Learn more about Funeral
A funeral is a ceremony marking a person's death. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from the funeral itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor. These customs vary widely between cultures, and between religious affiliations within cultures. In some cultures the dead are venerated; this is commonly called ancestor worship. The word comes from the Latin funus, which had a variety of meanings, including the corpse and the funerary rites themselves.
Funeral rites are as old as the human race itself. In the Shanidar cave in Iraq, Neanderthal skeletons have been discovered with a characteristic layer of pollen, which suggests that Neanderthals buried the dead with gifts of flowers. This has been interpreted as suggesting that Neanderthals believed in an afterlife, and in any case were aware of their own mortality and were capable of mourning.
 Religious Funerals
 Islamic Funerals
 Sikh Funerals
In Sikhism death is considered a natural process. An event that has absolute certainty and only happens as a direct result of God's Will or Hukam. To a Sikh, birth and death are closely associated, because they are both part of the cycle of human life of "coming and going" ( ਆਵਣੁ ਜਾਣਾ , Aaavan Jaanaa) which is seen as transient stage towards Liberation ( ਮੋਖੁ ਦੁਆਰੁ , Mokh Du-aar), complete unity with God. Sikhs thus believe in reincarnation.
However, by contrast, the soul itself is not subject to the cycle of birth and death. Death is only the progression of the soul on its journey from God, through the created universe and back to God again. In life, a Sikh tries always to constantly remember death so that he or she may be sufficiently prayerful, detached and righteous to break the cycle of birth and death and return to God.
The public display of grief at the funeral or Antam Sanskar as it is called in the Sikh culture, such as wailing or crying out loud is discouraged and should be kept to a minimum. Cremation is the preferred method of disposal, although if this is not possible any other methods such as burial or submergence at sea are acceptable. Worship of the dead with gravestones, etc. is discouraged, because the body is considered to be only the shell, the person's soul is their real essence.
On the day of the cremation, the body is taken to the Gurdwara or home where hymns (Shabads) from the SGGS, the Sikh Scriptures are recited by the congregation, which induce feeling of consolation and courage. Kirtan may also be performed by Ragis while the relatives of the deceased recite "Waheguru" sitting near the coffin. This service normally takes from 30 to 60 minutes. At the conclusion of the service, an Ardas is said before the coffin is taken to the cremation site.
At the point of cremation, a few more Shabads may be sung and final speeches are made about the deceased person. Then the Kirtan Sohila, night time prayer is recited and finally Ardas called the "Antim Ardas" ("Final Prayer") is offered. The eldest son or a close relative generally starts the cremation process – light the fire or press the button for the burning to begin. This service usually lasts about 30 to 60 minutes.
The ashes are later collected and disposed by immersing them in the nearest river. Sikhs do not erect monuments over the remains of the dead.
 Funerals in contemporary North America
 Traditional funerals
At the visitation (also called a "viewing" or "wake") the embalmed body of the deceased person (or decedent) is placed on display in the coffin (also called a casket). The viewing often takes place on one or two evenings before the funeral.
The only prescribed aspects of this gathering are that frequently the attendees sign a book kept by the deceased's survivors to record who attended and that the attendees are expected to view the deceased's body in the coffin. In addition, a family may choose to display photographs taken of the deceased person during his/her life (often, formal portraits with other family members and candid pictures to show "happy times"), prized possessions and other items representing his/her hobbies and/or accomplishments.
The viewing is either "open casket", in which the embalmed body of the deceased has been clothed and treated with cosmetics for display; or "closed casket", in which the coffin is closed. The coffin may be closed if the body was too badly damaged because of an accident or fire, deformed from illness or if someone in the group is emotionally unable to cope with viewing the corpse. During an open casket a large rosary made out of fresh flowers is hung inside of the coffin.
However, this step is foreign to Judaism; Jewish funerals are held soon after death, and the corpse is never displayed. As well, Jewish law forbids anyone to embalm the body of the deceased. Traditionally flowers are not sent to a bereaving Jewish family as it is a reminder of the life that is now lost.(See also Jewish bereavement.)
