What is a Funeral Ceremony?

Purpose, types, and components

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Liz Eddy

There are many different ways to look at a funeral service, depending upon your family’s individual beliefs, your culture, religion, and background. Different cultures from all around the world have their own mourning and honoring practices, all of which help to provide peace, community, and love during a challenging time. 

While the funeral service you plan for a loved one will be unique to them and you, there are a few common elements that factor into many services that you may want to consider as you move forward. 

What Is The Purpose Of A Funeral Ceremony?  

Regardless of what the end of life service in your culture or religion may entail, there are a few common reasons why we gather together, whether at a funeral, memorial, or celebration.

To Honor A Loved One’s Life

When we lose a loved one, the opportunity to celebrate their life, the people they touched in their years on earth, their importance in their family, the things they created, and who they were as individuals is very important. A ceremony is a chance to celebrate their achievements and uniqueness and honor who they were.

To Help Process the Reality   

Often, the word closure is used to describe the purpose of a funeral. Closure is a sort of amorphous idea, and there’s no checklist of when closure has been achieved or if you will find closure. Rather, funeral ceremonies can help provide a sense of reality and make it feel more accessible to take the next step in the grieving process. 

Closure isn’t about finishing grieving. When we lose loved ones, we may continue to miss them and grieve their loss in many ways throughout our lives. Rather, closure is about accepting that the loss has occurred and embracing the emotions that come along with that truth. 

To Remember  

In many cultures, it is traditional to share good memories and stories from the life of a person. These are often humorous or light-hearted, sweet, or telling of the best parts of their unique personality. Remembering who they were can help offer a sense of joy, provide some peace, and allow the day to feel like a celebration of their life. 

To Connect  

A certain amount of the funeral ceremony is for those who are grieving and mourning, as well as the individual being honored. By congregating with others who share in your love and loss, you can help to feel supported and connected to a greater community. Grief and loss can be very isolating, but a memorial service (virtual or in person) is an opportunity to show support for others and enjoy the support they can share with you. 

Types Of Funeral Ceremonies  

Truly, there are endless types of funeral and end of life ceremonies, and you can also develop your own in honor of a loved one. Embracing traditions and cultures can be a great way to connect with a community and find hope and support, but you can also develop a ceremony that represents the person being honored in their own individual way. 

Here are some of the classic types of funeral ceremonies that can be combined or explored to find the right method for honoring the person you love. 

Formal Funeral Service  

A formal funeral service is often religious in nature and follows a careful schedule of burial, visitation, and classic eulogies and hymns. This is a rather broad category when it comes down to it, as it’s largely influenced by cultural and religious traditions. For example, at a Muslim funeral service, specific funeral prayers known as Salat al-Janazah are performed in a solomn ceremony, while professional mourners may make an appearance at a Chinese funeral service

You can also have a non-religious funeral service at a funeral home, rather than a house of worship. These often make use of poetry, classical music, and a community leader or family member in place of the religious elements. 

Memorial Service  

A memorial service is similar to a funeral service, differing only in that the body of the deceased is not present. They may have already been laid to rest in their method of choice or have been cremated. If the cremated remains are at the service, it is still considered a memorial. The intention is to remember and honor them, but many cultures will do so without the body present. 

Wake Or Viewing  

A wake is most often held before the funeral and may be hosted at a family members’ home or at a funeral home. You may decide to hold a wake in lieu of a more formal funeral service. They can be ongoing for several hours, but it’s not expected that guests remain the entire time. 

Food and drinks are often offered, and condolences can be made in a receiving line to the family. A wake is a good opportunity to showcase photos and memories of the honored. 

Burial And Alternatives  

Burial is a common method of disposition, but burial alternatives have become more popular in recent years for reasons of environmental concerns, family requests, and changing times. You may want to speak to your loved one in advance to determine their wishes for disposition, but options include burial, green burial, cremation, and even coral reef habitat rehabilitation memorials. 

Cremation And Scattering  

If you decide to have your loved one cremated, you may wish to host a scattering or burial ceremony. Often, these take place in important locations to the person’s life, like a beloved mountain ridge or childhood lake. While it’s important to consider the safety and legal ramifications of scattering or burying ashes, this can be a hopeful and positive way to lay your loved ones to rest. 

 Celebration Of Life  

A celebration of life ceremony is a festive, happy way to share the joy of a life well-lived and remember a person who passed with happiness and joyful memories. You may host a celebration of life ceremony as an added event or instead of other events, and design it to best represent the person you are honoring and their life. 

Components Of A Funeral Ceremony  

The elements that you add to the funeral ceremony that you’re holding depend upon the person you’re honoring, your own traditions, and what feels appropriate and right. Here are a few of the available options to consider integrating into your ceremony or service. 

Religion Or Spirituality  

Involve as much or as little religion in your funeral ceremony as you feel comfortable with. That might mean spiritual music and a religious leader leading the ceremony, or simply passages from a holy book or references to personal spirituality. 

For many, faith, in its myriad forms, provides a sense of comfort and safety about what comes next for themselves and their loved ones, so explore the ways it might be best within the ceremony. 

Art And Poetry  

If spirituality or references to faith don’t feel appropriate to the ceremony, or you want to mix various elements together for a unique service, art and poetry are another common element of end of the life services. If you are giving a eulogy, you may wish to reference important artists or speakers who often have the insight that helps us manage grief and honor our loved one in the way they deserve. 

Speeches And Stories  

Some ceremonies give friends and loved ones an opportunity to stand up and share their experiences, stories, and memories of the deceased. Even if there’s no official time for this, you may want to integrate a memory book into the reception or ask that friends share their favorite memories in cards. 

Music And Songs  

Music and songs are perfect for integrating your loved one’s personality into the ceremony. You can share their favorite songs or the music they have picked out themselves. It also helps to add a tone of calm, peace, or joviality to the event, based on the kind of ceremony that you feel is most appropriate. 

Reception And Connectedness  

For many, a ceremony involves a period of reception, a chance to informally speak with the loved ones of the deceased, share stories, and enjoy a period of connectedness and support with others who are experiencing grief. The reception may take different forms, but for many who are navigating loss, the chance to be with friends and loved ones is an essential part of the healing process and a way to hear memories and stories. 

In Summary  

The way you explore loss, grief, and memory is unique to your family, culture, and traditions. If given the opportunity, speak with the family member or friend that you will be honoring and help follow through on their wishes for a service or funeral ceremony. Otherwise, integrate their personality and favorite things into the ceremony you plan. 

Whether it is large and festive or private and peaceful, the chance to honor and celebrate the person you love can be a helpful part of navigating grief and connecting with others doing the same. Combine or develop the appropriate funeral ceremony for your loved one to help properly honor them and provide yourself and friends and family a chance for peace and hope. 

Categories: Funeral Planning, Managing a Death

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