“What happens at a funeral?” is one of the most common questions asked by people who are not yet familiar with the rites and traditions surrounding death. Like many aspects of our shared cultural heritage, funerals can differ greatly from place to place, person to person, religion to religion, etc.
However, there are some fundamental elements that almost all public funerals share.
This article will answer what happens during a funeral both in popular culture and more specifically within Christian doctrine. It will also touch on etiquette for attending funerals without prior experience with the deceased’s family or acquaintance group.
The first element of any funeral is the announcement of their passing. Depending upon how close you were with this individual it may be easy or difficult to hear about their death. Family and friends will often hear of the death first, either through word of mouth or possibly by receiving a phone call or text message.
If you were not personally told right away it is almost certainly due to respect for your personal feelings regarding the passing of this individual. They may have wanted to wait until after they had time to notify close family members before reaching out to more distant relatives, acquaintances, etc.
Once you are notified that someone has passed away it can be difficult to find more information on their condition/whereabouts since most places of worship are closed during funerals. However, some establishments are open 24/7 that people can inquire if they would like more information on where the funeral services will be held.
These establishments include hospitals and funeral homes. Funeral homes will sometimes list upcoming funerals on their website, but if you are unable to find any information this way it is always safe to call the establishment directly.
Once a funeral home has been contacted they will typically be able to tell you what day and time the services for this individual will be held as well as where the service will take place (church, synagogue, etc.).
If you have found out through a friend of a family member’s funeral arrangements then you should notify all of your friends/family members who would be interested or affected by these arrangements so that they can make themselves available on the day of the funeral.
It is very impolite to not show up to the funeral of someone that you were fairly close with (or even distantly acquainted).
If you can attend the funeral then it is important to dress appropriately for this sombre occasion. Men should wear dark suits with appropriate shoes, ties, and accessories.
Women should also wear sombre clothes ( no bright colours) but these clothes don’t necessarily have to be dresses or skirts/dresses, women can choose pantsuits or skirts/pants instead if they would like.
In addition, everyone should make an effort to dress respectfully according to their gender, age, etc., by not wearing revealing clothing unless it is a specific type of funeral such as a beach-themed one.
The main element of funerals is participating in the services (i.e. not standing around and gawking at everything like you would at a museum). Depending upon which denomination’s funeral it is, your role in these proceedings will differ accordingly.
However, some elements remain constant throughout denominations:
Many religious funerals (and other public funerals) include singing and music of all kinds and every type of song imaginable has been sung during funeral ceremonies.
Most denominations have standard songs or hymns, so try to learn these if you can before attending one where you don’t know the words ahead of time, but for non-denominational funerals, different regional songs will be played such as classical tunes.
Many funerals involve a speech or eulogy given by either close family members, friends of the deceased, or even people who did not know the person personally but wanted to express their condolences.
The speeches can sometimes be difficult for those giving them due to emotions, so try to be supportive and encouraging during this time rather than making insensitive comments such as “don’t cry” or “it’ll be okay”.
If you are uncomfortable with giving a speech in front of others you could instead write down your thoughts/feelings about the individual and hand it out at the end of the funeral along with other mementos family members may have saved (such as letters, trinkets, etc.).
All denominations have a certain type of offering that is made by the attendees during the funeral services. In some cases, this can be a collection taken up by family members and given to a charity in memory of the person who has passed away, while other times it could simply be prayers or flowers for those attending an individual’s funeral.
You should make every effort to show respect for your religious beliefs as well as the beliefs of others by offering whatever you feel is most appropriate/in line with your culture.
Regardless of what kind of funeral service is being held everyone should always have the utmost respect for those who have died regardless of their background or lifestyle.
For example, regardless of whether or not people agree with homosexuality, regardless of if they were accepting or intolerant of this, everyone should show their condolences through both words and actions.
If the body is being buried after death then it will be interred in either a graveyard, mausoleum, or tomb. The funeral service may involve a burial plot where guests are allowed to view the deceased before they are laid to rest.
If you have never been to a funeral before it is often helpful to at least talk with someone who has attended one before if you are able (such as your parents). Some traditions vary by country/region of the world, but some traditions remain universal no matter how different cultures might be.
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