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Attending a Funeral: What’s In It For You?

by Kirk Fox

So many rituals, which bind us together, have fallen by the wayside in our society — and funerals are on the endangered species list.

Q. My elderly aunt just died, and I’m on the fence about attending the funeral. I loved her, but the funeral is far away and will be so depressing. Will it really matter if I don’t go?

The big question is: matter to whom? So many rituals, which bind us together, have fallen by the wayside in our society — and funerals are on the endangered species list. Yet, if we trivialize death or banish it from our thoughts, what is important to our hearts and souls? How do we process loss? I recently faced a decision like yours when a dear cousin of mine died. A physician, he’d lived a long, productive life that was touched with joy and accomplishment — as well as heavy sorrows. I struggled with the question of attending. My siblings opted out. It was a long trip. Yet, in the end, I got on the train — for myself, as well as to honor him. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.


Only you can weigh the pros and cons for yourself. But the following considerations may offer a new perspective. I found that attending the funeral of a beloved family member can:

* Bring back memories that nourish and strengthen you. Their value only grows in this age of technology and text messages.

* Reconnect you with people you haven’t seen in and may have completely lost touch with. There can also be wonder and solace in hearing how others experienced your aunt.

* Enrich your own view of yourself. Seeing my cousin’s children and grandchildren gave me great satisfaction. It felt good to hear about their perspectives and challenges. There was even some networking about job opportunities and grad schools. I found I had something to contribute to them — wisdom, affection, and experience.

* Help you focus on what is important to all of us. This includes who we are and where we came from. My lesson was that life goes on, family history goes on, and we continue.

For me, the trip was worth the time, effort, and expense. I even had a long, fascinating conversation with a relative I’d only exchanged “hellos” with in the past. It turns out that he writes short stories. Who knew? Everyone’s family is different. But are there dividends to attending your aunt’s funeral, too?

Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes and Eulogies. She writes two advice series for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences, which offers advice on death etiquette, and Widow in the World, a blog for bereaved spouses and partners. Have a question for Florence? Send her an email

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