a plot in the local cemetery. She hadn’t lived with the man in two decades, and argued just about every point–how it was “disrespectful” to forgo a funeral service, or to not buy the top-of-the-line casket and vault.


As much as I could at 15, I put my foot down. As a compromise, I allowed for my sister to set up a visitation at the funeral home, which was open casket. I also allowed for a very short graveside service (which was on our property, at the top of the hill) conducted by the local Masonic lodge, as he was a Mason, and his boss/friend at work was able to participate as well.

I held firm on the headstone; for a lineman who wore no jewelry except for cheap watches, I wouldn’t allow a gaudy headstone. And we buried him in his work clothes and boots, because the man hated suits and ties.

The only decision I regret is the open casket at visitation. If my sister felt the need to see the body, I think she should have done that in private. Cadavers never really look like the person you knew, and I’d had my moment with ‘him’ in the hospital room just after he died, so seeing the corpse in the funeral home didn’t help much.

She and I, after a year-long legal battle over the estate, no longer speak.


My best friend just lost his 5-year-old daughter to Tay-Sachs disease. They chose to forgo any sort of funeral or service and simply have her cremated. A “possible” memorial service may happen in the future, but they are both still so angry and hurt that they just can’t do it at this point. My buddy in particular can’t stand anyone saying those classic things like “she’s in a better place,” or “God has a plan for everything.”

So, ultimately, I think it’s up to the survivors–there’s no right or wrong answer.

I’ve made explicit in my own will that I do not want a funeral service, nor anyone but close family (if they so choose) to gawk at my corpse.

holding a memorial weeks or months later is an option.

just getting funeral over with before financial and legal issues are completed can be a benefit.

Funerals are terrible, terrible things. Visitations and viewing a dead corpse are even worse.

What in the loving fuck is the point of embalming someone so you can look at their dead fucking body for a few days. Jesus Christ. Incinerate me immediately. Spread my ashes on a golf course and hold a party. Hoist a few drinks. Tell some stories about me. Do not mourn me. I don’t want to be remembered like that; I want to be remembered for my love of life and my exuberance. Get drunk and have a good time.

Yep. Buried both parents.
Nope. Regular funeral.
I didn’t feel ‘obligated,’ but, in my opinion, funerals are for the living. The dead obviously don’t care. Get together with people you haven’t seen in a long time and swap stories. My experience with funerals for family members is prety consistent: Somber moods during the services and with the visitation (if there is one). Then getting together at someone’s house or a nearby restaurant afterwards and just have a ball catching up. Obviously, EMWV (Everyone’s mileage will vary).

I come from an Irish Catholic background. It was always a given that a wake would be held, then a funeral mass, then a burial blessing. Usually after the burial, we would all head to someones house for light snacks and quiet conversation.

I really never got the whole reason for this, and in time neither did my Mom.

I just lost my Mom this past November. She did not want a wake (nor do I) so I did not give her one. I had a very small prayer service near the burial site. Then we went to the site, and the Pastor said some kind words, and that was it for the service.

Afterwards, my siblings just wanted to grab a cold cut platter and head to my brothers house. I was in charge of the little money my Mom had saved to give us a little bit when she passed (around $1000.00 ea). I took the money, rented a beautiful hall in a nice restaurant. It was right down the street from where my Mom lived.

I had a good friend set up the place. Beautiful color tableclothes, and a beautiful flower arrangement for each table. I had lunch catered in for everyone who came, as well as deserts. Being that I am Irish (and secretely to piss my other siblings off), I hired a bartender, and had open bar. There were pictures of my Mom all around.

I honestly had a great time at the lunch. It was casual, the food was great, and having a couple of cocktails helped too. By the end of the luncheon, all my Moms friends and relatives left happy, with only good memories of saying farewell to my Mom.

I am so happy I was able to do this. I would suggest doing what your parent would truly want to be done. If you are not sure, have a luncheon or a memorial dinner.

When my baby son died, we just had close friends come to our house. It was good and it helped give some structure during the time between when he died and was cremated.

Funerals & memorials are obviously for the living, but IMO they are an important step in the grieving process. They give the survivors a chance to say goodbye and to share memories.

Unless your parents have expressly forbidden any kind of service, I think it’s a good idea. You might be surprised how much it comforts you, and you’ll still have plenty of time to be alone.

I am not a fan of open caskets, but I knew a funeral home director who really believed that seeing your loved one was an important step in the grieving process and getting “closure.” He always recommended a private viewing even if the casket wasn’t to be open at the service.

As always funerals, memorial services, etc. are for the living, not the dead. If it helps those left behind grieve and remember those that have past, they should do whatever will help them regardless of what the deceased wanted. And for those of us that have lost someone, we should also remember, that even if it is our own parents, there are others that are grieving as well, other family, friends, co-workers, etc. It’s easy to be selfish and only do what we want, but we should also be respectful of the other people that your deceased were important to as well.

