Common Styles of Funeral Services

Funeral Service

Traditional, Memorial and Graveside Services

Each culture and religious belief defines a funeral a little differently.

Today, we commemorate a death in a several different ways. Traditional funeral services are held in the presence of the casketed body whereas the body of the deceased is not present for memorial services. These services are typically held at a funeral home, church, chapel or other house of worship. Oftentimes, funeral services are also held at graveside.

 

  1. Traditional Funeral Services

    These services typically include:

    • One or more “visitations” where the mourners gather, with the body present in an open or closed casket, to express condolences. More …
    • A service to commemorate the life of the deceased with the body present in an open or closed casket. More …
    • A procession to the cemetery where additional ceremonies may take place and the deceased is buried.
  2. Memorial Services

    Memorial Services commemorate the life of the deceased without the body present. They are usually following burial or cremation, or if the body has not been recovered (e.g., lost at sea).

  3. Combined Traditional and Memorial Services

    Both types of services — a visitation and a service with the body present, as well as one or more memorial services without the body present — can be arranged to commemorate one life. For example, memorial services can be held for mourners living in other cities or to honor a public figure for whom a private service was held.

  4. Graveside Services

    Sometimes commemorative services are held at the cemetery, either in a chapel or beside the grave, immediately prior to burial.

  5. Non-commemorative Funerals

    Also known as “direct” dispositions, non-commemorative funerals are when the deceased is buried, cremated, or donated to medical science without any formal service to remember the life that has passed.

Visitation (Wake)

Visitation periods (or "wake") have their roots in ancient times when it was customary to watch over the deceased for varying lengths of time before burial. The custom of continuously watching arose because there was hope that the deceased might regain consciousness, as well as concern about someone being buried alive. The practice also fulfilled a psychological need by gradually conditioning family and friends to the reality of the death.

Today, visitations are typically held at a funeral home that provides the facilities, seating and staff to accomodate a viewing and a gathering of people. During visiting hours, mourners come to offer their condolences to the family and pay their respects to the deceased. The casket may be open or closed and is usually displayed with floral arrangements that have been received and memorial presentations, if any.

The number and length of visitation periods varies depending upon religious or cultural customs and personal preference. A typical visitation of 2 to 4 hours can be held prior to the funeral on the same day or the day before. Full day visitations can also be held one or more days preceding the funeral.

There are differing views on the role of an open casket. Many feel it is an unbecoming and uncomfortable practice, prefering to remember the deceased as he or she was in life, not in death. However, many experts on grief and mourning believe that viewing the body is an important step in beginning to heal because it causes mourners to confront the reality of death. Of course, religious customs also dictate whether or not there should be an open casket.

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Where Services are Held

Funeral and memorial services can be conducted at a variety of locations, however, with the casket present, options are limited. The facility must have room to display the casket and provide access to move it in and out. The location must also accommodate the mourners with seating, parking and restrooms. There should be access for disabled attendees.

Funeral homes were created especially for the purpose of holding services, as well as to provide a suitable place to prepare and shelter the deceased.

Common choices for funeral and memorial services include:

  1. Funeral home chapels
  2. Religious place of worship, (e.g., church, synagogue, temple)
  3. Cemetery chapel
  4. Graveside
  5. Home

Special Ceremonies or Rites

Some organizations have their own unique ceremonies or rites for members who have died. These ceremonies may be conducted separately or included in traditional services. For example, services for a military veteran might include the presentation of the American flag to survivors and a three-volley salute.

Here are some other organizations that have special services:

    • Free & Accepted Masons
    • Veterans of Foreign Wars
    • American Legion
    • Knights of Columbus
    • Elks
    • Moose

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See related topics:

The Funeral Process
Funerals: Planning Ahead

Go to Funeral Guide — Index of Topics.