Recently I read a piece from NPR that, in a nutshell, suggested we always attend a funeral if at all possible. Not every funeral, of course, but the ones for those we knew in life, or (perhaps especially) the funerals for loved ones of someone we know. Our attendance can mean so much during those occasions. The piece is almost twelve years old but, as with most things these days, nothing truly dies on the Internet. It was resurrected recently on social media, and I read it with interest.
Over the years I have attended funerals and visitations that ran the gamut from sparse to overwhelming attendance. Some funereal proceedings were an odd mix of fire & brimstone religiosity that decided to use the occasion to touch upon seemingly every hot button topic except for the deceased, to ones that were intimately personal ceremonies that provided those present with comfort. memories and closure. I've even been to one where a group of my cousin's peers performed a beautiful rendition of a Boyz II Men song.
Regardless of the style of the funeral, the question at hand is: How important is it to go to one? Before we can answer that, I think it prudent to at least touch upon the age-old question of who a funeral is actually meant for? Is it there to be the final hurrah of the person who has died? Are we going to the ceremony for them? Or is it more for those who were close to the deceased and are now left behind? Or is it both? Personally, I tend to think of it as both. It's a final honor for the dead, and part of the grieving process for those left in their wake.
So, attending a funeral should be done both for those who have died and for who they have left behind. Of course the deceased won't know if you go or not, but then a mark of true respect is to do something whether anyone knows about it or not. As for the impact our attendance has on the living... that is significant. Even if, say, the spouse of the dead person doesn't actually see you there, they will likely appreciate the sheer number of people who showed up, a number which you helped contribute to by going.
When it comes to the actual, face-to-face with a loved one, acknowledged attendance of a funeral, that can mean so much. My father's funeral was almost twenty years ago, and I still remember everyone who was there and said hello. It's not like I keep a running tally of who in my life did and didn't attend. There are no grudges held against those who were not there. But for those who did show up for it, there is always a place in my heart for them. No doubt this is the case for most everyone who has been through such a process.
So, yes, go to the funeral, if you can. If you can't, it's not the end of the world. We all have lives to lead and, sometimes (and with some irony), life gets in the way of a good funeral. A big deal shouldn't be made out of it. Certain people and families choose not to have a funeral at all, though that's another subject entirely.