Throughout history, humans have used ceremony to mark special achievements and losses in their lives. Even though the exact traditions can vary due to location, religious and cultural differences, all peoples have felt the need to come together to reflect upon these life milestones.
Though most of these events are happy occasions, one very different and unique life changing experience is the death of a loved one. Most psychologists and sociologist agree that there is a deep seeded psychological need for people to come together when a member of their family or community has died. Not only do they need to express their grief with a public display of sadness, but they also need to have the opportunity to console those around them.
The world is a different place once a loved one has died, and family members, friends and the community need to shift their roles accordingly. Many will notice how one child often takes charge of the funeral planning after a parent has died. This redistribution of responsibility is directly related to the shift in guidance available after a role model (such as a parent) is no longer available to provide their wisdom.
Whatever role the person who died may have fulfilled – a leader, a comforter, a comedian, that role will likely be filled within the family landscape by another member. The funeral or memorial service is often one of the first public events in which the family members can begin to accept and embody their new roles and responsibilities. Many times, these changes are so subtle that they are barely noticeable, but are critical to helping those close to the deceased as they begin their journey through grief.
People also feel comfort in clinging to tradition in the wake of a tragedy. Every death is a major tragedy in the lives of those family members and friends with whom they were closely bonded. The familiar tributes that have been experienced by a community over time can help to begin the healing process so that life can eventually return to a new normal.