If you’ve been to a funeral for a close friend or family member, you know that attending a large gathering when you’re in deep grief can feel stressful, rather than helpful. Friends and family come to a funeral to pay their respects and show their support, but it can be hard to connect with people when you feel like a deer in the headlights.  

The intensity of emotion you need to process after a loved one’s death can leave you so overwhelmed that you’re not able to receive the healing the funeral has to offer. 

A funeral is not a grief ceremony for the family. It’s not a place for raw grief or the kind of stunned disbelief that can follow a death. When you’re feeling emotionally raw, or if you still can’t believe that the person is gone, a funeral may feel more like a stressful obligation than a healing ritual.  

If you have to push down your feelings and put on a façade of functionality in order to ‘make it through’ a funeral, it means that you’re not emotionally prepared for it. You haven’t had enough of the right kind of time and support to begin to integrate the loss. You’re still in shock. And if your nervous system is flooded, it’s almost impossible to let anything else in.
Body and soul move at different speed. It takes time to adjust to such a big change in your life and even, though your body can be participating in the funeral, part of your soul might still be back at the deathbed.

Unless you’ve caught up, and really come to terms with the fact that your person is gone, you can’t be present for the funeral. Your system just has nowhere for the experience to land. The ceremony will be a blur, and you won’t remember who was there or what they said.

It’s a lost opportunity for healing. But it doesn’t have to be that way.  

In my experience, what serves families best in this situation, is a series of smaller, more intimate rituals, starting immediately after the death, and leading up to the funeral. These rituals help people adjust to the loss slowly, and provide them with an safe space to grieve in private until they’re ready to grieve in public.
With my death doula clients, we’ll do a first ritual at the bedside, just after a death. Then another one as close family members start arriving in town. We might do a ceremony at the crematorium. Depending on the family size and situation, we may do two or three other rituals before the funeral.

If families have this kind of a series of graduated rituals immediately after the death, by the time they get to the funeral, they’ve had the chance to integrate. The death will have landed a bit for them, and they’ll be able to receive what the funeral has to offer them.
The days between a death and the funeral have profound spiritual significance. If you know how to meet this time well, deep healing is possible.