People think and converse about many different subjects including their profession, events in their daily lives, their plans for the future, current local and world events, and people they know; just to name a few. However, unless one has recently attended a funeral for a loved one or acquaintance, death is a topic that many people would prefer not to think about or discuss. They may feel flustered by the thought of death itself, the process for handling a body after death, and managing personal feelings of loss.
Funerals and other rituals surrounding the death of a loved one or acquaintance play an important role in many cultures. The National Funeral Directors Association (www.nfda.org) has identified the following benefits of a traditional funeral:
- Assists in taking the first steps in the grief process by reinforcing the reality of death
- Offers an opportunity to express feelings of grief
- Encourages sharing of memories that celebrate and validate the life of the deceased
- Provides support from friends and family and acknowledges the loss within the community
- Creates a forum to share spiritual values and beliefs
- Allows mourners a structured activity or “something to do” during a disorienting time
- Serves as a rite of passage and important social ritual
- More than just a service for the person who has died, a funeral is for the loved ones who are left behind. Participating in a funeral can be a therapeutic act that actually starts the healing process.
Business services related to funerals are regulated by the government. To be a funeral director, most states require at least a high school diploma, two years of college (part of which is in funeral service education), passage of a licensing exam, and an internship. Continuing education may also be required. In Pennsylvania, contracts and financial arrangements for funeral services can only be legally authorized by licensed funeral directors, and PA licensing requirements include 60 college credits plus mortuary college, passage of a licensing exam, a one year apprenticeship after education is completed, and 6 hours of continuing education every 2 years. The Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association website (www.pfda.org) offers verification of a funeral director’s license.
Funeral directors provide a variety of services in order to appropriately meet the needs of not only the deceased individual, but grieving loved ones as well. They may include responsibility and care of the deceased’s body, notification of important contacts, placement of an obituary in the newspaper, arrangements for religious or memorial services, some or all details related to burial or cremation, and many more. The list of decisions to be made and details to be managed is extensive, and can be overwhelming for loved ones during a time of grieving. Although considering one’s own death may be unsettling, pre-planning for some of these details will relieve a portion of the burden from your loved ones, and help prevent potential decisions and actions which you might find objectionable.
Karen Kaslow, RN