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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 honour. 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 funeral 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 culture itself, predating modern homo sapiens, to at least 300,000 years ago. For example, in the Shanidar cave in Iraq, in Pontnewydd Cave in Wales and other sites across Europe and the Near East, 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.

Funeral Arrangement

There are numerous steps when arranging a funeral service, whether it be preparation for burial or entombment. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Obtain a Burial Certificate - Law requires a burial permit to be procured by next of kin, typically via a licensed funeral director or through the local Vital Records or Birth and Death Registration office. Usually, a nominal fee is charged to acquire a burial permit.
  2. Select a Burial Site - Oftentimes, the deceased will have either orally requested a burial site before death, or even have written such a request in a will.
  3. Transport Deceased to Burial Site - This can be accomplished through a mortuary or special car service, typically in the form of the traditional hearse. However, many opt to customize this aspect of the funeral procession, in terms of the vehicle selected for transportation. There is usually an additional charge associated with transporting the deceased.
  4. Opening and Closing of Gravesite - This must be arranged with the cemetery ahead of time, and there's typically a fee associated with both the opening and closing of the grave. Fees may vary depending on the day and times of service.
  5. Purchasing a Burial Vault or Liner - Burial vaults, or liners, encapsulate the walls of a casket and prevent the surrounding earth from collapsing the casket over time. Typically, these aren't usually required by law, but often mandatory at most cemeteries, as it helps with site maintenance.
  6. Select a Monument or Grave Marker - It is customary, and sometimes required by cemeteries, to purchase and place a headstone, tombstone or memorial marker at the gravesite for identification and also ritualistic traditions.
These are the usual steps associated with burial preparation, however, there are many additional steps that may be taken by family members of the deceased.

Religious funerals

Buddhist funerals

Christian funerals

Hindu funerals

Islamic funerals

Jewish 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 , Aana Jaana) 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 always tries 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 and 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 Guru Granth Sahib, 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.

After the cremation ceremony, there may be another service at the Gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, call the Sahaj Paath Bhog Ceremony but this is optional.

Non-religious funerals

Humanist funerals

Non-believers in many countries opt for a religion-free service, which is normally carried out by a humanist officiant, in which the word "God" or any reference to prayer or the afterlife is omitted.

Funerals in Japan

Japan has a mixture of Shintō and Buddhism beliefs, funerals are almost always Buddhist ceremonies, and 90% of the funerals are Buddhist style. A Japanese funeral includes a wake, the cremation of the deceased, a burial in a family grave, and a periodic memorial service. 99.82% of all deceased Japanese are cremated, according to 2005 statistics. Most of these are then buried in a family grave, but scattering of the ashes has become more popular in recent years.

Funerals in contemporary North America and Europe

Traditional funerals

A floral name tribute (spelling out the word "Mum") at a funeral in England.
Within the United States and Canada, in most cultural groups and regions, the funeral rituals can be divided into three parts:visitation, funeral, and the burial service.

Visitation

At the visitation (also called a "viewing" ,"wake" or "calling hours") the body of the deceased person (or decedent) is placed on display in the casket (also called a coffin, however almost all body containers are caskets). The viewing often takes place on one or two evenings before the funeral. The body is traditionally dressed in the decedent's best clothes. In recent times there has been more variation in what the decedent is dressed in - some people choose to be dressed in clothing more reflective of how they dressed in life. The body will often be adorned with common jewelry, such as watches, necklaces, brooches, etc. The jewelry may be taken off and given to the family of the deceased or remain in the casket after burial. Jewelry will most likely be removed before cremation. The body may or may not be embalmed, depending upon such factors as the amount of time since the death has occurred, religious practices, or requirements of the place of burial but in general embalming is preferable.[1360][1361]

The most commonly prescribed aspects of this gathering are that the attendees sign a book kept by the deceased's survivors to record who attended. 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. A more recent trend is to create a DVD with pictures and video of the deceased, accompanied by music, and play this DVD continuously during the visitation.