The decedent's closest friends and relatives who are unable to attend frequently send flowers to the viewing, with the exception of a Jewish Funeral , where flowers would not be appropriate. The viewing typically takes place at a funeral home, which is equipped with gathering rooms where the viewing can be conducted, although the viewing may also take place at a church. It is also common practice in some of the states in the southeastern United States that the body be taken to the decedants home or that of a relative for viewing. The viewing may end with a prayer service; in the Catholic funeral, this may include a rosary.
A visitation is often held the evening before the day of the funeral. However, when the deceased person is elderly the visitation may be held immediately preceding the funeral. This allows elderly friends of the deceased a chance to view the body and attend the funeral in one trip, since it may be difficult for them to arrange travel.
A Traditional Fire Department funeral consists of two raised aerial ladders. The firefighter(s) travel under the aerials on their ride on the fire apparatus to the cemetery.
A memorial service, often called a funeral and often officiated by clergy from the decedent's or bereaved's church or religion. A funeral may take place at either a funeral home or church. A funeral is usually held three to five days after the death of the deceased. Some people consider it important to conduct the funeral exactly three days after the death.
Funeral services include prayers; readings from the Bible or other sacred texts; hymns (sung either by the attendees or a hired vocalist); and words of comfort by the clergy. Frequently, a relative or close friend will be asked to give a eulogy, which details happy memories and accomplishments; often commenting on the deceased's flaws, especially at length, is considered impolite. Sometimes the delivering of the eulogy is done by the clergy.
Tradition also allows the attendees of the memorial service to have one last opportunity to view the decedent's body and say good-bye; the immediate family (siblings (and their spouses); followed by the decedent's spouse, parents and children) are always the very last to view their loved one before the coffin is closed. This opportunity can take place immediately before the service begins, or at the very end of the service. During funerals, bagpipes are sometimes played.
During the funeral and at the burial service, the casket may be covered with a large arrangement of flowers, called a casket spray. If the decedent served in a branch of the Armed forces, the casket may be covered with a national flag. It is considered inappropriate to use both.
Note: In some religious denominations, for example, Roman Catholic and Anglican, eulogies are prohibited or discouraged during this service, in order to preserve respect for traditions. Also, for these religions the coffin is traditionally closed at the end of the wake and is not re-opened for the funeral service.
 Burial service
Sometimes, the burial service will immediately follow the funeral, in which case a funeral procession (the hearse, followed by the immediate family and then the other attendees) travels from the site of the memorial service to the burial site. Other times, the burial service takes place at a later time, when the final resting place is ready.
In many religious traditions, pallbearers, usually males who are close, but not immediate relatives (such as cousins, nephews or grandchildren) or friends of the decedent, will carry the casket from the chapel (of a funeral home or church) to the hearse, and from the hearse to the site of the burial service. The pallbearers often sit in a special reserved section during the memorial service.
According to most religions, coffins are kept closed during the burial ceremony. In Eastern Orthodox funerals, the coffins are reopened just before burial to allow loved ones to look at the deceased one last time and give their final farewells.
In many traditions, a meal or other gathering following the burial service, either at the decedent's church or another off-site location.
For Irish descendants, An Irish Wake usually lasts 3 full days. On the day after the wake the funeral takes place. Family members and friends will ensure that there is always someone awake with the body, traditionally saying prayers.
- It is called a wake because the grieving family stays awake for at 24 hours praying over the body. Traditionaly this is done in the decedent's home.
Generally speaking, the number of people who are considered obliged to attend each of these three rituals by etiquette decreases at each step:
- Distant relatives and acquaintances may be called upon to attend the visitation.
- The decedent's closer relatives and local friends attend the funeral or memorial service, and subsequent burial (if it is held immediately after the memorial service).
- If the burial is on the day of the funeral, only the decedent's closest relatives and friends attend the burial service (although if the burial service immediately follows the funeral, all attendees of the memorial service are asked to attend).
Also, etiquette dictates the bereaved and other attendees at a funeral most commonly wear semi-formal clothing—such as a suit and tie for men or a dress for women. The most traditional and respectful color is solid black (with a matching solid black tie for men) preferably without any underlying pinstripes or patterns in the weave. But failing that charcoal gray, or dark navy blue may be worn. Wearing short skirts, low-cut tops, or, at Western funerals, a large amount of white (other than a button-down shirt or blouse, or a military uniform) is often seen as disrespectful. Women who are grieving the death of their husband or a close partner sometimes wear a veil to conceal the face, although the veil is not common now. In more formal or traditional funerals male attendees wear mourning dress with a black mourning coat, matching black waistcoat and striped formal trousers, but this is also less common now.
