Most funerals formally come to an end when the mourners gather to share food and drink, and to talk about the person who died. These gatherings, or receptions, can take place anywhere, including the funeral home, a church meeting room, a restaurant, or at a home of a friend or family member.
At the gathering, a natural “telling of the stories” of the person’s life and death takes place. This helps mourners once again acknowledge the reality and finality of death and recall the person who died.
Giving expression to the pain of the loss is another central need of mourning that the reception helps facilitate. All thoughts and feelings are welcome at the gathering. People often laugh and hug one another, offering each other support. While there are often tears, the mood may begin to evolve into a sense of peace and a soothing of souls, imbuing the funeral with meaning.
Often, people look different at the reception than they did during the other parts of the funeral. They are often more relaxed, less tense. They may even seem joyful.
Memory tables at the reception also help capture the personality of the person who died and the unique relationships he or she had. Some families enjoy continuing to show PowerPoint slide shows or memory videos. This is another way of personalising the reception and often inspires reflection on the life of the person who died. Special food items may be served to recognise and share the culture, traditions, or the favourite food of the person who died.
Before they leave the reception, mourners often make plans to see each other again or to reach out in various ways to help the family. This reminds people of the need to continue to be present to each other in the weeks, months, and years ahead.
Sometimes families are reluctant to have a reception because they are concerned about additional costs or unsure whether anyone will come. But receptions are valuable for everyone, and food and beverages can be kept simple. The funeral home will be able to give advice on this.
What is really important is that the reception affords the opportunity to bond with other mourners.
(Adapted from ‘Educating the Families You Serve about the WHY of the Funeral’ by Alan Wolfelt, PhD)
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