Since the dawn of time, Humankind has used ritual as a way of helping to come to terms with the death of a family member. Examples of this practise can be seen in most Museums around the world. Almost every early grave has examples of grave goods, personal possessions of the deceased, placed with care in the grave with their mortal remains, as part of the ceremony. These rituals probably also had a spiritual element in order to take those participating out of everyday life and give them a feeling of other worldliness. This comes from a deep need within the human psyche to try to explain who we are and where we are. Even some animals display symptoms akin to sadness when a member of their family group dies. Elephants are a good example of this phenomenon.

Rituals were also associated with more tangible solid embodiments of what they were feeling. Using statues and buildings dedicated to the immortal memory of those who had died to show the special part they had played in their lives as a way of remembering them. This is clearly shown in sites around the world, from the Pyramids in Egypt and the Taj Mahal in India to Long Barrows in Wiltshire and the gravestones to be seen in every Country churchyard.

So it has always been and there is still a need today to mark the death of a loved one in a way that will enable those left behind to begin to come to terms with their loss. The most important element in any Funeral is the need to address what those who are grieving are experiencing.

The majority find comfort in abstract concepts of immortality or mortality, their beliefs helping to cushion the shock, following the death of a close friend or family member. But for those who have no strong views either way something else is needed. Up until about 7 years ago it was difficult to bridge the gap for those who had no desire to have a full blown religious or alternatively a Humanist ceremony.

All that changed when severalorganisations began training people to become Civil Funeral Celebrants. Since then other organisations as well as some Councils have been performing a similar role. The idea of celebrating the life of the person who has died, making them centre stage during the whole ceremony and using a hymn or a prayer if that is what the family want has begun to take a hold in the public mind. Giving people more choice and helping those with little interest in religious or non religious beliefs to mark the death of their loved one in a special way.  A Civil Funeral.

Civil Funerals have been commonplace in Australia and New Zealand for some time but there is still a way to go before people in the UK will be asking the FD for this option as a matter of course. It needs people to ask, as many Funeral Directors are very conservative in their outlook, preferring tried and tested methods over newer ideas. The choice of how old do you want the Vicar; Young, Middle Aged or Mature still being the norm with some, but thankfully not the majority of,  Funeral Directors.

Marc Oxley FSBP January 2012



The Importance of Ritual