It is a distinct rudeness to leave a mobile telephone on audible mode at a funeral service, as its ringing automatically interrupts the service.
 Private services
On occasion, the family of the deceased may wish to have only a very small service, with just the decedent's closest family members and friends attending. This type of ceremony means it is closed to the public. One may only go to the funeral if he or she was invited. In this case, a private funeral service is conducted. Reasons vary but often include:
- The decedent was an infant (possibly, they may have been stillborn) or very aged and therefore having few surviving family members or friends.
- The decedent may be a crime victim or a convicted criminal who was serving a prison sentence. In this case, the service is made private either to avoid unwanted media coverage (especially with a crime victim); or to avoid unwanted intrusion (especially if the decedent was convicted of murder or child molestation).
- The family does not feel able to endure a traditional service (due to emotional shock) or simply wants a quiet, simple funeral with only the most important people of the decedent's life in attendance.
- The decedent is of a distinct celebrity status, and holding public ceremony would result in too many guests who are non-acquaintanced with the decedent to participate. On the other hand, if a state funeral is offered and accepted by the decedent's immediate family, a public funeral would ensue. A recent example of this is the death of celebrity Steve Irwin, in which his family was offered a state funeral but refused. They held a private ceremony for Irwin on 9 September 2006.
In some cases (particularly the latter), the family may schedule a public memorial service at a later time.
 Memorial services
The memorial service is a service given for the deceased without the body present. This may take place after an earth burial, donation of the body to an institution such as a school, cremation (sometimes the cremains are present), entombment, or burial at sea. Typically these services take place at the funeral home and may include prayers, poems, or songs to remember the deceased. Pictures of the deceased are usually placed at the altar where the body would normally be to pay respects by.
 Non-traditional funerals
 New Orleans Jazz Funeral
A unique funeral tradition in the United States occurs in New Orleans, Louisiana. The unique tradition arises from African spiritual practices, French martial musical traditions and uniquely African-American cultural influences. A typical jazz funeral begins with a march by the family, friends, and a jazz band from the home, funeral home or church to the cemetery. Throughout the march, the band plays very somber dirges. Once the final ceremony has taken place, the march proceeds from the cemetery to a gathering place, and the solemn music is replaced by loud, upbeat, raucous music and dancing where onlookers join in to celebrate the life of the deceased. This is the origin of the New Orleans dance known as the "second line" where celebrants do a dance-march, frequently while raising the hats and umbrellas brought along as protection from intense New Orleans weather and waving handkerchiefs above the head that are no longer being used to wipe away tears.
 “Green” funeral
Those with concerns about the effects on the environment of traditional burial or cremation may choose to be buried in a fashion more suited to their beliefs. They may choose to be buried in a coffin made of cardboard or other easily-biodegradable materials. Further, they may choose their final resting place to be in a park or woodland, known as an eco-cemetery, and may have a tree planted over their grave as a contribution to the environment and a remembrance.
 Internet visitation/funeral
A Funeral Home in North Syracuse, New York was the first funeral home to offer and broadcast a visitation and funeral "live" on the Internet. A Funeral Director at the Home said "It's not new technology, just a new application." The use of a web-camera allows relatives who could not otherwise attend services to do so from any computer. Family members and friends separated by distance, weather or circumstance can now become part of the support network by being connected electronically to the ceremonies. 
 Funerals in East Asia
In most East Asian and many Southeast Asian cultures, the wearing of white is symbolic of death. In these societies, white or off-white robes are traditionally worn to symbolize that someone has died and can be seen worn among relatives of the deceased during a funeral ceremony. Contemporary Western influence however has meant that dark-colored or black attire is now often also acceptable for mourners to wear (particularly for those outside the family). In such cases, mourners wearing dark colors at times may also wear a white or off-white armband. When a coffin is lowered into the ground the mourners will bow their heads and must not watch the coffin being lowered into the ground. Sometimes, some members of the procession are required to turn their backs and not look at the coffin as it is sealed, entering the carriage, removed from the carriage and entering the ground. They may also be required to wipe their faces with a white cloth. Paper money and commodities constructed out of paper and bamboo are often burnt for the deceased for use in the afterlife.