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 or other trauma, deformed from illness or if someone in the group is emotionally unable to cope with viewing the corpse. In cases such as these, a picture of the deceased, usually a formal photo, is placed atop the casket.

However, this step is foreign to Judaism; Jewish funerals are held soon after death(preferably within a day or two, unless more time is needed from relatives to come), and the corpse is never displayed. As well, Jewish law forbids anyone to embalm the body of the deceased. Traditionally flowers (and music) are not sent to a grieving 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 (and donations are given to a charity instead). 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. In earlier history, it was common practice in some of the states in the southeastern United States that the body was taken to the decedent’s home or that of a relative for viewing. This practice continues in many areas of Ireland and Scotland. The viewing may end with a prayer service; in a Roman Catholic funeral, this may include a rosary.
Traditional "crossed-ladders" for a fire department funeral


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; this step may also be taken if the deceased has few survivors or the survivors want a funeral with only a small number of guests.

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.

Funeral

A memorial service, often called a funeral, is 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 held according to the family's choosing which may be a few days after the time of death, allowing family members to attend the service.

The deceased is usually transported from the funeral home to a church in a hearse, a specialized vehicle designed to carry casketed remains. The deceased is often transported in a procession (also called a funeral cortege), with the hearse, funeral service vehicles, and private automobiles traveling in a procession to the church or other location where the services will be held. In a number of jurisdictions, special laws cover funeral processions - such as requiring other vehicles to give right-of-way to a funeral procession. Funeral service vehicles may be equipped with light bars and special flashers to increase their visibility on the roads. They may also all have their headlights on, to identify which vehicles are part of the cortege, although the practice also has roots in ancient Roman customs. After the funeral service, if the deceased is to be buried the funeral procession will proceed to a cemetery if not already there. If the deceased is to be cremated the funeral procession may then proceed to the crematory.

Funeral services commonly 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. Clergy are often asked to deliver eulogies for people they have never met. Church bells may also be tolled both before and after the service.

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 sometimes 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 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; however, in the US, nothing should cover the national flag according to Title 4, United States Code, Chapter 1, Paragraph 8i.

Funeral customs vary from country to country. In the United States, any type of noise other than quiet whispering or mourning is considered disrespectful.

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

John Everett Millais - The Vale of Rest
A burial service, conducted at the side of the grave, tombmarker, mausoleum or cremation, at which the body of the decedent is buried or cremated at the conclusion.

Sometimes, the burial service will immediately follow the funeral, in which case a funeral procession 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.

If the decedent served in a branch of the Armed forces, military rites are often accorded at the burial service.

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. Greek funerals are an exception as the coffin is open during the whole procedure unless the state of the body does not allow it.

The morticians will typically ensure that all jewelry, including wristwatch, that were displayed at the wake are in the casket before it is buried or entombed. Custom requires that everything goes into the ground; however this is not true for Jewish services. Jewish tradition is that nothing of value is buried with the deceased.

There is an exception, in the case of cremation. Such items tend to melt or suffer damage, so they are usually removed before the body goes into the furnace. Pacemakers are removed prior to cremation - if they were left in they could possibly explode and damage the crematorium.

Luncheon

In many traditions, a meal or other gathering often follows the burial service, also called a repast. This gathering may be held at the deceased's church or another off-site location. Some funeral homes have large spaces set aside to provide funeral dinners.

Etiquette in different countries

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).


Traditionally etiquette dictated that the bereaved and other attendees at a funeral wear semi-formal clothing, such as a suit and tie for men or a dress for women. The most traditional 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, t-shirts with advertising slogans or suggestive images, or, at Western funerals, a large amount of white (other than a button-down shirt or blouse, a military uniform, or in the Swedish tradition, white ties worn by male members of the immediate family) 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. Increasingly, the deceased have requested before their death that the attendees of their funeral should wear something of their favorite colour or wear something specific, such as a football shirt.

A guest book may be placed in a prominent place during the viewing. It is intended to let the next of kin know who came to the funeral, so that thank-you letters can be mailed. It is not intended to be read by the funeral directors as a source of referrals, so it is not the best place for comments on the appropriateness of the funeral arrangements. Disagreements on such matters can have lasting effects and can even affect inheritances.

