What is a funeral?
A funeral is a gathering of family and friends who come together to honor the memory of a loved one who has died. Funerals provide an important rite of passage. Similar to rituals which mark other transitions in life, such as baptisms, graduations, and weddings, funerals provide a time for family and friends to celebrate the life of the loved one and share their feelings concerning the loss of this person in their lives. Coming together like this helps people accept the death, which is a critical part of adjusting to the loss. Funerals can be as unique as the people planning them. While they are often held at churches, synagogues or funeral homes, they may be held in any location requested by the family. Funerals that remember the loved one in personal ways can be very healing. We all carry memories and it is helpful to share these memories through readings, music, or other forms. Funerals are an important ritual in our lives. They affirm our basic beliefs about life and death, and help us through our loss.
Why have a funeral?
Commemorating the important events which occur throughout the course of our lives is important to most of us. Christenings and baptisms, graduations from high school and college, weddings, birthday and anniversary celebrations, and funerals are all examples of important events. These events are acknowledged through some form of ritual or ceremony. Funerals, like other events in our lives, serve a valuable function by providing a time and place for commemorating and acknowledging the life of an individual who has died. Funerals confirm and reinforce the reality of death, assist in the expression of grief and feelings of loss, begin the process of reintegrating the bereaved back into the community, and convey our values and beliefs regarding the meaning of life and death. Funerals may be as unique as the individual whose life they celebrate. A funeral director can provide many suggestions and options for ensuring that a funeral for a loved one or for yourself, truly honors and celebrates the life that was led.
What To Do When Death Occurs
When death occurs and the proper authorities have been notified, the decision of how the remains should be laid to rest needs to be made. If a loved one has opted to preplan his or her funeral, then you should contact the funeral home and have their wishes carried out. If no preparation has taken place, then there are several options that will need to be considered such as where and how the remains are handled and what type of service is desired. Outlining what is important to you or what your family has traditionally done is a good way to help with your decision. It is not legally necessary to use the services of any outside resources such as a funeral home or cemetery; however, for practical reasons most people opt to. In most cases, the funeral director should be able to help with the preparation of the body, aiding in the services, filing the death certificates and putting the notices in the newspaper. It may also be wise to talk with someone who is not as personally involved with the deceased to help you decide on the arrangements.
What do funeral directors do?
The primary role of a funeral director is to assist and serve people experiencing the death of a loved one. Usually this is immediately after the death has occurred, but increasingly it involves planning ahead of the time of need. The funeral director relieves the family of many details. The director transports the body to the funeral home, arranges for the wake and gets information to the proper authorities for the death certificate. The funeral director places obituary notices in newspapers and helps fill out claim forms for Social Security survivors benefits, Veterans benefits, and life insurance. He or she also secures the location for the funeral and arranges for someone to officiate the service. On the day of the funeral, the director takes care of transportation and other logistics. The funeral director is also responsible for preparing the body of the deceased for the service and making certain that its presentation fulfills the wishes of the family. In all of these activities, the funeral director is the primary organizer and counselor to the survivors of the deceased.
Costs of Funeral Services
Most funeral homes offer funerals ranging from simple to elaborate, with pricing to match. Often, there is a flat fee that may include the coffin, preparation of the body for burial, and procedures such as filing the death certificate and putting notices in the newspaper. You may obtain an itemized list of what the package includes to find out which costs are extra and what other details you must take care of yourself. Funeral costs can generally be put into four categories: the merchandise purchased for the funeral, such as caskets and memorial folders; the professional services of the funeral director, who handles the details of the funeral service; the use of the funeral home, equipment, and staff; and finally, the transportation required for the funeral. It is important to realize that within each of these categories, there are choices you may make based on the deceased's wishes for the funeral and your budget. Because the costs involved with funerals change over time, it is best to contact a funeral home to discuss options and prices with them. The funeral home can provide you with their current general price list, which should itemize the costs associated with funerals.
