Dimond And Sons

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Choosing A Funeral Ceremony
Choosing A Funeral Ceremony
As far back as anthropologists can trace civilization, humans have recognized death with ritual or ceremony. In some cultures funerals were large gatherings with uninhibited, public displays of grief; mourners tore their clothes or even injured themselves to demonstrate their emotional pain. In others the dead were buried with their favorite belongings to comfort them in a next world. Today, of course, people all over the world still commemorate their loved ones with ceremonies that reflect their religious or cultural attitudes toward death.

Why Funerals Are Important
Just as we have rituals for other passages of life, such as birthdays and weddings, we need a ritual for death—one of the most significant of all passages. Funerals don't just recognize that a life has ended; they recognize that a life was lived. They offer survivors a chance to gather and recall what mattered to them about the deceased's life: his or her accomplishments, friendship, guidance or love.

The funeral ritual also helps the survivors to heal emotionally. When someone we love dies, we experience grief, which, though it hurts, is not something to avoid. Grief is part of the healing process.

An important step in grieving is expressing the emotions that may accompany death: anger, guilt, fear, sorrow and depression. A funeral gives mourners a place to express those feelings. Funerals stimulate mourners to talk about the deceased, one of the first steps toward accepting the death. The funeral brings together a community of mourners who, by supporting each other, can help themselves through a difficult period.

To resolve their grief, mourners need to accept the reality of death not only on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level as well. It is for this reason that the traditional funeral is usually preceded by an open-casket visitation period. This may seem unnecessary, but many grief experts say that nothing helps you accept death as much as seeing the dead person. Viewings help with grieving because they show that there's no return.

Religious Ceremonies
Protestant funerals are generally preceded by a visitation period. The casket will be open or closed depending on the family's wishes, but it is usually closed during the actual funeral service. Those attending a Protestant service often send flowers or gifts as an expression of their concern and feelings, although it is not uncommon for the family to request a donation to charity.

Protestant ceremonies usually include scripture lessons that relate to death and the Christian concept of resurrection. The service may also include prayers, a sermon, and a group reading or singing of hymns.

The Roman Catholic funeral follows relatively formal guidelines. On the evening before a Roman Catholic funeral, a wake or prayer service or rosary recitation is held at the funeral home. Friends of the family may send flowers or gifts, although it is not uncommon for the family to request a donation to charity. Friends can also ask that a mass be said for the repose of the deceased person's soul, then send a mass card to the family.

The Roman Catholic funeral ceremony often begins at the funeral home, proceeds to the church for a mass, then proceeds to the graveside, where additional liturgy is performed. The casket is closed at a Roman Catholic funeral service, but usually open at the wake.

Jewish funeral services vary somewhat among the Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed branches, but in general the funeral itself is the beginning of ceremonies instead of the end. Plain wood caskets are the norm in Jewish funerals as well as the deceased wearing a shroud. The placing of dirt from Israel in the casket is also common.

The Jewish ceremony is relatively short compared to Christian ceremonies. The ceremony usually consists of prayers that praise life and affirm that a life was lived. Traditional Jewish families remain at home for seven days after the funeral. During this time, friends and relatives visit to offer their support.

Some families may attend services every day for the next year to commemorate the deceased, becoming part of a community of bereaved persons with whom they can share feelings.

In contrast to Christian ceremonies, a deceased Jewish person's memorial stone or tablet is often unveiled months after the funeral, which gives family and friends another opportunity to gather in remembrance. The deceased person's name is also read aloud during synagogue service every year on the anniversary of his or her death.

Humanist Ceremonies
While religious ceremonies serve their important role, about half of all Americans are not formally religious. It is common in this circumstance for the bereaved to request a religious funeral from a church they had a relationship with in the past.

Because relating death to religious teachings is only one purpose of a funeral, many non-religious people these days elect to hold humanist ceremonies. During humanist ceremonies, as in religious ceremonies, families and friends gather to acknowledge the death, offer support to each other and express their grief. A friend or family member may preside over the ceremony, or the family may ask a pastor to conduct a ceremony that avoids religious imagery. Humanist ceremonies commonly feature music, group singing and readings of poetry or literature that held some meaning for the deceased.

It's Your Choice
No matter what your choice, it's yours to make. Your funeral director will be there to offer options that help personalize the ceremony. So while the form of the traditional funeral may be changing, its purpose has not: the funeral is still an important ceremony that helps the bereaved go on living.

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