A traditional Chinese gift to the grieving is a white envelope usually enclosing a small sum of money. This custom is also found in other East and Southeast Asian cultures.
Most Japanese funerals are conducted with Buddhist rites. Many feature a ritual that bestows a new name on the deceased; funerary names typically use obsolete or archaic kanji and words, to avoid the likelihood of the name being used in ordinary speech or writing. The new names are typically chosen by a Buddhist priest, after consulting the family of the deceased. The new name bestowed upon them is the name they will have in the afterlife, where they will train for 49 days to become a disciple of Buddha. Most Japanese are cremated.
 African funerals
The custom of burying the dead in the floor of dwelling-houses has been to some degree prevalent on the Gold Coast of Africa. The ceremony is purely animist, and apparently without any set ritual. The main exception is that the females of the family of the deceased and their friends may undergo mournful lamentations. In some instances they work their feelings up to an ostentatious, frenzy-like degree of sorrow. The revelry may be heightened by the use of alcohol, of which drummers, flute-players, bards, and singing men may partake. The funeral may last for as much as a week. Another custom, a kind of memorial, frequently takes place seven years after the person's death. These funerals and especially the memorials may be extremely expensive for the family in question. Cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry, may be offered in remembrance and then consumed in festivities.
Some funerals in Ghana are held with the deceased put in eleborate "fantasy coffins" colored and shaped after a certain object, such as a fish, crab, boat, and even an airplane.
 Funerals in Iceland
 Ancient funeral rites
The most simple and natural kind of funeral monuments, and therefore the most ancient and universal, consist in a mound of earth, or a heap of stones, raised over the ashes of the departed: of such monuments mention is made in the Book of Joshua, and in Homer and Virgil.
The place of burial amongst the Jews was never particularly determined. We find that they had burial-places upon the highways, in gardens, and upon mountains. We read, that Abraham was buried with Sarah, his wife, in the cave of Macphelah, in the field of Ephron, and Uzziah, King of Judah, slept with his fathers in the field of the burial which pertained to the kings.
The primitive Greeks were buried in places prepared for that purpose in their own houses; but later they established burial grounds in desert islands, and outside the walls of towns, by that means securing them from disturbance, and themselves from the liability of catching infection from those who had died of contagious disorders.
 Funerals in ancient Rome
Funerals of the socially prominent were usually undertaken by professional undertakers called libitinarii. No direct description has been passed down of Roman funeral rites. These rites usually included a public procession to the tomb or pyre where the body was to be cremated. The most noteworthy thing about this procession was that the survivors bore masks bearing the images of the family's deceased ancestors. The right to carry the masks in public was eventually restricted to families prominent enough to have held curule magistracies. Mimes, dancers, and musicians hired by the undertakers, as well as professional female mourners, took part in these processions. Less well to do Romans could join benevolent funerary societies (collegia funeraticia) who undertook these rites on their behalf.
Nine days after the disposal of the body, by burial or cremation, a feast was given (cena novendialis) and a libation poured over the grave or the ashes. Since most Romans were cremated, the ashes were typically collected in an urn and placed in a niche in a collective tomb called a columbarium (literally, "dovecote"). During this nine day period, the house was considered to be tainted, funesta, and was hung with yew or cypress branches to warn bypassers. At the end of the period, the house was swept in an attempt to purge it of the dead person's ghost.
Several Roman holidays commemorated a family's dead ancestors, including the Parentalia, held February 13 through 21, to honour the family's ancestors; and the Lemuria, held on May 9, 11, and 13, in which ghosts (larvæ) were feared to be active, and the pater familias sought to appease them with offerings of beans.
The Romans prohibited burning or burying in the city, both from a sacred and civil consideration, so that the priests might not be contaminated by touching a dead body, and so that houses would not be endangered by funeral fires.
The Romans commonly built tombs for themselves during their lifetime. Hence these words frequently occur in ancient inscriptions, V.F. Vivus Facit, V.S.P. Vivus Sibi Posuit. The tombs of the rich were usually constructed of marble, the ground enclosed with walls, and planted round with trees. But common sepulchres were usually built below ground, and called hypogea. There were niches cut out of the walls, in which the urns were placed; these, from their resemblance to the niche of a pigeon-house, were called columbaria.
