Funeral Home Traditions
Funeral Planning Tips
Selecting a Funeral Home
Facts about Caskets
What to Do when Someone Dies Part I
What to Do when Someone Dies Part II
What to Do when Someone Dies Part III
Clothes to Be Buried In
Funeral services can be as varied as the word funeral itself. Linguists remind us that the word funeral comes from the Latin root funus which has had a wide variety of meanings over the centuries, including our modern definition of both “fun” and “funeral.” (This gives a humorous bit of credibility to the comedic movie depictions of cheesy, used-car-salesman-like funeral directors who advertise their funeral services by saying things like, “We put the fun back in funeral!”) In general funeral services today – as, apparently, has been the case for centuries – can take just about any shape that an individual or a family can imagine. Here is a brief guide to some of the more commonly used of the multitudes of possibilities for funeral services.
Traditional funeral services are still perhaps the most common type of funeral services conducted throughout the modern, Western world (though it's not clear that anyone keeps accurate statistics about such things). These types of funeral services offer amenities such as a viewing ceremony, a pastor's sermon, eulogies from friends and relatives of the deceased, and burial ceremonies at a cemetery. These funeral services are typically arranged through, and even often conducted at, a funeral home, and care is usually taken to give them a generic tone, so that family and friends can feel at home celebrating and honoring the life of their departed friend or family member in whatever manner they see fit – within the general guidelines established by the funeral service. For example, during a viewing ceremony, some family members will wish to gather jovially with other visitors who have arrived to pay their final respects, and some will desire to spend quiet, somber time along with the deceased – or even alone with themselves. In a traditional funeral service, funeral home personnel carefully and respectfully consider both types of needs when arranging the funeral service. This allows everyone involved to mourn in the most comforting, dignified setting possible.
The same idea applies to the formal funeral service itself. In a typical traditional service, many different moods are represented in the people who are attending, and so a good funeral service speech will touch on a great number of different human emotions: humor, sadness, confusion, and possibly even anger. All of these (and others) will typically be acknowledged and respected during a traditional service's sermon delivered by a pastor or eulogy delivered by a friend and family.
Other types of funeral services are not, perhaps, so accommodating to sad emotions. Many people request, even in their wills, that their funeral service not be referred to as a “funeral” because of the negative emotions that word can bring about. For these people a funeral is a “celebration of life,” and it can be more like a party (sometimes even complete with barbeque, beer and gambling) than a typical funeral service. Some individuals even request that a specially themed ash vessel, or hobby urn, that represents an interest of theirs - such as a sculpted vessel of a fisherman hard at work, with a small sign that says 'Gone Fishin' - be presented during the 'service', to further lighten the mood. One of the most famous of these non-traditional funeral services has to be that of the wild writer Hunter S. Thompson who lived a tough and chaotic life and, before he died, expressed his strong desire to be remembered in such a way with his funeral service. So, as per his wishes, his funeral service ended with a bang, literally: rather than to a traditional cemetery, friends and family drove in a convoy to a private ranch, dozens of miles from the nearest sign of civilization after Thompson's eulogies had all been delivered. And there is where an elaborate, remote control rocket had been set up to fire toward the Heavens. Thompson's “pall bearers” (the people who deliver a body to a grave during traditional funeral services) loaded his cremation ashes into a special compartment in the rocket, and then a specially trained pyrotechnician flipped a switch that lit a fuse that sent the ashes soaring thousands of feet overhead. On cue from the pyrotechnician, the door concealing the ashes flipped open just as the rocket reached the upper limits of the atmosphere (where it was designed to burn up), and Thompson's ashes were released into The Heavens where they would likely spend eternity mixing with the chemical elements of the clouds. (An interesting footnote to this funeral service: scientists who have been quizzed on this matter say that because of the density of the ashes, it is very unlikely than even one molecule of them will ever drift all the way back to Earth's ground level. It's unclear if Thompson knew this when he made his request for this elaborate funeral service, but, given his wiseacre manner, it would reason that he did and that this plan for his own funeral service was his humorous way of saying that he was going to assure that he made it to heaven one way or another.)
Green funeral services are taking the world by storm, as they are designed to memorialize the dearly departed in a way that is friendly to our environment. It is often taken for granted the amount of earth that we displace in burials, especially when the burial involves a large metal casket, or burial vault. Even cremation can cause a certain amount of pollution, but not nearly enough to impact our world in the manner that the number of burials today can. Green funerals offer families ways to either bury directly, or cremate their loved one, with as little affect on our planet as possible. With the rise in awareness of our collective impact on our Earth and our natural resources, it is not unfathomable that our consciousness has reached a level to where we consider ways to help, even after death. The Green Burial Council offers very important information on how we can make a difference, and the many options available for a 'sustainable funeral'.
So, these are just some of the many options available to anyone contemplating a funeral service. As we've seen, even “traditional funeral services” can take on a vast number of different tones and personalities. That's why, when you are arranging your own funeral services or those of a loved one, it is important to take plenty of time to assure that you services will be as fitting as possible for the personalities of those who will be involved.