Doves for Funerals: Everything You Need to Know

How we choose to say goodbye when a loved one passes away is deeply personal, and for many of us, ritual is a means of finding comfort. From lighting a candle by our loved one’s photograph to planting a tree in their honour, no matter our religious beliefs, the actions we take to connect with those who have left us tend to be full of symbolism – and releasing doves during a funeral is no exception.

Why do people release doves at funerals?

People release doves at funerals as a tribute to their loved ones, and as a way to express their feelings for the person who has passed away. It is part of funeral ceremonies across various cultures and beliefs, but in some circumstances, doves have specifically religious connotations. 

In this capacity, doves can be used by people of faith to represent someone’s spirit as they move into the next life, and may also be viewed as messengers of God. 

In the Christian bible, for example, Psalm 55:6 reads “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then I would fly away and be at rest”. Doves are also symbolically significant within Judaism and other religions. People often release doves at funerals without these beliefs, however, and still find the act spiritually uplifting in a less defined sense, or simply a moving and profound way to say goodbye.

What do doves at funerals symbolise? 

For many, releasing a dove at a funeral symbolises a person’s soul being freed from this life, and may represent that soul embarking on its journey to the afterlife. Releasing doves can also be a symbol of letting go, and act as a cathartic release for families at the beginning of their grieving journeys. As we’ll expand on later, the number of doves released can have very specific religious and secular symbolism, but speaking more broadly, doves are seen globally as symbols of peace, hope and freedom. 

Seeing a dove (or doves) fly away at a funeral can be particularly poignant for people if their loved one has lived through a long or difficult illness. It can also be a moment of joy; a beautiful end to a life well lived. The days and weeks leading up to a funeral tend to pass by in a blur, so marking an end to that time of uncertainty and stress with something uplifting and meaningful can be of huge comfort to people. 

How can the number of doves released at a funeral have meaning? 

Families will sometimes choose to release more than one dove, and the number of doves they choose can have specific meaning. Some of the more common include:

  • Two doves can represent a soul leaving with its guardian angel. Alternatively, two doves may symbolise the reuniting of two souls if the deceased follows a dear departed loved one. As doves mate for life, releasing a pair of doves can have special symbolism for married or long-term partners.
  • Three doves may represent the Holy Trinity in the Christian faith, with a fourth to symbolise the person’s spirit following behind. 
  • The amount of doves can correspond to the person’s age when they passed away, or represent every member of the family. 
  • A group of doves may be released simply for their own sake, as a symbol of peace and freedom. 

What does releasing doves at a funeral involve? 

Doves can be released at any time during a funeral when organised in advance with your funeral director. In general, however, doves tend to take to the sky when a person has been laid to rest (either in a burial or cremation) and the gesture may include the reading of a poem or playing of music. You can organise the release of doves at any kind of service or memorial, and they may be released from their basket or by hand. 

It is important that the doves are provided by an experienced dove handler who has trained their doves well, so they will fly safely to a home upon release and lead a comfortable life. Doves are naturally gentle creatures and, when tame, are happy in the company of people. At Harold Wood Funeral Services, we partner with a trusted dove handler whose birds live in the beautiful Essex countryside. 

Even if your funeral service is not a religious one, doves often provide mourners with a sense of comfort and peace. Speak to our team today if you would like to find out more. 

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