Every culture from earliest times has cared for its dead and created its own funeral ceremonies and rituals. They have no practical value. They mark the significance and the magnitude of the passing of a life.
One way of looking at it is to say that how we value our dead says a lot about how we value the living. That is why, traditionally, important people have been given very elaborate funerals and the worst criminals none at all.
There’s an opposite way of looking at it. When the playwright Arthur Miller was asked if he’d be going to the funeral of his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, he replied, “Why should I go? She won’t be there.” A funeral is pointless, he reckoned, both for the dead and for the living. It’s not the body that’s important, but the person whom it embodied—the vitality which animated it. When death comes, that’s it.
Attitudes to funerals are changing. Increasingly, people want simpler, cheaper funerals. A lot of people these days say funerals are too expensive and they don’t do them any good. But old customs die hard and most of them still go ahead and have a conventional ceremonial funeral anyway.
Increasingly, though, people who can’t see the point of a public ceremonial funeral aren’t having one at all or they’re doing something else. There’s nothing wrong with that.