 Funerals in Scotland
An old funeral rite from the Scottish Highlands is to bury the deceased with a wooden plate resting on his chest. In the plate were placed a small amount of earth and salt, to represent the future of the deceased. The earth hinted that the body would decay and become one with the earth, while the salt represented the soul, which does not decay. This rite was known as "earth laid upon a corpse".
 Mutes and professional mourners
From about 1600 to 1914, there were two professions in Europe now almost totally forgotten. The mute is depicted in art quite frequently but in literature is probably best known from Dicken's "Oliver Twist". Oliver was working for Sowerberry's when this conversation takes place: "There's a expression of melancholy in his face, my dear ... which is very interesting. He would make a delightful mute, my love". The main purpose of a funeral mute was to stand around at funerals with a sad, pathetic face. The professional mourner, generally a woman, would shriek and wail, to encourage others to weep. These people are mentioned in ancient Greek plays, and occurred throughout Europe, but mostly died out in the nineteenth century. They continue to exist in Africa and the Middle East.
 Funerals for heroes
Viking chieftains were placed in ships after their death, together with tools and weapons. The ships were then set on a course out to sea and set ablaze. This is still re-enacted as part of festivals in the north of Europe, particaularly at Up Helly-Aa and the Delamont Viking Festival. Military heroes such as Nelson, Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill had their coffins paraded through the city of London, placed on gun carriages. The guns were originally pulled by horses, but are now pulled by sailors. This is called "A State Funeral".
 Final disposition of the dead
Some cultures place the dead in tombs of various sorts, either individually, or in specially designated tracts of land that house tombs. Burial in a graveyard is one common form of tomb. In some places, burials are impractical because the ground water is too high; therefore tombs are placed above ground, as was the case in New Orleans, Louisiana. Elsewhere, a separate building for a tomb is usually reserved for the socially prominent and wealthy. Especially grand above-ground tombs are called mausoleums. Other buildings used as tombs include the crypts in churches; burial in these places is again usually a privilege given to the socially prominent dead. In more recent times, however, this has often been forbidden by hygiene laws.
Burial was not always permanent. In some areas, burial grounds needed to be re-used because of limited space. In these areas, once the dead have decomposed to skeletons, the bones are removed; after their removal they can be placed in an ossuary.
"Burial at sea" means the deliberate disposal of a corpse into the ocean, wrapped and tied with weights to make sure it sinks. It is a common practice in navies and sea-faring nations; in the Church of England, special forms of funeral service were added to the Book of Common Prayer to cover it. Science fiction writers have frequently analogized with "Burial in space".
Cremation, also, is an old custom; it was the usual mode of disposing of a corpse in ancient Rome. Vikings were occasionally cremated in their longships, and afterwards the location of the site was marked with standing stones. In recent years, despite the objections of some religious groups, cremation has become more and more widely used. Orthodox Judaism and the Eastern Orthodox Church forbid cremation, as do most Muslims. Orthodox Judaism forbids cremation according to Jewish law (Halakha) believing that the soul of a cremated person cannot find its final repose. The Roman Catholic Church forbade it for many years. But since 1963 the church has allowed it so long as it is not done to express disbelief in bodily resurrection. The church specifies that cremated remains are either buried or entombed. They do not allow cremated remains to be scattered or kept at home. Many Catholic cemeteries now have columbarium niches for cremated remains, or specific sections for those remains. Some denominations of Protestantism allow cremation, the more conservative denominations generally do not.
