Losing a loved one, someone with whom we have so many cherished memories, can be emotionally very difficult. The grieving process is deeply personal, and during this challenging time, planning a funeral reception can feel both daunting and overwhelming.
However, it is also an opportunity to create a meaningful and heartfelt event that honours the memory of the departed and brings solace to those mourning their loss.
A well-planned funeral reception provides a space for family and friends to come together to support one another and share their grief. It allows for the collective remembrance of a life well-lived, an opportunity to celebrate the unique qualities and cherished moments that made the departed individual special.
The task of arranging a funeral reception does, however, require several considerations. The first of these is likely to be what your loved one would have wanted concerning cultural and religious traditions. Did they practise the Christian, Sikh, Hindu, or Islamic faith, or were they devoted to secular causes such as Humanism?
It may also be necessary to think about the logistical practicalities of arranging a funeral reception. Where will it be held? Will you be catering the event? Have you created a guest list?
The wishes of the departed might have been made known to you before they passed. If they haven’t, you might find yourself dealing with grief while arranging what can often be quite a logistically stressful event.
We’re here to help.
In this blog post, we explore the cultural and religious aspects associated with a funeral reception and offer some advice regarding the logistical considerations you might be required to make.
Why do we hold funeral receptions?
They say a person is only really gone once their name ceases to be spoken. If that is true, a funeral reception is a space in which loved ones gather to ensure that the departed’s name lives on in stories being shared and memories relived.
It is a celebration of the life and times of a departed friend or family member, an opportunity to highlight what made them great and very tangibly see the legacy they leave behind – such as children, grandchildren, charitable causes, or simply the good personified by the people gathered.
A funeral reception also provides an opportunity for closure. Grief can seem like an overwhelming sensation, a burden that can be shared when several people who feel the pain of loss come together and collectively bring the departed’s life story to a close.
How do different religions approach funeral receptions?
The transition from life with someone to life without them is acknowledged differently from one religion to another. What all of them have in common is a core coming together of a community – big or small – to remember the life of the deceased.
Known as a wake or a repast, the Christian funeral reception often takes place after the funeral service, usually in a church hall, reception hall or family home. At the heart of this gathering might be a meal, during which memories are shared and condolences offered.
Shiva is the Jewish tradition whereby the family of the deceased sits for seven days. During this time, family and friends are invited to visit their home to share food and provide comfort and support.
Following a service of prayers at a mosque or family home, Janazah gatherings are held to remember the loved one who has passed away. Sympathies are expressed and memories are shared in an environment of love and support.
In the Sikh faith, the funeral reception is known as the Antam Sanskar or Antim Ardas. It is typically held at either the gurdwara or the home of the deceased’s family. Alongside prayers and condolences, a Langar, a community meal, is served to all attendees, representing equality and unity.
The Hindu funeral reception is known as the Antyesti or Antim Kriya. It might involve the recitation of mantras, the lighting of lamps and providing the departed with food to nourish them in the afterlife.
Depending on the availability of facilities, Buddhist funeral receptions might take place at home or in a temple. Chants and prayers are spoken to guide the deceased through the afterlife, and a commemorative meal is served to attendees.
Secular funeral receptions
Funeral receptions not tied to a particular religion are very varied in the form that they take. There might be symbolic gestures such as planting a tree, creating a memory board, or lighting a candle. Also taking place might be the singing of songs or the sharing of stories over a meal. Much like the events related to a particular faith, a non-secular funeral reception places remembrance of the departed at its heart, but unlike religious occasions, these are unrelated to worship.
Where can you have a funeral reception?
Choosing the right location is important. It sets the tone for the event and should allow you to remember your loved one in the way that you want to. Your home can provide a very personal space in which to gather, but you might find yourself limited in space. Alternatively, you might choose a religious space, such as a church, mosque or gurdwara, a community centre, outdoor space, or a funeral home.
You can hold a funeral reception in a very extensive and diverse list of venues, from homes to public houses, and churches to community centres and the great outdoors.
Three pieces of advice for planning a funeral reception:
Reflect on the Deceased’s Life and Wishes
It can be very easy to get swept up in what you feel you ought to be doing to commemorate the life of your loved one, rather than what they would have wanted or what would best represent the life they led.
Someone who was Christian while they were alive might not necessarily want a secular funeral reception after they’ve departed – and vice versa – while someone who was untraditional in their approach to their allotted time on this earth would likely not have chosen mourning attire to be worn to their reception.
It is, therefore, important that you reflect the wishes and personality of the person whose life you are celebrating and remembering. Doing so can make the event feel significantly more personal, allowing for an authentic send-off true to what they would have wanted.
Consider the needs of the attendees
Keeping the first point in mind, it is also important not to lose sight of the needs belonging to your guests. They, too, are likely to be grieving and require not just emotional support, but physical support too. Adequate seating can provide them with the opportunity to enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation in a comfortable space, perhaps away from the chatter of other guests. If you are providing food, allergies and dietary restrictions should also be taken into account as part of a core objective which is to provide a space for remembrance and congenial celebration.
Where possible, share responsibilities
At the beginning of this piece, we highlighted the emotional strain that loss can cause. At what might be a very difficult period in your life, organising a funeral reception can feel like a daunting and incomprehensible task. To alleviate that burden and avoid any unnecessary stress, consider entrusting the responsibility of making arrangements to a close friend or family member who is aware of the departed’s wishes, as well as your own, and can take up the torch on your behalf.
Planning a funeral reception is a heartfelt endeavour, blending grief, remembrance, and celebration into one special event. By making decisions with love, your loved one, and guests in mind, the funeral reception can be a tapestry of cherished memories and a place of marking the legacy of a life well-lived.