A funeral is a ceremony for honoring, respecting, sanctifying, or remembering the life of a person who has died. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from interment itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor. Customs vary widely both between cultures and between religious groups and denominations within cultures. Common secular motivations for funerals include mourning the deceased, celebrating their life, and offering support and sympathy to the bereaved. Additionally, funerals often have religious aspects which are intended to help the soul of the deceased reach the afterlife, resurrection or reincarnation.
The funeral generally includes a ritual through which the corpse of the deceased is given up. Depending on culture and religion, these can involve either the destruction of the body (for example, by cremation or sky burial) or its preservation (for example, by mummification or interment). Differing beliefs about cleanliness and the relationship between body and soul mean that a funerary practice that is deeply sacred to one culture may be absolutely taboo in another. When a funerary ceremony is performed but the body of the deceased is not available, it is usually called a memorial service.
The word funeral comes from the Latin funus, which had a variety of meanings, including the corpse and the funerary rites themselves. Funerary art is art produced in connection with burials, including many kinds of tombs, and objects specially made for burial with a corpse.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Religious funerals
- 3 Western funerals
- 3.1 Classical antiquity
- 3.2 North American funerals
- 3.3 Private services
- 3.4 Memorial services
- 3.5 Funerals in Scotland
- 3.6 Other types of funerals
- 4 East Asian funerals
- 5 African funerals
- 6 Mutes and professional mourners
- 7 State funeral
- 8 Final disposition
- 9 Self-planned funerals
- 10 Anatomical gifts
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Bibliography
- 14 External links
Funeral rites are as old as human culture itself, pre-dating modern Homo sapiens and dated to at least 300,000 years ago. For example, in the Shanidar Cave in Iraq, in Pontnewydd Cave in Wales and at other sites across Europe and the Near East, archaeologists have discovered Neanderthal skeletons with a characteristic layer of flower pollen. This deliberate burial and reverence given to the dead has been interpreted as suggesting that Neanderthals had religious beliefs, although the evidence is not unequivocal – while the dead were apparently buried deliberately, burrowing rodents could have introduced the flowers.
Substantial cross-cultural and historical research document funeral customs as a highly predictable, stable force in communities. Funeral customs tend to be characterized by five "anchors," including significant symbols, gathered community, ritual action, cultural heritage, and transition of the dead body (corpse).
Funerals in the Bahá'í Faith are characterized by not embalming, a prohibition against cremation, using a chrysolite or hardwood casket, wrapping the body in silk or cotton, burial not farther than an hour (including flights) from the place of death, and placing a ring on the deceased's finger stating, "I came forth from God, and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, the Compassionate." The Bahá'í funeral service also contains the only prayer that's permitted to be read as a group - congregational prayer, although most of the prayer is read by one person in the gathering. The Bahá'í decedent often controls some aspects of the Bahá'í funeral service, since leaving a will and testament is a requirement for Bahá'ís. Since there is no Bahá'í clergy, services are usually conducted under the guise, or with the assistance of, a Local Spiritual Assembly.
A Buddhist funeral marks the transition from one life to the next for the deceased. It also reminds the living of their own mortality.
Christian burials typically occur on consecrated ground. For a time, burial was the preferred practice amongst Christians. This was because of the belief in the resurrection of the body. However, cremations are becoming more common, although some churches still forbid them. The Roman Catholic church prefers burial because of the its belief that burial shows greater dignity to the dead body: ""The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine" (canon 1176.3).
Congregations of varied denominations perform different ceremonies, but most involve offering prayers, scripture reading from the Bible, words of comfort (sermon, homily, or eulogy), and music. One issue of concern as the 21st century began was with the use of secular music at Christian funerals, a custom generally forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church.
Antyesti literally means "last rites or last sacrifice", refers to the rite of passage rituals associated with a funeral in Hinduism. It is sometimes referred to as Antima Samskaram, Antya-kriya, Anvarohanyya, or Vahni Sanskara.
A dead adult Hindu is mourned with a cremation, while a dead child is typically buried. The rite of passage is performed in harmony with the sacred premise that the microcosm of all living beings is a reflection of a macrocosm of the universe. The soul (Atman, Brahman) is the essence and immortal that is released at the Antyeshti ritual, but both the body and the universe are vehicles and transitory in various schools of Hinduism. They consist of five elements - air, water, fire, earth and space. The last rite of passage returns the body to the five elements and origins. The roots of this belief are found in the Vedas, for example in the hymns of Rigveda in section 10.16, as follows,
Burn him not up, nor quite consume him, Agni: let not his body or his skin be scattered,
O all possessing Fire, when thou hast matured him, then send him on his way unto the Fathers.