Private services

On occasion, the family of the deceased may wish to have only a very small service, with just the deceased'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 one is invited. In this case, a private funeral service is conducted. Reasons vary but often include the following:
  • The deceased was an infant (possibly, they may have been stillborn) or very aged, and therefore has few surviving family members or friends.
  • The deceased may be a crime victim or a convicted criminal who was serving a prison sentence or executed. 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 deceased was convicted of murder or sexual assault).
  • 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 deceased's life in attendance.
  • The family and/or the deceased, as more frequently preplanned, prefer simplicity and lower cost to that of traditional arrangements. The choice of cremation as an option to casketed burial is increasing and often includes disposition of the cremains at a time privately convenient to the deceased's family members.
  • The deceased is of a distinct celebrity status, and holding public ceremony would result in too many guests who are not acquainted with the deceased to participate. On the other hand, if a state funeral is offered and accepted by the deceased'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. In the case of Steve Irwin, his memorial service was held on 20 September 2006.

Memorial services

Order of exercises, local memorial service in Nashua, New Hampshire for U.S.
President William McKinley on September 19, 1901, shortly after his assassination.
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.

After the sudden deaths of important public officials, public memorial services have been held by communities, including those without any other connection to the deceased. For instance, memorial services were held after the James A. Garfield assassination and the William McKinley assassination.

Other types of funerals

New Orleans Jazz Funeral

A unique funeral tradition in the United States occurs in New Orleans, Louisiana. The tradition arose from a combination of African spiritual practices, French musical traditions, and African-American cultural influences. A typical jazz funeral begins with a march by the family, friends, and a jazz band, starting from the home, funeral home, or church, and proceeding 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 an all natural bio-degradable green burial shroud, sometimes a simple coffin made of cardboard or other easily-biodegradable material. 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 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.

East Asian funerals

Funeral procession in Beijing, 1900
In most East Asian, South 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. In Chinese culture, red is strictly forbidden as it is a traditionally symbolic color of happiness. Exceptions are sometimes made if the deceased has reached a high age. In which case, the funeral is considered a celebration. 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 or white robe.

A traditional Chinese gift to the attendees upon entering is a white envelope, usually enclosing a small sum of money (in odd numbers, usually one dollar), a sweet and a handkerchief, each with symbolic meaning. Chinese custom also dictates that the said sum of money should not be brought home. The sweet should be consumed the day of and anything given during the funeral must not be brought home. The repetition of 3 is common where people at the funeral may brush their hair three times or spit three times before leaving the funeral to ward off bad luck. This custom is also found in other East Asian 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. Most Japanese are cremated.

African funerals

West 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.

The Ashanti and Akan ethnic groups in Ghana will have sex typically wear red and black during funerals. For special family members, there is typically a funeral celebration with singing and dancing to honor the life of the deceased. Afterwards, the Akan hold a somber funeral procession and burial with intense displays of sorrow. Other funerals in Ghana are held with the deceased put in elaborate "fantasy coffins" colored and shaped after a certain object, such as a fish, crab, boat, and even an airplane.

East African funerals

In Western Kenya in an area including the Districts of Bungoma, Mt Elgon, Trans Nzoia, Lugari, Teso, Kakamega, Mumias, Busia, Siaya and Vihiga. It has therefore been very difficult to dissuade the majority of people from keeping the deceased at home, where untreated bodies are left to decay for up to 5 days.

Funeral culture, from some viewpoints, may appear retrogressive both socially and economically. For example, the bereaved will take days off work to travel and to mourn. In addition to this much time is spent preparing large amounts of food that will be consumed during the period and expenditure is high. Similarly, as families are big, funerals may add to their financial burdens. Between 55-70% of the population earn less than $1 per day. Losing a loved one also means losing an income. Both the bereaved and the mourners are poor, but the endless stream of those paying their last respects, and expecting to be fed, make a bad financial situation even worse as mourners do not make any contribution.