Traditional Funeral Services
A traditional funeral service is a type of service that a particular family, ethnic, or religious group has established as being compatible with its beliefs and traditions. In most of these groups, a traditional funeral service includes several common elements. A gathering of family and community is held at a church or funeral home, most often with the casketed body present. The casket may be open or closed, and there is generally a defined order of service. The service is often followed by the burial, but in some traditions, may be followed by cremation. The service is normally organized by custom, tradition, or religious law to provide structure for the mourning and grief process, and speaks about the death and loss. The traditional service usually has a time limit, but is also flexible to meet the individual needs of the survivors. Traditional services are group-centered, with family, friends, and members of the community of the deceased invited to participate. A wide range of services, from simple to elaborate, are available. Regardless of the type of funeral service, acknowledging the death of a loved one can be important to the future adjustment of the survivors.
Alternatives to Traditional Services
Today, there are many ways to organize and conduct celebrations which acknowledge that a life has been lived and that a death has occurred. Some personalized formats that are commonly used include: a service or party at a workplace, favorite park, or camping spot, or an open house at a favorite gathering place. Other formats might include a sports event, a dinner, an art show, or other events reflective of the life of the deceased and dedicated to them. At these gatherings, family members or friends may present a program of reminiscence, where they exchange favorite stories of the deceased and reflect on the contributions made by that person. An important facet of any of these alternative service events is to acknowledge the mourning process, and acknowledge the death and the loss that follows. It is also important to encourage the expression of feelings, and speak directly about the individual life that has been lived. There are no absolute standards for an alternative service. An experienced funeral director will be willing to help you explore the alternatives which are best for your family.
Memorial Services and Receptions
The deceased or their survivors may not belong to a community that has a defined funeral service, or they may be in a situation where a traditional service would be inappropriate. In these cases, memorial services and receptions can be chosen as an alternative to traditional services. These events are less formal than traditional services. Most funeral homes will provide facilities for receptions or can assist you with arranging them. As a focal point of the service, pictures of the deceased, memorabilia from his or her life, hobby items or mementos may be brought to the place of gathering. This is a way of focusing on the life of the person being remembered. Memorial services can be held in a funeral home, church, private home, or almost any place of community gathering. Receptions, where coffee and cookies or more elaborate food is provided, may follow memorial services , or may be the principle form of the remembrance service. Receptions give family and friends an opportunity to support each other in their loss, to renew relationship bonds and to formalize new relationships which no longer include the active participation of the deceased.
Caskets are generally used for visitations and funeral services. They may be made of wood or metal and are available in a wide range of styles and prices. Caskets made of wood are usually constructed of mahogany, walnut, cherry, maple, or oak. They are distinguished by the choice of finish, styling, and fabric that is used to line the casket. The cost of hardwood caskets varies according to the type and thickness of the wood, the cloth selected for the interior, and the details of the craftsmanship. Metal caskets are usually made from bronze, copper, or steel. The price difference between metal caskets is determined by the thickness of the metal, and the type of cloth selected to line the interior.
Cremation Services Cost
Because there are so many service options available with cremation, an accurate cost is not possible to make. The family has the option to select as much, or as little, as they wish with cremation. Several factors, however, can influence the cost of the cremation. If a wake or church service is planned before the cremation, a casket is needed. Most crematories require a rigid, combustible container and usually will not accept plastic or fiberglass. If a non-combustible casket is chosen for viewing, an alternative container would need to be purchased for the cremation, increasing the cost. However, in such situations, it is often possible to rent a casket for viewing, at a lower cost than purchasing the casket. If a wake or viewing is not chosen, and if economy and simplicity are a concern, there are many types of containers acceptable for cremation. Containers can be made from pine, plywood and pressboard. The least expensive containers are typically labeled "alternative containers". These alternative containers are generally made of heavy cardboard and fulfill the crematory requirements. The final resting place of the remains is also a factor in the cost of cremation. There are various costs associated with the cremation process itself, including advance payment before the cremation occurs. Other costs include the purchase of an urn for permanent containment and a final resting place for the remains. A columbarium, which is a building or structure for cremated remains, where single niche spaces or family units can be selected or burial lot may be purchased. The extent and the content of the cremation service is up to the family, and helps to determine the costs.
