Saturday, December 28, 2013

End of Life Traditions: Funeral and Burial Services

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Genealogy tip for today: End of Year/End of Life Traditions 

Since it is the end of the year, we have been looking at end-of-life traditions. Father Time has come and how do we handle it? Here are some more customs. 


A service is held and led by some kind of officiate. The service may be held in a church or synagogue, Funeral Home or home of the deceased. The service typically includes songs, Scripture, prayer, and words of comfort from the clergy or person in charge. Sometimes poetry is read, or a eulogy. This may largely depend on the location of the service and tradition of the place of worship, if that is where the service is held.  

What is the difference between Funeral Service and a Memorial Service? There is little difference except for one detail - the presence or absence of the deceased person. If the casket or urn is present, it is a funeral service, if the body is not there in any form, it is a memorial service. 

There are always exceptions to every tradition. I have a relative that lost her husband. She had a visitation for him, but no funeral, per se’. Instead she had a memorial dinner where friends and family got together and remember and shared the memories of their loved one. A meal is often served but, usually it is after everything else, including the burial service, or after the last event locally. 

In some countries, if cremation is the choice, then the cremation is the event in and of itself. Known as a funeral pyre, it is attended by the eldest son, in some cases, or by the immediate family. Some are done on land; others may be set afire and pushed out to sea. 


Burial is the third stage of the death rituals. We have touched on that some already. When not required within 24 hours, the burial ritual is another service of its own. A short scripture, short words and a prayer of committal to the ground “from whence we came” are given. It may take place locally or in some cases burial may take place in another location. When it is local, then a funeral procession from service to cemetery takes place, with the Funeral Hearse carrying the casket leading the cortege. 

Speaking of the sea, there are times when burial is at sea. This may be dictated by circumstances or by choice - as in the case of Neil Armstrong, who requested it. 

In pioneer days in the US, folks were buried quickly because as people moved or traveled west, there was usually no one available to do the embalming. The one who has passed away was buried quickly.  Also, as we already mentioned, the Jews will bury within 24 hours as well. 

When the burial has to take place some distance away, the casket is usually sent to a local funeral home that is in charge of arrangements. They would be responsible for getting the casket to the cemetery, and a short committal service is held at that time. Often this is attended only by family, but is more determined by circumstances. 

Little has changed in the 200 plus years of our country. Procedures have improved; conveyances have changed, e.g. from carrying the body on a plank, to a horse draw wagon, to a funeral car. But basically, in this country the customs have roughly remained the same. The biggest difference comes usually when a death takes place in other countries.




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Now You Know!