However, contrary to this, in another community in Central Province, the situation is reversed whereby those attending a funeral take food with them and the mourners have to pay to eat. This is seen as a contribution rather than a financial transaction of buying and selling of goods.

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 body or 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. Ancient Jews had burial-places upon the highways, in gardens, and upon mountains. In the Hebrew Bible (known as the Christian Old Testament), Abraham was buried with Sarah, his wife, in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Machpelah, the field he bought from Ephron the Hittite; David, king of Israel, and the other kings after him (including Uzziah of Judah) "rested with [their] ancestors" in the burial field that 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

In ancient Rome, the eldest surviving male of the household, the pater familias, was summoned to the death-bed, where he attempted to catch and inhale the last breath of the decedent.

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 Taxus baccata or Mediterranean Cypress branches to warn by passers. 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 honor the family's ancestors; and the Feast of the Lemures, held on May 9, 11, and 13, in which ghosts (larvae) 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.

Restrictions on the length, ostentation, expense of and behaviour during funerals and mourning were gradually placed by a variety of law-givers. Often the pomp and length of rites could be politically or socially motivated to advertise or aggrandise a particular kin group in Roman society. This was seen as deleterious to society and conditions for grieving were set - for instance, under some laws, women were prohibited from loud wailing or lacerating their faces and limits were introduced for expenditure on tombs and burial clothes.

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". This practice was also carried out in Ireland, as well as in parts of England, particularly in Leicestershire, although in England the salt was intended to prevent air from distending the corpse.

Funerals in Greece

The Greek word for funeral – kēdeía (κηδεία) – derives from the verb kēdomai (κήδομαι), that means attend to, take care of someone. Derivative words are also kēdemón (κηδεμών, "guardian") and kēdemonía (κηδεμονία, "guardianship"). From the Cycladic civilisation in 3000BC until the Hypo-Mycenaean era in 1200-1100 BC the main practice of burial is interment. The cremation of the dead that appears around the 11th century BC constitutes a new practice of burial and is probably an influence from the East. Until the Christian era, when interment becomes again the only burial practice, both cremation and interment had been practiced depending on the area.

The ancient Greek funeral since the Homeric era included the próthesē (πρόθεση), the ekphorá (εκφορά), the burial and the perídeipno (περίδειπνο). In most cases, this process is followed faithfully in Greece until today.

Próthesē is the deposition of the body of the deceased on the funereal bed and the threnody of his relatives. Today the body is placed in the casket, that is always open in Greek funerals. This part takes place in the house where the deceased had lived. An important part of the Greek tradition is the epicedium, the mournful songs that are sung by the family of the deceased along with professional mourners (who are extinct in the modern era). The deceased was watched over by his beloved the entire night before the burial, an obligatory ritual in popular thought, which is maintained still.

Ekphorá is the process of transport of the mortal remains of the deceased from his residence to the church, nowadays, and afterward to the place of burial. The procession in the ancient times, according to the law, should have passed silently through the streets of the city. Usually certain favourite objects of the deceased were placed in the coffin in order to "go along with him." In certain regions, coins to pay Charon, who ferries the dead to the underworld, are also placed inside the casket. A last kiss is given to the beloved dead by he family before the coffin is closed.

Cicero describes the habit of planting flowers around the tomb as an effort to guarantee the repose of the deceased and the purification of the ground, a custom that is maintained until today. After the ceremony, the mourners return to the house of the deceased for the perídeipno, the dinner after the burial. According to archaeological findings–traces of ash, bones of animals, shards of crockery, dishes and basins–the dinner during the classical era was also organized at the burial spot. Taking into consideration the written sources, however, the dinner could also be served in the houses.

Two days after the burial, a ceremony called “the thirds” would take place, while eight days after the burial, the relatives and the friends of the deceased assembled at the burial spot, where “the ninths” would take place, a custom that is maintained until today. In addition to this, in the modern era, memorial services take place 40 days, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year after the death and from then on every year on the anniversary of the death. The relatives of the deceased, for an unspecified length of time that depends on them, are in mourning, during which women wear black clothes and men a black armband.