Urns are used as a permanent container for cremated remains. They can be made from a variety of materials such as bronze, marble, porcelain, ceramic and hardwoods, and are available in many shapes and styles. The urn may be placed in a columbarium, which is a building or structure for cremated remains, where single niche spaces or family units may be selected. Niches are generally recessed compartments enclosed by either glass protecting an engraved urn or ornamental fronts upon which the names and dates are inscribed. Urns may also be buried in family lots or, in many cemeteries, there are specially designed areas for the interment of urns, called urn gardens. Urns may also be kept at the home of a survivor, in remembrance of the deceased. If the family chooses to scatter the cremated remains, the family may keep the urn in any of these places as a memorial to the deceased.
Cemeteries generally provide several kinds of services, including earth burials. Cemeteries usually give you the choice of single or double occupancy of the grave, or above the ground burial in a garden or an indoor mausoleum. Many cemeteries also offer earth burial for cremated remains, often in specially designed gardens. Also available is above ground placement of cremated remains in a garden or an indoor columbarium. A Columbarium is a structure of vaults lined with recesses for urns. When selecting a cemetery, remember you will be entrusting it with a precious part of your heritage and dealing with it for many years. You may wish to look for well-maintained grounds and a friendly, confident, and knowledgeable staff; and a willingness to show and discuss with you a wide range of options and prices. In addition, you might want to seek recommendations from such sources as neighbors, the Better Business Bureau and other consumer groups.
When a loved one dies, survivors may be eligible for benefits from Social Security or the Veterans Administration. The qualifications for Social Security benefits depend on age, marital status, number of dependents, and whether the deceased contributed to Social Security. It is important to remember that the payment of Social Security benefits is not automatic; survivors must apply for benefits through the Social Security Administration. However, most funeral homes now file the needed forms for you, or will assist you in determining what benefits are available to you and how to receive them. Benefits from the Veteran's Administration are available to any honorably discharged individual, surviving spouse, and children of the veteran. These benefits include an American flag, a grave marker, and in some cases military honors. If a veteran and spouse are buried in a national cemetery, they will also receive a grave space and the minimum outer burial container called a grave liner.
Death Away From Home
Because people in our society travel so frequently, it is not uncommon for death to occur away from home. In such cases, survivors should contact a funeral director in the area where the funeral will take place. The director can make all the necessary arrangements and contact the appropriate individuals to ensure that everything is taken care of properly where the death occurred. The funeral director knows what services are needed and can coordinate all the details, both where the death occurred and at home. This not only makes this difficult process easier, but working exclusively with one funeral director will also reduce the cost involved. Being prepared for the possibility of death away from home may involve meeting with a funeral director in your area. Their help can be invaluable in the case of this unexpected circumstance.
Expressing Your Sympathy
When a death occurs, there are different ways of expressing your sympathy to the family of the deceased. The most common way of expressing sympathy is to attend the funeral or memorial service and send flowers to the survivors. In addition to traditional flower arrangements, there are other ways to express sympathy and remember the deceased person. You may find a favorite memento associated with the person to present to the bereaved family. Teenagers sometimes attend the funeral of a friend wearing T-shirts with the deceased friend's name on them. The best way to convey sympathy is to be sincere and be natural. Talk with the mourners and let them know how you feel. You may be uncomfortable about what to say, but mourners are seldom offended by honest expressions of support. Send a personal card to the family expressing your feelings about the deceased. Comfort and support will be more appreciated than an expensive gift. Consider sending flowers to the home or sending a plant or shrub that can be planted in memory of the deceased. The best gift to give is yourself and your support.
