What is a funeral?

December 22, 2014

When someone dies, a funeral is an event that is held for their friends and family to remember them, honour them, and grieve their loss. It’s an important facet of the mourning process as it allows those who feel the loss to acknowledge the death and feel support and love from fellow grievers.

Funerals take place all over the world, and while the general idea mostly remains constant throughout them, the details about the ceremony, rites, and even attitudes differ between them.

The word “funeral” is derived from the Latin word “funs”, which had a variety of meanings, including "corpse".

Modern funerals in North America consist of three major parts: visitation, funeral, and the burial service. A look at all of them:

What is a funeral?

1. Visitation

The visitation portion of a funeral can also be referred to as a viewing or wake, and traditionally involves the body of the deceased person being placed on display in the casket. The viewing generally takes place one or two evenings prior to the funeral, and the deceased is usually dressed in their best clothes, often wearing their favourite jewellery. The body may or may not be embalmed, as this depends on how long they have been dead and any religious requirements.

2. Funeral

The funeral itself is a memorial service, where friends and loved ones gather to listen to a clergy from the deceased’s religion (if one exists). Often, close friends or family members will give speeches and share stories and memories from the deceased person’s life, so that all who miss them can join in remembrance and mourning. A funeral may occur in a church or place of worship, funeral home, or at a close family member’s home. If the services take place in a funeral home, it often includes prayers, blessings and eulogies from the family.

3. Burial service

A burial service is an event conducted at the side of the grave, tomb, mausoleum or cremation, where the body of the deceased is buried or cremated. In some cases, the burial service immediately follows the funeral, so a funeral procession proceeds from the memorial service directly to the burial site. In other instances, the burial service is the funeral. Other times, the burial service takes place at a later time, when the final resting place is ready.

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