They're not for the dead so much as they are for the living, the ones of us left behind.
I've been to plenty of funerals in my lifetime. Too many, really. Many were for the countless aunts, uncles and distant relatives that I've lost along the way. Many have been for friends and parents of friends and coworkers and other people gone too soon.
I've attended the funerals of both my own parents.
I attended a funeral (well a visitation, really, but the basic concept is the same) this past weekend, for the grandfather of one of my best childhood friends. He was an amazing man who had a long, full life, and when I was a child he was the closest I ever got to a grandfather of my own. I spent hours and days at their house as a kid. He took me sledding. He built us secret clubhouses to hide from the rest of the world in. He told the best, funniest stories that didn't always have a point but nobody really cared because he got such joy from the telling of them. He pulled my car out of a ditch when I was learning to drive. I sat across the dinner table from him a million nights eating the best spaghetti I've ever had, or ever will. He was a World War II veteran, a POW who came back with very little hearing but still managed to play the most beautiful bluegrass music I've ever heard. He died at home, surrounded by people he loved, after a very short illness. By all accounts he had a long, full, blessed life.
When I walked in to the funeral home I was struck, like I always have been, by how funerals are very social affairs. Everyone comes. There is much talking. There is much crying, much laughing, and much catching up. They are places that your presence isn't really noted, but your absence certainly would be.
They are for those of us who are left.
As I stood in line waiting for my chance to pay final respects to this great man, I could hear the conversations all around me. Many were about him. People were sharing stories and memories of their time with him, but invariably the conversations always made their way back around to the living. To life. To those of us who are left. Even in the hour of time set aside to honor and pay respect to this wonderful man, we were all (myself included) preoccupied with all the little pieces and bits of things that make up life. The urge to bring things back around to the living is strong, primordial even.
That's the way of it, really.
That's the way life is.
It's for the living.
It's for those of us who are left.