Death: A Public and Private Event

Death is a public as well as a private event.

The loss of a loved one, companion, friend is of course very personal, evoking deep and varied emotions. But it is also an event that stretches beyond the immediate family and friends and at a funeral or memorial service it takes on a public aspect.

In this public setting the words that are spoken tend to be quite formal, holding together some sense of order amid the chaos of private loss, as well as giving voice to the thanks for a life well lived. The words seek to convey both the feelings that it might be difficult for individuals to express in such a setting and also the comfort and consolation that the story of faith and the tradition of religious belief offer to those who are bereaved. Such words are not simply plasters to smother the wounds of loss but they are there to express the reality of grief and pain, while also speaking of comfort and hope that goes beyond this moment and beyond ourselves. The funeral, as a public event, is therefore a very important and significant point in a person’s and community’s time of grief. It gives public expression to what is deeply personal.

While a funeral will often have personal tributes to the one who has died and family members may express their thanks and their loss, it is not usually the occasion for expressing those deeply felt personal agonies of guilt and loss, despair and anger than can haunt the grief of an individual. Yet these powerful and disturbing feelings also need expressing and it is most likely that, if done at all, it will be in private.