• "...This person mattered. This life touched me. This person has left their mark on me, that's why I'm there, that's why I'm going.” (Brand X/Getty)Source: Brand X/Getty
I didn't mourn my friend's death and 10 years later, I'm still grieving.
By
Jennifer Morton

21 Jul 2017 - 1:37 PM  UPDATED 29 Nov 2019 - 2:14 PM

I've been to four funerals and three of them were for people I hardly knew. When a close friend died in July 2007, I didn't go to his funeral and I'll forever regret that decision.

To say I was in shock at his sudden death is an understatement. I wrote a poem, which was read at his memorial, but otherwise, I kept my mourning private.

I didn't attend the funeral because it was in New Zealand and I lived in Australia. My family and I had just moved interstate and my husband was in a new job. We both seemed to shut down and pretend it never happened. We didn't talk much about it.

Six months later, I suffered a major panic attack that threw me into hysterics. Since then, I've buried my feelings deep in my soul.

But I've finally realised (the hard way) that a funeral is not just about the deceased person, it's a way to accept the reality of death.

For years since, I've said I won't travel for a funeral; that I would rather visit someone while they're alive, not when they're dead. But I've finally realised (the hard way) that a funeral is not just about the deceased person, it's a way to accept the reality of death.

“All civilisation, since anyone can remember, has had some kind of ritual around honouring their dead,” says Doris Zagdanski, senior manager at Invocare, a collection of funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoria in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. 

“Human beings need to say goodbye. We're not good at just 'nothing'. The funeral itself is for people who are living.”

World Health Organisation estimates that 56 million people around the world died in 2015. That's a lot of mourning and a lot of global grief.

“Human beings need to say goodbye. We're not good at just 'nothing'. The funeral itself is for people who are living.”

Zagdanski, who is also the author of several books on grief, says it's important to attend the funeral of a close friend or relative not only to honour their life and accept their death, but to also connect to others who share your pain.

“It's about the grief, but it's also about the gathering of everyone. It's like-minded people; people that you know are there for the same reason. This person mattered. This life touched me. This person has left their mark on me, that's why I'm there, that's why I'm going.”

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“If you have a dollar or if you have $100,000 you are going to be treated exactly the same.”

I didn't go to my friend's funeral and I've never followed any mourning rituals like the Jewish do during Shivah or like Mexicans do every year on the Day of the Dead. In some European cultures, widows will wear black for the rest of their lives.

When I visited Thailand three months after the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, I saw hundreds of black-clad nationalists and visitors queuing up to enter the Grand Palace to pay their respects. Many Bangkok residents will do this daily for the first year after his death.

“A lot of their culture ties in with their religious rituals. Australian culture is not a religious culture anymore so we don't have a lot of those customs.”

“Cultures who are open and realistic about showing emotions don't just mark the death at the funeral, but they have rituals in their culture where they'll go to the cemetery one month after the death or mark days on the religious calendar,” says Zagdanski.

“A lot of their culture ties in with their religious rituals. Australian culture is not a religious culture anymore so we don't have a lot of those customs.”

There are many different funeral customs around the world but in the end, the sentiment is the same – to accept death; to honour the life gone; to cry your heart out and to connect with others who are grieving the same loss.

Until recently, I said I didn't want a funeral when I die but now I know it's not for me, it's for everyone else. Next time there's a funeral to attend, I'll go. I just hope it's not anytime soon. 

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