That is a complicated question. The purpose of all ceremonies is to mark events in the lives of people and communities. Weddings mark new families; baptisms and bar mitzvahs welcome children and adolescents into society. Death marks the end of life. Students of human behavior tell us that ceremonies for saying goodbye have existed as long as man. The funeral acknowledges that a life has been lived. People express their feelings about life through ceremony. 

Funerals today come in all shapes and sizes, and that is OK. Many people have chosen to move away from the traditional funeral in favor of something that more accurately reflects the nature of the person who has passed away. Often people choose to use the opportunity to celebrate the life of the person who has died. he point of a funeral is to remember the person for who they were, and what is important is that the living have a chance to say goodbye and to grieve. 

Funerals are important to the survivors because they provide a socially accepted way for people to come together at a central point to show support for the grieving family. Many people welcome social support and going to a visitation or funeral is an important way to show someone that you care, both for them and for their loved one.

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    As part of my doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, when information on grief, bereavement, death and dying was scarce, some colleagues and I began group work with the bereaved. Out of that work grew interviews with widowers, training with funeral workers, clergy, social workers, hospice and medical personnel. 

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    Copyright 2013, Dr. Donald Steele, Ph.D.
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