Here you’ll find comprehensive, unbiased information about funerals. It’s where you can learn what you need to know to make smart choices in planning funerals, purchasing funeral products, and supporting friends in grief.
Has Someone Died?
If a friend or loved one has died and you need immediate assistance, click on How to Arrange a Funeral.
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.
- 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.
- A service to commemorate the life of the deceased with the body present in an open or closed casket.
- A procession to the cemetery where additional ceremonies may take place and the deceased is buried.
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 accommodate 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, preferring 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.
Where Funeral 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:
- Funeral home chapels
- Religious place of worship, (e.g., church, synagogue, temple)
- Cemetery chapel
Special Funeral 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
Advance Directives Put Your Wishes in Writing
If you’re incapacitated at the end of life – unable to speak or communicate with doctors or loved ones – how will they know your wishes for end-of-life care? Would they make the same decisions you would have made for your care? You can answer these questions by putting your preferences in writing now, using advance directives.
The Three Types of Advance Directives
You should consider drawing up all (or a combination) of the three main types of directives:
- Living will – instructions for your preferred level of treatment (for example, whether to have a feeding tube or other forms of life support.)
- Durable power of attorney for health care – designation of another person to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself.
Funeral Planning Tip
We believe that planning a funeral in advance is a wise thing to do. Find out if it makes sense for you and see how to conveniently plan with our Wise Planning System.