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Overcoming a fear of funerals: Six ways to help you cope

Picture by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed at the thought of attending a funeral or a wake, whether the person who died was close to you, a friend, or a more distant relative.

A fear of funerals may even cause you to question whether you should attend the funeral at all. But you needn’t let funeral nerves keep you from honouring someone and saying goodbye.

The thought of attending a funeral service may be stressful for a number of reasons. If you suffer from social anxiety, you might feel uncomfortable with the thought of meeting or interacting with extended family or friends you haven’t met in years.

Funeral anxiety could stem from stage fright – being asked to deliver a eulogy, or take part in some part of the funeral process or ceremony. Or it could be thanatophobia – a fear of death, or things associated with the dead such as funerals, coffins, cemeteries.

Perhaps you are worried about how you’ll cope with, or hold back, strong emotions – especially when other people are grieving.

If you are struggling with nerves, here are six coping strategies for funeral anxiety. You'll also find lots more helpful articles about understanding and coping with grief in our Bereavement Support section.

1. Open up about your fears and anxieties

A good way to calm your funeral nerves is to be open about how you’re feeling and acknowledge your reaction to attending a funeral. Discussing your fears with a close friend or a family member may help take some of the stress away and help you manage your emotions better.

Many funeral directors provide reassuring support and guidance to help people get through the funeral, so it might be worth getting their support.

2. Remember that it’s okay to cry or show emotion

You don’t necessarily need to suppress your tears or maintain your composure during a funeral service. If you have to deliver an eulogy or have an active part to play in the service, remember that it’s okay to express your grief and pause over moments that seem to overwhelm you.

If you find yourself overcome by emotion, people will understand if you calm yourself by taking deep breaths or taking sips of water. And if you can’t carry on, the funeral celebrant, or a family member will be on hand to support you.

3. Rely on someone – find a support partner

If you find yourself anxious at the thought of attending a funeral, try to get a friend or partner to accompany you so that you don’t feel like you have to do it alone.

Having a familiar person around can be comforting and helpful, especially if you’re the kind of person who can’t get through difficult events with some support and a helping hand.

4. Calming funeral nerves: Bereavement support dogs

The idea of using dogs as a funeral “comfort companion” or funeral therapy dogs is starting to get more popular in the UK.

Basil the beagle was introduced to grieving families by Clive Pugh Funeral Directors to support bereaved families. “People are just coming to terms with having lost a friend or a member of the family, a close relative – it can be a very distressing time, said Rosalinda Pugh, who runs Clive Pugh Funeral Directors in Shropshire.

“Dogs are very perceptive, they do pick up on people and their frame of mind and I feel it makes a very large difference to people. I think it helps people to just relax for a few minutes and concentrate on something else.”

5. Funeral fear: Should I bring my child?

If your funeral anxiety stems from whether or not a child should attend the service many experts agree that if a child is old enough to love, they are old enough to grieve.

As a parent or guardian, you’ll have the best idea of the age-appropriate information they’ll need about saying goodbye to a loved one, what a funeral is and what to expect. There are some lovely books for children of all ages, that can help a conversation.

Many children can be surprisingly matter of fact about saying goodbye, but no child should be pressured to attend a funeral against their wishes.

Older children may even want to play a part in the funeral ceremony. If your funeral anxiety stems from keeping a younger child settled during a funeral service, bring plenty of things to keep them occupied and have an action plan for taking them somewhere away from the main funeral venue, if they get bored or restless.

6. Funeral nerves: Be kind to yourself

Anxiety is among the many emotional and physical symptoms of grief. It’s not always easy to eat or sleep when you are grieving a loss, while tension can even lead to physical symptoms such as feeling sick or faint.

Be kind to yourself. Techniques such as mindfulness may help you regulate your breathing or feel more restful, while a hot bath or aromatherapy oils such as lavender or chamomile may be a soothing way to prepare for a funeral you’re anxious about and part of your coping strategy.