When thou hast made him ready, all possessing Fire, then do thou give him over to the Fathers,
When he attains unto the life that waits him, he shall become subject to the will of gods.
The Sun receive thine eye, the Wind thy Prana (life-principle, breathe); go, as thy merit is, to earth or heaven.
Go, if it be thy lot, unto the waters; go, make thine home in plants with all thy members.— Rigveda 10.16
The final rites of a burial, in case of untimely death of a child, is rooted in Rig Veda's section 10.18, where the hymns mourn the death of the child, praying to deity Mrityu to "neither harm our girls nor our boys", and pleads the earth to cover, protect the deceased child as a soft wool.
Among Hindus, the dead body is usually cremated within a day of death. His or her dead body is washed, wrapped in white cloth if the dead is a man or a widow (red if her husband is still alive), the two toes tied together with a string, a Tilak (red mark) placed on the forehead. The dead adult's body is carried to the cremation ground near a river or water, by family and friends, and placed on a pyre with feet facing south. The eldest son, or a male mourner, or a priest then bathes before leading the cremation ceremonial function. He circumambulates the dry wood pyre with the body, says a eulogy or recites a hymn in some cases, places sesame seed in the dead person's mouth, sprinkles the body and the pyre with ghee (clarified butter), then draws three lines signifying Yama (deity of the dead), Kala (time, deity of cremation) and the dead. The pyre is then set ablaze, while the mourner's mourn. The ash from the cremation is consecrated to the nearest river or sea. After the cremation, in some regions, the immediate male relatives of the deceased shave their head and invite all friends and relatives, on the tenth or twelfth day, to eat a simple meal together in remembrance of the deceased. This day, in some communities, also marks a day when the poor and needy are offered food in memory of the dead.
Funerals in Islam (called Janazah in Arabic) follow fairly specific rites, though they are subject to regional interpretation and variation in custom. In all cases, however, sharia (Islamic religious law) calls for burial of the body, preceded by a simple ritual involving bathing and shrouding the body, followed by salat (prayer). Cremation of the body is forbidden.
Burial rituals should normally take place as soon as possible and include:
- Bathing the dead body, except in extraordinary circumstances as in battle of Uhud.
- Enshrouding dead body in a white cotton or linen cloth.
- Funeral prayer(صلاة الجنازة).
- Burial of the dead body in a grave.
- Positioning the deceased so that when his face or body is turned to right side it is faced towards Mecca (Makkah Al-Mukarramah).
In Judaism, funerals follow fairly specific rites, though they are subject to variation in custom. Funerals in Judaism share many features with those of Islam. Jewish religious laws such as halakha call for burial of the body, preceded by a basic ritual involving bathing and shrouding the body, accompanied by prayers and readings from the Torah. Cremation of the body is forbidden in Orthodox Judaism, but allowed in Reform Judaism.
Burial rites should normally take place as soon as possible and include:
- Bathing the dead body.
- Enshrouding the dead body. Men are shrouded with a kittel and then (outside the Land of Israel) with a tallit (shawl), while women are shrouded in a plain white cloth.
- Keeping watch over the dead body.
- Burial of the dead body in a grave.
- In many communities, the deceased is positioned so that the feet face the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (in anticipation that the deceased will be facing the reconstructed Third Temple when the messiah arrives and resurrects the dead).
In Sikhism death is not 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 washed/bath and dressed and then taken to the Gurdwara or home where hymns (Shabads) from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 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. 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 Punjab (five famous rivers in India). Sikhs do not erect monuments over the remains of the dead.
The Sidaran Paath The ceremony in which the Sidharan Paath is begun after the cremation ceremony, may be held when convenient, wherever the Guru Granth Sahib is present:
Hymns are sung from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The first five and final verses of "Anand Sahib," the "Song of Bliss," are recited or sung. The first five verses of Sikhism's morning prayer, "Japji Sahib," are read aloud to begin the Sidharan paath. A hukam, or random verse, is read from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Ardas, a prayer, is offered. Prashad, a sacred sweet, is distributed. Langar, a meal, is served to guests. While the Sidharan paath is being read, the family may also sing hymns daily. Reading may take as long as needed to complete the paath.