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 Dickens' "Oliver Twist." Oliver is working for Sowerberry's when this conversation takes place: "There's an 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. A symbolic protector of the deceased, the mute would usually stand near the door of the home or church. In Victorian times, mutes would wear somber clothing including black cloaks, top hats with trailing hatbands, and gloves.

The professional mourner, generally a woman, would shriek and wail (often while clawing her face and tearing at her clothing), to encourage others to weep. These people are mentioned in ancient Greek plays, and were employed throughout Europe, but the practice largely died out in the nineteenth century. They continue to exist in Africa and the Middle East. The 2003 award-winning Philippinemarker comedy Crying Ladies revolves around the lives of three women who are part-time professional mourners for the Chinese-Filipino community in Manila's Chinatown. According to the film, the Chinese use professional mourners to help expedite the entry of a deceased loved one's soul into heaven by giving the impression that he or she was a good and loving person, well-loved by many.

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, particularly at Up Helly-Aa and the Delamont Viking Festival.

State funeral

Military and high-ranking political figures such as Nelson, Sir Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan were offered state funerals.

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 is 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 seafaring 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 (along with graves covered with heaped mounds, also found in Greece, particularly at the Karameikos graveyard in Monastiraki). 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 whisper "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 Hindu 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 exposure to the elements and to scavenger animals. This includes various forms of excarnation, where the corpse is stripped off the flesh, leaving only the bones, which are then either buried or stored elsewhere, in ossuaries or tombs for example. This was done by some groups of Native Americans in protohistoric times. Ritual exposure of the dead (without preservation of the bones) is practiced by Zoroastrians in Bombay, where bodies are placed in "Towers of Silence", where vultures and other carrion eating birds then dispose of the corpses. In the present-day structures, the bones are collected in a central pit where (assisted by lime) they too eventually decompose. Exposure to scavenger birds (with preservation of some, but not all bones) is also practiced by some high-altitude Tibetan Buddhists, where practical considerations (the lack of firewood and a shallow active layer) seem to have led to the practice known as jhator or "giving alms to the birds."

Cannibalism is also practiced post-mortem in some countries. The practice has been linked to the spread of a prion disease called kuru.

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 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.

Of course, most family members of a deceased person would regard any wishes the deceased had made known as carrying considerable moral authority.

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 osteopathic medicine 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 Organ 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



References

  1. History Of Funeral Customs from the Wyoming Funeral Director's official website. Accessed September 4, 2008.
  2. "When Burial Begins", British Archaeology, issue 66, August 2002, found at British Archaeology website. Accessed September 4, 2008.
  3. Barbara Kate Repa, " How to Arrange for a Body Burial", Caring.com
  4. Humanist Funerals and Memorials (British Humanist Association website)
  5. Cremation Society of G.B. - International Cremation Statistics 2005
  6. http://www.jdcc.org/sepoct97/doc1.htm
  7. Olmert, Michael (1996). Milton's Teeth and Ovid's Umbrella: Curiouser & Curiouser Adventures in History, p.34. Simon & Schuster, New York. ISBN 0684801647.
  8. Funeral and Religious Customs
  9. "Salt", IN: The Table Book of Daily Recreation and Information; Concerning Remarkable Men, Manners, Times, Seasons, Solemnities, Merry-Makings, Antiquities and Novelties, Forming a Complete History of the Year, ed. William Hone, (London: 1827) p 262. Retrieved on 2008-07-02.
  10. Lemos 2002: Lemos I., The Protogeometric Aegean. The Archaeology of the Late Eleventh and Tenth Centuries BC, Oxford
  11. http://www.ims.forth.gr/joint_projects/e-mem/burial_customs-gr.htm#archaic
  12. http://www.apologitis.com/gr/ancient/tafi_ethima.htm
  13. Bertram S. Puckle, Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development (London: T. W. Laurie, ltd., 1926) p. 66.
  14. http://www.promessa.se/index_sv.asp
  15. Kuru: Prion Diseases: Merck Manual Home Edition


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