Viewing the Deceased
Permitting family and friends to view the body of the deceased at a visitation or wake, or during the funeral service can be a valuable experience. The most important reason for viewing the body is to help people accept the reality of the death that has occurred. An important part of the grieving process is the acceptance of loss, and viewing the body may be a cathartic way to help survivors toward acceptance, and to start the process of healthful mourning. A funeral director will discuss the option of viewing the body with the immediate family when services are being planned. The survivors may choose whether the casket is to be open or closed during the public visitation and funeral. Insisting that a person, especially a child, view the body is not recommended. Children have many questions concerning death, and it is often helpful for them to view the body and receive factual answers. However, viewing the body is a personal choice for both adults and children, and no one should be forced to do so against their will. Viewing the body can be an important part of the funeral experience. Talking with a funeral director about your thoughts and concerns can help you reach an understanding of what choices would be best for your family.
Should Children Attend The Funeral?
The death of a loved one can be a very confusing and bewildering experience for children. Attendance of the funeral may be helpful for a child to realize the finality of death, and also allows the child to share in the emotional experience with the family. However, you should not insist that they attend. Let the children express sorrow in their own way and do not force ideas on them, such as grieving or funeral attendance. Talk with younger children. If they want to attend the funeral, prepare them for the experience and answer any questions they may have. Many funeral homes have information available that can help provide you answers to questions children might have.
Explaining Death to Children
Experiencing the death of a family member can be very different for younger members of the family. Young children may recover from the death of a loved one very quickly. Most children under three years of age have no concept of death and they may not fully understand the finality of death until approximately age nine. Therefore, it is important to handle the situation carefully. Talk with the child and try to help them understand that although the deceased will no longer be with you, that death is a natural part of everyday life. Let the child ask questions, and guide them through any grieving process, reassuring them and answering their questions. A funeral home can advise you on helping your child cope with the death of a loved one. Resources such as books and brochures are available that can help you and the child through what can be a difficult and confusing time.
How to Handle Grief
The loss of a loved one or a close friend can be one of the most difficult times we ever face. The grieving process happens over time and is an essential part of coping with a loss. Grief is first felt as a numbness and inability to accept the loss, followed by shock as the reality sets in. There may be a period of emotional distress that includes depression, despair, and anxiety. The most intense period of grief usually lasts a month or two and then begins to lessen. Grief is different for everybody and needs to be experienced in our own way. Talking with loved ones and friends about what you feel can help you through grief. Don't hide your feelings, as this can make the grieving longer and more difficult. You may even want family or friends to take on daily tasks around the house such as cleaning and shopping. Church or community support groups are often valuable because members can share similar losses and provide understanding and encouragement. Funeral homes often have resources to help those who have experienced the loss of a loved one.
Coping with Anticipated Death
When a death is anticipated, there are a number of things that can be done in advance to ease the impact of the death on those loved ones left behind. One such thing is to discuss how that individual would like for their remains to be laid to rest and what kinds of services would be preferred. With time to plan, several options can be fully researched to ensure that the loved one's needs are best met. Planning early may also aid in getting the best price for the service required. This may occur because one is investigating all options at a time that is not as emotional. Supplying family and friends with prearranged tasks may also aid in easing some of the burden and to add support to those most close. Preparing for anticipated death may be hard for those left behind, but knowing that a loved one's last wish was carried out with your help may be the best way of coping with their death.
By pre-planning and filing a funeral plan with a funeral home, you provide several major courtesies for your survivors. Your family will know for sure what your wishes are, as most people discuss the plan once its completed. Your survivors will be bound legally to follow your wishes, unless extenuating circumstances prevent it. The funeral home or cemetery will then become your agent, ensuring that your plans are carried out. If you have set money aside to pay for services, you will have also saved your family from the financial burden of funeral expenses during an emotional time in their lives. There are dozens of separate decisions and choices to be made when death occurs. Most of these can be made in advance and kept on record at the funeral home. The funeral director can show you a complete list of services and merchandise available as well as current pricing. You can also decide about visitation or wake plans, and how and where the funeral is to be held. Some people select their casket, vault, memorial folders, and prayer cards in advance. Each individual can decide how many decisions about their funeral they wish to make in advance. Pre-financing is also helpful in preventing inflation. Most pre-financing arrangements made with funeral homes either guarantee the final expense or make provisions for growth in the account.
