Why Don’t People Go To Funerals?

This past week I went to the funeral of my last uncle.  Growing up, I took my family for granted.  I assumed my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would always be there.  We tend to assume our family will always be there.  Kohelet 7:2 says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning Than to go to a house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, And the living takes it to heart.”

My uncle was a good man.  He was always there to help if you needed him.  My cousin  rightly called him a problem solver.  One year I wanted to surprise my mom for her birthday and fly in to see her.  I couldn’t ask my dad to pick me up at the airport because since he is deaf, the only way I could communicate with him on the phone was through my mother.  To make this a surprise, I needed someone else to come get me. I called my uncle.  Without hesitation, he was there, and picked me up.  I was waiting on my parent’s porch when they arrived home.  It was a great surprise.  My uncle made it happen.

The rabbi at the funeral spoke about my uncle’s being a technology expert, as well as an aficionado of classical music and opera. My uncle was also a devoted father and husband, taking care of my aunt, who was disabled since her childhood.  He was detailed and exacting and worthy of respect.  He suffered with cancer the last couple of years of his life, but he fought it with his last ounce of strength.

The thing that I found difficult, was that so few people attended his funeral.  Apart from the family, I don’t think there were 15 people who came.  My grandmother used to say that the older you get, the less people will attend your funeral.

Why is it that when someone dies, we don’t go to funerals?  The Holy Scriptures tell us that there is wisdom in the house of mourning.  The death of someone makes us take life to heart.  Our culture has sanitized life so that when someone is dying, we put them in hospitals, because we don’t want them around us when they are dying.  We don’t like to think about death, let alone be around it.  When someone is dying, we put them in the hospital, stick tubes in them and wait for the inevitable.   When they die, we just skip the funeral and we don’t have to deal with death at all.  It’s like when the family dog dies, you tell your kids the dog got sick and we sent them to a farm where they can run and play with other dogs.  We don’t like to deal with the unpleasantness of death.

What we forget is how comforting it is to grieving people when you bother to show up for a funeral.  It tells them you cared about them and about the deceased.  The sages said one of the great mitzvot for which you lose nothing in this world and yet have great blessing in the world to come is “escorting the dead,” going to their funeral, and visiting the grieving afterward.  Nothing says you care like being there.  When you can’t come, its good to send food, because food comforts, but when you can be there, being there is better than food.

Sometimes we don’t show up because we don’t want to deal with the emotions of grieving relatives, or with our own emotions, but the good it does for them, and for ourselves outweighs those emotions.  I have felt estranged from some of my relatives over the years, but when I went to my uncle’s funeral, that estrangement was gone.  It heals, it comforts, and says more than any food or flowers can do.

It does us well to remember the frailty of life, and the importance of living our lives to our best potential, valuing the loved ones we have.  It really is better to be in the house of mourning than the house of mirth.  Do a mitzvah and go to a funeral or at least pay a shiva call.


10 thoughts on “Why Don’t People Go To Funerals?

  1. Appreciated you heart here dear friend, and I agree. It is the Truest act of kindness of all the gemilut chasadim to properly mourn and note the passing of another, be it a close relative, a close friend or even an acquaintance, for it is the act for which there is no reward to collect, an honest tribute to a life lived, whether fully and fulfilled, or not so well, and left unfinished. This part of the journey is over and done, and we find great solace is knowing that the struggle, for this one at least, is over.
    Then, and only then, do we TRULY find the meaning of a life well-lived, and rededicate our own to the cause for which we were created….

    My condolences, again, and know that you, even as your uncle was, are loved, though many or few that attend to show, is but a minor issue….

  2. Well there is nothing worse than when you are unable to attend a funeral because you can not make the journey for various reasons …. that my brother is sad

  3. My condolences. Sounds like your uncle was a good man who lived a good life, one that served others. Best way to live it.

    I think it was you, Dr. Schiffman, who said, “showing up is 90% of support”, or something to that effect. When people don’t show up for services, funerals, or some other important event, it tells me they place little value on it.

    Personally, for me it’s hard going to funerals. I hate death. I hope for a time when either medicine, technology, or God lets us overcome the suffering that accompanies death. But until then, it’s such a dark, melancholy thing to go to the funeral home, hear the weeping stories of loved ones. It’s hard — in fact, the last funeral I attended, I ended up crying, despite knowing the deceased for just 3 months — all the stories of the relatives made me realize how painful death really is.

  4. My brother’s (second) wife died a couple of months ago. The memorial service was held in Maine. My wife and I made the effort to be there, and my brother was so grateful for us being there, it brought tears to his eyes. We didn’t do anything or bring anything. We just brought ourselves. Yes, Rabbi, you are so right.

  5. Experienced same thing with my dad who died 1 months ago. Yes, there were people did attend my dad’s funeral/memorial, but like your Uncle, it seemed like not enough. Then, I noticed, when they had a 2nd chance to either write, or respond to the Obituary – on line, hardly anybody does that either.

    The majority of people do not put themselves into the shoes of the person and families it happens too. They get caught up only with their own personal family. I do not do that. I go to funerals; I light candles and comments on the Legacies; I check the Obituaries.

    You can find out what people are really like, when it comes to things like this.



  6. The new testament says “Let the dead bury the dead.” The last funeral I attended was my Dad’s. He was my hero. He adopted and loved me even though I came into the world from an affair my mother had while married to him. I also helped to carry my Dad’s casket at the funeral. I felt it was my place to be there for him more than anyone elses. However, I did not attend my Mom’s funeral nor even my son’s funeral. I didn’t want the memories of seeing them in their caskets and didn’t want to deal with the family bullshzt. I said good-bye to my Mom and my son in my own way several times. Call me selfish, call me whatever, I don’t care.

  7. My sister Marge passed away june first I was with her the night she passed I was so numb at her service I could not talk 4 mon and 29 days later me sister Gail passed I DID NOT GO TO HER SERVICE I am human and I just could not handle seeing another dead sister ,

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