My brother in law died at 47 of cancer. My husband and mother in law fought me over having a funeral - they didn’t think he wanted it (later, we found instructions for his funeral, he did want it, but that was later).

Here is the thing - he died, and suddenly people bought plane tickets to come for the funeral. Like MANY people did the “about three days” calculation in their head and told us when they’d be in town. Now, they are coming into town to pay their respects to the family (not the body) - and those in town want to do the same. They need to do SOMETHING and showing up at a wake/funeral/visitation gives them a way to check that off their list. The other option is having them swing by your house for months - or you can get most of it over with in a day or two.

We had 300 people come for the reception. Some didn’t even know my brother in law - but they knew my husband, or my mother in law, or his girlfriend, or even me - and they needed to say “I’m so very sorry.” For some of them, that was adequate closure - others are still grieving (my husband and mother in law will never completely stop).

There were other gatherings - friends meeting in bars, or over dinner. Concerts (he was a musician) and jam sessions - but there wasn’t another place for the parents of the friends he’d had since junior high to stop by and give my mother in law a hug. These are the people for whom its really important that the death be acknowledged or marked - but aren’t comfortable swinging by the house of someone they haven’t seen in decades.

For me, its not the actual funeral service itself, but having friends and family get together to share fond memories of the deceased. Maybe standing around staring at a corpse seems macabre to many people on the SDMB, but I’ve observed that in the real world, its something really important to people.

Weddings and funerals seem to get a lot of flack here, and its like theres this groupthink belief that nobody really WANTS to do these traditional things. However talking with people I’ve found that they often are very meaningful to quite a few people.

In my wife’s family, they have a very large and very tight knit family. This means that funerals often include hundreds of mourners; even a distant relative was someone well known and loved. I’ve been to a few Funerals for relatives of my wife that I never met, and it her family was tremendously grateful to have my presence.

Funerals of the elderly, especially, are often the last time you see whole branches of a family. Not because anyone hates anyone or is dysfunctional or anything, but just because the joint that held the two is gone. I am very grateful for the chance to see people one last time.

To answer the title question, it’s both. Having the outpouring of love and making contact with old friends, relatives, neighbours, etc. in a socially acceptable way is good for you. The structure doesn’t matter, it does help to have something to allow everyone to mourn at once instead of dragging it out over weeks or months, that’s the social benefit.

My parents are still among the living, though since they’re both in their late 80s and in poor health, the time is coming when my sisters and I will have to deal with all this stuff.

My father has many friends, and those who are still alive when he passes will want to mark his passing and commemorate his life in some way. Of course we will give them an opportunity to come together as we say goodbye to him, and after his body is lowered into the earth, we will have somewhere to invite everyone to, with food and drink and plenty of time to swap stories about my dad.

The funeral will of course be solemn; the get-together afterwards will be one hell of a party. (My dad would expect nothing less.) I’m sure that, on that day, I will hear stories about my father that I’d never heard before. I will also be glad of a last chance to see many of his friends that I am fond of, knowing that there are some among them that I may never see again.

Same basic deal with my mom, though her circle of friends is considerably smaller (my parents went their separate ways about 40 years back), the after-funeral party is likely to be considerably quieter, and the stories less interesting. (Though there’s one of her contemporaries who can still drink much younger men under the table, and he’d damn well better show, to liven up the party.)

There are really a very limited number of occasions when you can bring together the people from all different parts of your life who’ve meant something to you. Unfortunately, one of them happens when you’re not around to enjoy it. But there’s no reason why the occasion should be denied to everyone else who knew you.

I’ve never been in a position to organize one by myself, and I wouldn’t assume you would find it helpful. But I think you’re being too quick to assume it wouldn’t help you. It’s an obligation, but it can also help you feel supported during a really difficult time. And you can have a memorial event without it being a funeral as such. When my brother died in 2010, we didn’t have a funeral, but we had a very large public gathering. It was very emotional, somewhat fun, and felt right to everybody. We didn’t do very much when my grandmother died more recently, partly because my grandfather was in bad shape and wouldn’t have been up to it. She was cremated, there was a big gathering at their house, and we scattered her ashes about a year later. When my grandfather died we had a brief burial ceremony and that was it. None of those were wrong or felt inappropriate to me.

My mother died after a long and ugly battle with cancer. We didn’t particularly want to go through the emotional wringer of a funeral, but had a short but dignified service.

My father died suddenly ten years later and we were actually glad to have a service to tie things up and let everyone express their surprise that he died so suddenly.

Maybe you won’t want to be around other people, and maybe you will.

My dad died years ago. He did not want a funeral, but my sister insisted. I did not attend. Recently my mother died (I am now an orphan). She also did not want a funeral. Again, my sister insisted and again I did not attend.

The few funerals I have been pressured into attending left me with the hideous memory of the dead body on display.