Prepaying for Funerals
Preplanning and prepaying for funerals enables you to make decisions and financial arrangements more calmly than your family may be able to at the time of your death. By researching and choosing among the various burial options, caskets and other needs in advance, you have the peace of mind knowing what will happen after your death. Your family also will be assured that your funeral will be conducted according to your wishes. A prearranged funeral usually requires a fixed, up-front fee. In most cases, you can pay this fee in one lump sum, in several installments, or by purchasing an insurance policy specifically designed to cover funeral expenses. In this case, your money is placed in a trust fund to cover your burial costs. Most policies also protect you against future price increases for funerals and related services. This ensures that your family will not have to raise funds to cover your burial at a time that may be difficult for them to do so.
What is Embalming?
The cells of the human body begin decomposition immediately after death. Embalming is the process of sanitizing and chemically treating the body of the deceased. This process retards decomposition of the body and restores an acceptable physical appearance which is often necessary to allow family members time to gather for funeral services. When there is to be a viewing of the body, either public or by the family, embalming restores a more healthful physical appearance. This preparation helps modify and remove signs of accidents or disease, and can provide survivors a more acceptable memory of the deceased. Embalming is the first step in the process of preparing the body of the deceased for viewing. Embalming is usually not required in cases of immediate burial or immediate cremation, and for some religious groups who bury within twenty-four hours of death. Most funeral homes require embalming if there is to be a public viewing, if the body is to be kept more than twenty-four hours, or if the body is to be transported across state lines. In addition to embalming, preparation of the body also includes shaving, hair dressing, make-up, dressing, and placing the body in the casket prior to viewing and services.
Selection of the Monument
The selection of the monument or grave marker is an important decision because the memorial will stand as a tribute, marking the last resting place of a loved one. In making such a decision, consideration should be given to the quality and permanence of the materials used. A funeral director can provide descriptions of a wide variety of memorials that may be appropriate. Memorials may be purchased from any source, however, be sure to check the cemetery's rules and regulations to determine whether there are any restrictions on the types of memorials that may be used. Purchasers should consider the permanency of the supplier, since they may well be required at a later date to cut the death date on the stone, add a companion scroll, or perhaps supply a matching memorial. Prices vary greatly, depending on whether a stone or bronze memorial is allowed. Monuments have a wide range of prices. Bronze memorials generally are more uniform in price and size.
Shipping to a Foreign Country
Because many people choose to be returned to their native land upon their death, foreign shipping is rapidly becoming a common occurrence for funeral homes. Most countries have certain requirements to meet in order for the return of human remains to be permitted. These include some or all of the following: certified copies of the death certificate, a notarized embalmer's or funeral director's affidavit, a health department certification, and special casket requirements. Family members often express the desire to accompany their deceased loved one on the same flight. A funeral director can ensure that all arrangements are made to secure safe passage of your loved one to almost any destination around the world.
Resources For Other Questions
The death of a loved one can be a very difficult adjustment for many people. Experiencing this type of loss can disrupt relationships with other family members and change your way of life. Survivors may need help in getting on with their day-to-day activities. They may also be faced with concerns, both emotional and financial, and have important issues to discuss. Lack of support during the mourning process can prolong depression for those left behind. Many resources are available in the community to assist people in making adjustments and coping with the death of a loved one. You may want to consider private counseling or join a support group with other individuals experiencing similar emotions. Many cemeteries and funeral homes can assist people with the problems and questions they have when a death occurs, or they can refer you to resources where you can find help. Many books, videos and brochures have been written and produced on the subject of death and grieving.