The Hearse as a Source of Comfort

    In a way the hearse is a rather important part of the funeral service itself, as the hearse comes to separate and define the different stages of the funeral.  The hearse actually establishes and demonstrates the boundaries, physical and mental, of the stages to the funeral.

     To many the funeral service starts when the coffin arrives, it is the placement of the coffin which signals the beginning.  Even in cases where the service itself does not actually start for a while after the coffin is in place, it is still the placement of the coffin which changes the atmosphere.  Simple placing the coffin quietens the room, and is a symbolic gesture.

     But more to the point of this post, it is the hearse which brings the coffin to the funeral.  The hearse is what carries the coffin, it allows and indicates the start of the funeral.  As the hearse pulls up mourners stop or pause, look over and see the coffin in the hearse.  It is this gesture, this action, which informs the mourner that the funeral is real, and is going to start.

    After all, many believe that without a coffin there can be no funeral service as that is a main focal point of the funeral.  And it is the hearse which delivered the coffin, the arrival of the hearse not only signals the start but it actually allows the service to start.

    The hearse also separates the different stages of the service on two-part funeral services.  An example of a two-part service is; a church ceremony at one place, followed by a burial or cremation at another place.  Meaning the funeral has to travel from one location to another separate location.

    Placing the coffin in the hearse and the hearse traveling to a new location really distinguishes these two stages for mourners.  Mourners can see the coffin being placed in the hearse, watch it leave, then follow the hearse, and even see it arrive in a new place.  All of this is a very real, very physical and obvious separation of the different stages of the funeral service.

    After the funeral seeing an empty hearse, or watching the coffin leave in the hearse, is very symbolic and informative.  It shows the mourners that the funeral has ended, that the coffin has gone and so the service is over.

    Most mourners do not go to many funerals and do not understand or see the subtlety to funeral services.  Many have told me how they feel uncomfortable at a funeral, not due to the notions of death or loss, but simply as they do not know what to do or what is coming next.  Even simple things like where to stand and sit can be an uncertainty for many.

    But everyone has seen a hearse, if only on TV, it is something the public can recognise, can grab hold of and use to work out what is going on with the funeral.  A hearse arriving tells them the funeral is starting, a hearse being loaded with a coffin tells them this stage is over and another is beginning  and a hearse leaving tells them that it is over.

    So in a sense the hearse becomes a tangible way for mourners to define and understand the boundaries of the funeral.  It is one of the few things mourners know and feel like they understand, it meets what they already know in a situation where they know little.

    Because of this the hearse is not only a definer of boundaries, it is also an important thing for mourners can look at to understand the situation.  In this sense the hearse is a source of comfort, of solace, a known in a place of anxious unknowns.  It is strange to think of the hearse as able to bring comfort, to alleviate anxiety considering how we entangle it with death.  Yet in this way it really does help the mourners who don't know a funeral service feel better and more comfortable.


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