Funeral rituals: what are the options?

We have rituals for many important events in our life, including death. Traditionally, the church played an important role in this. The deceased was commemorated during a church service – with all the accompanying rituals – and was taken from the church to the final resting place. Secularization has created room for new forms of mourning and commemoration that help us to say farewell. They provide a sense of connection, contribute to grieving and can provide comfort, in the moment and long afterwards.

Speeches, photos and films

More and more funerals are given a personal touch that helps loved ones to commemorate the deceased as he or she was. Examples include speeches in which memories and anecdotes are shared, the playing of music that played a role in the life of the deceased and photos and videos. In this way, the commemoration becomes not only a moment to share grief, but also a celebration of the life of the deceased person.

Ribbon ritual

Ribbons symbolize connection. During the ribbon ritual, one of the ends of the ribbon is placed in the hands of the deceased. When the coffin lid is closed, the other end of the ribbon will hang out of the coffin. The next of kin grasp this, after which it is cut. This is an emotional act, but the symbolic letting go of the deceased can help with processing grief.

Flowers

Flowers can help express what is difficult to put into words. Or they reinforce what you want to say. That is why people often send funeral flowers to relatives of the deceased. But which flowers do you choose? Perhaps flowers that refer to a memory, for example a unique journey that the deceased has made. Or his or her favourite flower or colour. You can also be guided by the meaning of the different flowers. For instance, the rose symbolizes love and the lily, transience.

Rituals after the funeral

After the funeral, relatives often perform rituals to help them process their loss. These symbolic acts help on the one hand to release the deceased emotionally and on the other hand to keep his or her memory alive. For example:

  • placing a photo of the deceased in a special place in the house
  • burning a candle for the deceased
  • visiting the grave or the place where the ashes were scattered
  • carrying something with you that belonged to the deceased
  • planting a remembrance tree
  • creating tangible memories such as a stuffed animal, a commemorative box or a memorial album

Special commemoration days

When you lose a loved one, your memories may be your most valuable asset, as they help keep you connected to the deceased. But how do you commemorate people who are no longer there on special days? All Souls’ Day, traditionally a Catholic ritual, is becoming increasingly popular in the Netherlands. On this day (November 2nd), there are candlelight vigils being held in more and more places, where the deceased are commemorated in a symbolic and respectful way. Lights often play an important role in this. The anniversary of the death is a day to reflect on the deceased, for example by visiting the grave or the place where the ashes were scattered. Relatives will also commemorate their loved one with extra attention on the deceased’s birthday. This can be done, for example, by baking the favourite cake of the deceased or by toasting with his or her favourite drink.

Funeral rituals for children

It is often difficult for young children to understand what ‘being dead’ really means and to express their grief in words. Rituals can help to gently express their feelings so that they can say farewell in a good way. Here are a few examples:

  • decorating the coffin
  • helping to carry the coffin
  • handing out commemoration cards to those present
  • lighting a candle for the deceased
  • placing a drawing or a self-made gift with or in the coffin