7 Reasons to Have a Funeral Reception
It's Natural to Wonder ...
- Is it right to be partying when someone has died?
Is it just an excuse for some free food and booze?”
Aren’t there more important things to spend time, effort and money on at a time like that?
A funeral reception, sometimes referred to a funeral wake or repast, is a gathering attended by family, friends and acquaintances of the deceased person. It normally takes place immediately following the burial or cremation and includes refreshments.
If funeral receptions are alien to you or your culture, rest assured that they can serve a number of important purposes which positively contribute to the saying goodbye process when someone dies (more on this in the seven reasons below).
But yes, some funeral receptions do end up to be very upbeat events, but in itself that needn't be a bad thing - the aim should be for an atmosphere which is interactive, sociable and respectful. Definitely not raucous or disorderly.
That said, if someone is determined to go overboard with their consumption of alcohol, things could get a tad awkward shall we say. But keep in mind that alcohol is an optional extra at a funeral reception, not a necessity. Thus don't feel compelled to provide booze if you don't want to or if the person who has died would not have approved.
And yes, it's true. Funeral receptions do involve a lot of organisation and can be costly when you take into consideration refreshments, venue hire etc but this can be mitigated if you are doing things on a small scale, by having the reception in someone's home, or a church hall and/or by asking family and friends to bring a dish rather than using outside caterers.
As regards effort, although getting things right is a great responsibility, there can also be lasting satisfaction in feeling you are doing one final thing for the person who has passed away and are doing it in a way the deceased would have heartily approved of.
Party With a Purpose
A well thought through and fitting funeral reception does the deceased person justice.
Well first off, a funeral reception allows for a variety of acknowledgements and ways of celebrating the life of the person who has passed that may not be possible at the place of worship or at their final resting place.
For example, at the reception
- a large selection of the deceased favourite type of music/favourite artists and songs can be played throughout
- their certificates, trophies, awards or craftwork can be displayed
- a gallery of photographs can be put on show, or a slideshow of images on a screen, not just of the deceased person, but also including family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances. There can also be photographs depicting the deceased participating in their favour pastimes.
- Refreshments can be served which reflect/include the favourite foods of the person who has passed
- The colour scheme (e.g. flowers, tablecloths, napkins, decorations etc) can be in their favourite hues.
Personal touches and choices such as the above can further serve to remind everyone present about the personal achievements, hobbies and likes of the person who has passed away. One or more of these can also serve as a great conversation starter or ice-breaker at an otherwise awkward time.
"I'm dreading the funeral" is not an uncommon thought amongst the bereft. The funeral day can loom as a very long and daunting one. With the reception atmosphere being less formal than the religious ceremony or when the deceased is finally laid to rest, it gives people the space to finally let go of some of the tension of the day as well as some of the stress arising from the bereavement generally.
In particular at the funeral service close friends and relatives can be overwhelmed with simply keeping composed enough to be able to deliver a reading or eulogy for example. At the graveside or cremation again they may be too overcome and emotional to meaningfully communicate with others. Often it is not until some way into the funeral reception that people are able to let go a little and converse naturally.
Was alcohol available at most of funeral receptions you have attended?
At a formal religious ceremony there may not be enough time for everyone who wishes to make a verbal or musical tribute, read poems etc to do so. Funeral receptions are not nearly as rigidly structured as other events of the day and so thankfully they present an opportunity for additional tributes to be paid as desired.
Another good reason is the funeral reception can give bereaved or hurting family members greater freedom and space to reminisce, share and learn more about their loved one who has died, and to know more about how that person interacted with and/or impacted the lives of others.
This is achieved by exchanging stories, be they sad or funny stories. Even those closest to the person who has passed are likely to hear narratives they have never heard before and stories that they may never have the opportunity to hear again from people they do not usually encounter. Such exchanges can give comfort and enlightenment to all concerned.
When the Individual Silent Reflections Give Way to Relaxed Exchanges
Connection and Re-connection
A polite nod of the head in acknowledgement, a tiny smile or a few words of condolence, as opposed to any deep conversation, is understandably often all that is possible at the place of worship/cemetery.
But the odds are that a funeral reception could be a long overdue family reunion. With families now living further and further afield, at a funeral it’s common to see people who you may not have run into for donkeys years, or perhaps since a previous funeral! At the reception stage of the day, it's heaps easier to meaningfully reconnect, build rapport and catch up on everybody's news as well as commiserate.
Plus the fact is, the funeral reception may be the last chance some friends and acquaintances of the dead person have to mingle with family members of the deceased and just come up and share memories, feelings or a hug. What's more, some friends or colleagues may never have met the family before and on both sides it’s a welcome chance to finally put faces to names they may have heard on the lips of the deceased.
Most likely all who attend the funeral and committal will be verbally thanked for coming by one member of the family or another. However, the provision of food and drink (and again, alcoholic drinks are optional, not compulsory) is another way for the family to thank people for coming, for their kind thoughts, their time and for being a friend, carer or whatever they were to the person who has died.
Moreover, some of those attending may have travelled a long distance in order to pay their last respects. It seems only right to provide them with some sustenance before they make their return journey. Even if someone has travelled only a short distance, at a funeral reception refreshments help us to nurture and sustain ourselves at a difficult time.
Supporting the Process
For some bereaved people the events of the day can be so overwhelming that they pass the day in something of a daze and so having a Guest Book or Book of Condolences can be a treasured aide memoir, keepsake and comfort.
In the writer's experience simply leaving such a book on a table at the venue often means that only a limited number of people notice it. Plus even if they do see it, if someone else is writing in it at the time, later they forget to come back to make an entry.
Therefore it is recommended to designate a couple of people to take turns to be responsible to pass the book around to as many guests as possible at the funeral reception. Those tasked with this mission can prompt people to share a fond, funny or moving memory or simply write a line or two to say what they will miss most about the person who has passed. Attendees can also be prompted to leave contact details - this helps with sending "thank yous" following the funeral. Not many guest books have verses or poems included but in the writer's opinion, the presence of them in this particularly is a welcome addition. unique funeral guest book
When someone dies, the necessary saying goodbye, closure and healing process can be eased somewhat by collectively vocalising and acknowledging that in this life we will never again see the person who has passed away, and that life must move on without them. Sad thoughts and fears are more freely aired and shared at the reception, and we all know the saying – a problem shared is a problem halved.
That said, in paying their last respects, no one in attendance will be able to make everything right or bring the deceased person back but for many their attendance is their way of expressing to those who are bereft - I’m here for you if there is anything at all I can do to help at this arduous and most challenging time. At a time of great emotional pain, the bereaved can be sustained somewhat or considerably by heartfelt, personally delivered unhurried words of support.
Like any social gathering, organising a Funeral Reception can be a colossal chore. Getting one organised at a point when the bereft are not likely to be at their best emotionally, to say the very least, is no mean feat and great help, co-operation and support all round are called for.
But think about it this way - by showcasing and celebrating the deceased person's achievements and personality, not to mention all the other reasons detailed on this page, a funeral reception is most certainly worth all the effort. Little-wonder it's a tradition which has stood the test of time across many cultures.
© 2017 Sonia Sylart