Create a Healing Funeral with These Four “Rs”

Has anyone in your family told you “Don’t have a funeral for me when I’m gone?" People who make such requests are really doing a disservice to the people who love them. Humans need rituals to mark life cycle events, the “matchings, hatchings, and dispatchings” of our fleeting days on Earth.

As lifelong funeral director and author Thomas Lynch wrote in his book The Undertaking, “Just as we declare the living alive through baptisms, lovers in love by nuptials, funerals are the way we close the gap between the death that happens and the death that matters. It’s how we assign meaning to our little remarkable histories.”

How do we structure a healing funeral? Include these four R’s in the structure of the service and use these as a guide towards a “good goodbye” – Recognize Reality, Remember, Reaffirm, and Release.

The Four "R"s

Recognize Reality

The bereavement process starts with the recognition and declaration that someone has died. Lynch describes the need to have a shaman or learned person declare, “Behold, I show you a mystery.” The reading of a published obituary often functions as the “recognize reality” role at a funeral, so the writing of this announcement should be done with loving care.


Storytelling is a major part of remembering. Eulogies, open comments, and the sharing of prose written by the deceased can be employed. This part of the service offers the opportunity to express emotion, both in laughter and tears. Remembrances can also be sparked by memorial displays of items that characterize the deceased.


When we reaffirm beliefs, it helps community cohesion in the face of loss. At a memorial service for a former Catholic turned atheist, the son was at a bit of a loss as to what to say about his dad’s whereabouts in the hereafter. “He may or may not be looking down at us,” was what came out.


At the end of a funeral or memorial service, a farewell statement that sends the deceased’s spirit on his or her way helps bring a measure of release for the living. A release statement allows the living to travel down a separate path from their beloved dead.

Why do we hold such rituals? Psychologists give a number of good reasons, some of which seem superstitious:

  • When the dead are dispatched with the proper amount of ceremony, they won’t come back to haunt the living.
  • The support of one’s community is important. This is why some churches and all synagogues read the names of the dead at the anniversary of the death.
  • Funerals and memorial services provide a measure of structure in a time of confusion.

One more R to consider: No Regrets

If you died tomorrow, would you die with no regrets? Have you done everything you’ve ever wanted to do? Stop putting off joy and celebrate the wonder of each and every day. Do the things you love to do. After all, we really don’t know which day will be our last day in this lifetime.

Then if you tell your family “Don’t have a funeral for me when I’m gone,” they will cheerfully ignore your request and celebrate your life anyway.


Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death™, is author of the award-winning book A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. A Certified Funeral Celebrant, she helps start funeral planning conversations with a light touch on a serious subject. She hosts the TV program A Good Goodbye and is a popular speaker who uses humor and funny films in her talks. Her website is

January 18, 2015

By Gail Rubin