Hindus consider the funeral as the final "samskar" or ritual of life. Cremation is generally mandatory for all Hindus, except for saints and children under the age of 5 years. Cremation is seen as the only way in which all the five elements of fire, water, earth, air and space would be satisfied by returning the body to these elements as after cremation the ashes are poured into the sacred river Ganges or into the sea. After death the body of the deceased is placed on the ground with the head of the deceased pointing towards south which is considered the direction of the dead. The body is anointed with sacred items such as sandalwood paste and holy ashes, tulsi (basil) leaves and water from the river Ganges. The eldest son would wisper "Om namah shivay" or "Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya" near the ear of the deceased. An oil lamp is lit besides the deceased and chapters from the holy Bhagavad Gita or Garud Purana are recited. Traditionally the body has to be cremated within 24 hours after death, as keeping the body longer is considered to lead to impurity and hinder the passage of the dead to afterlife. Hence before cremation as the body lies in state, minimal physical contact with the body is observed. A priest is called in to lead the formal religious rituals, after which the body is taken to the cremation ground, where the eldest son normally lights the funeral pyre, this act is considered to be the most important duty of a son as it is believed that he leads his parents from this world into moksha. Immediately after the cremation, the family members of the deceased all have to take a purifying bath and observe a 12-day mourning period. This mourning period ends on the morning of the thirteenth day on which a Shraddh ceremony is conducted in which offerings are given to ancestors and other gods in order to grant liberation or moksha to the deceased.
Recently a new method of disposing of the body, called promession or an Ecological funeral, has been patented by a Swedish company. Its main purpose is to return the body to soil quickly while minimizing pollution and resource consumption.
Rarer forms of disposal of the dead include excarnation, where the corpse is exposed to the elements. This was done by some groups of Native Americans; it is still practiced by Zoroastrians in Bombay, where the Towers of Silence/Daxmas allow vultures and other carrion eating birds to dispose of the corpses. Zoroastrianism believes that fire is sacred and should not be defiled by cremating a human body. It is also practiced by some Tibetan Buddhist monks where it is sometimes called Sky burial.
Mummification is the drying of bodies to preserve them. The most famous practitioners of mummification were ancient Egyptians: many nobles and high-ranked bureaucrats of the old Egyptian kingdom had their corpses embalmed and stored in luxurious sarcophagi inside their funeral mausoleum or, in the cases of some Pharaohs, a pyramid.
 Control by the decedent of the details of the funeral
In law in the United States, the deceased have surprisingly little say in the manner in which their funerals can be conducted. The law generally holds that the funeral rituals are for the benefit of the survivors, rather than to express the personal whims and tastes of the deceased.
The decedent may, in most U.S. jurisdictions, provide instructions as to his funeral by means of a Last Will and Testament. These instructions can be given some legal effect if bequests are made contingent on the heirs carrying them out, with alternative gifts if they are not followed. This assumes, of course, that the decedent has enough of an estate to make the heirs pause before doing something that will invoke the alternate bequest. To be effective, the will must be easily available, and some notion of what it provides must be known to the decedent's survivors.
Some people dislike the clutter and display of flowers at funerals, and feel that there is an unseemly competition in the number and size of the floral arrangements sent. Many newspapers refuse to print an obituary that requests that flowers not be sent; to do so would be to offend the florists' industry. Many obituaries do however, contain notices regarding "memorial gifts" to a charitable organization. It is usually understood in these situations that a gift to the charity made in memory of the decedent relieves the donor of the social duty of sending flowers.
 Anatomical gifts
Another way of avoiding some of the rituals and costs of a traditional funeral is for the decedent to donate some or all of her or his body to a medical school or similar institution for the purpose of instruction in anatomy, or for similar purposes. Students of medicine and osteopathy frequently study anatomy from donated cadavers; they are also useful in forensic research.
Making an anatomical gift is a separate transaction from being an organ donor, in which any useful organs are removed from the unembalmed cadaver for medical transplant. Under a Uniform Act in force in most jurisdictions of the United States, being an organ donor is a simple process that can often be accomplished when a driver's license is renewed. There are some medical conditions, such as amputations, or various surgeries, that can make the cadaver unsuitable for these purposes. Conversely, the bodies of people who had certain medical conditions are useful for research into those conditions. All US medical schools rely on the generosity of "anatomical donors" for the teaching of anatomy. Typically the remains are cremated once the students have completed their anatomy classes, and many medical schools now hold a memorial service at that time as well.
 See also
- Bereavement in Judaism
- Icelandic funeral
- Living funeral
- Museum of Funeral Customs
- State funeral
- National Museum of Funeral History
 External links
- Museum of Funeral Customs homepage
- Funeral Consumers Alliance
- Huge collection of funeral readings
- Vietnamese Funeral ceremonies
- The Rosicrucian Method of Caring for the Deadbs:Sahrana
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