This ceremony is followed by Sahaj Paath Bhog, Kirtan Sohila, night time prayer is recited 1 week and finally Ardas called the "Antim Ardas" ("Final Prayer") is offered the last week.
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 civilization 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 próthesis (πρόθεσις), the ekphorá (ἐκφορά), the burial and the perídeipnon (περίδειπνον). In most cases, this process is followed faithfully in Greece until today.
Próthesis 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 the family before the coffin is closed.
The Roman orator 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 perídeipnon, 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.
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 usually were 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 eventually was 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) that 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 typically were 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 passersby. At the end of the period, the house was swept out to symbolically purge it of the taint of death.
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 cremation or inhumation within the sacred boundary of the city (pomerium), 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 gradually were enacted 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 usually were constructed of marble, the ground enclosed with walls, and planted around with trees. But common sepulchres usually were 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.
North American funerals
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.
At the visitation (also called a "viewing", "wake" or "calling hours"), in Christian or secular Western custom, 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. In the past, it was common practice to place the casket in the decedent’s home or that of a relative for viewing. This practice continues in many areas of Ireland and Scotland. 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.
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 for relatives to come), and the corpse is never displayed. As well, Torah law forbids embalming. 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).
Obituaries sometimes contain a request that attendees omit flowers (e.g. "In lieu of flowers"). The use of these phrases has been on the rise for the past century. In the US in 1927, only 6% of the obituaries included the directive, with only 2.2% of those mentioned charitable contributions as an alternative. By the middle of the century, they had grown to 14.5%, with over 54% of those noting a charitable contribution as the preferred method of expressing sympathy. Today, well over 87% of them have such a note – but those statistics vary demographically.
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. The viewing may end with a prayer service; in a Roman Catholic funeral, this may include a rosary. In parts of Ireland and Scotland it is traditional to display the body of the deceased in the family home. This is called a wake and usually includes food, drink and sometimes music and singing.
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 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, church, or crematorium or cemetery chapel. 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. This type of memorial service is most common for Christians, and Roman Catholics call it a mass when Eucharist (communion) is offered, the casket is closed and a priest says prayers and blessings. A Roman Catholic funeral must take place in a parish church (usually that of the deceased, or that of the family grave, or a parish to which the deceased had special links). Sometimes family members or friends of the dead will say something. If the funeral service takes place in the funeral home (mostly it takes place in the funeral home's chapel) it can be directed by a clergy (mostly for Protestant churches) or hosted by a very close family member most common a parent. In some traditions if this service takes place in a funeral home it is the same if it would take place in a church. These services if taking place in a funeral home consists of a lot of prayers, blessings and eulogies from the family.
The open-casket service (which is common in North America) allows mourners to have one last opportunity to view the deceased and say good-bye. There is an order of precedence when approaching the casket at this stage that usually starts with the immediate family (siblings, parents, spouse, children); followed by other mourners, after which the immediate family may file past again, so they are the 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. A Roman Catholic funeral must be closed-casket, and relatives are expected to attend the few days before the service.
Open casket funerals and visitations are very rare in some countries, such as the United Kingdom and most European countries, where it is usual for only close relatives to actually see the deceased person and not uncommon for nobody to do so. The funeral service itself is almost invariably closed casket. Funeral homes are generally not used for funeral services, which are almost exclusively held in a church, cemetery, or crematorium chapel.
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, excepting service vehicles and ambulances. 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 crematorium.
Funeral services commonly include prayers, readings from a sacred text, 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.
In some religious denominations, for example, Roman Catholic, Anglican and the Churches of Christ, eulogies from loved ones are somewhat discouraged during this service, in order to preserve respect for traditions. In such cases, the eulogy is only done by a member of the clergy. This tradition is giving way to eulogies read by family members or friends in a desire to ensure that it is done, "just right." Also, for these same religions, the coffin is traditionally closed at the end of the wake and is not re-opened for the funeral 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 deceased 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.
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. Once there, the grave service includes the playing of bagpipes. The pipes have come to be a distinguishing feature of a fallen hero's funeral. Also a "Last Alarm Bell" is rung. A portable fire department bell is tolled at the conclusion of the ceremony.
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. In some other cases, the burial service is the funeral, in which case the procession might travel from the cemetery office to the gravesite. Other times, the burial service takes place at a later time, when the final resting place is ready, if the death occurred in the middle of winter. Celebration of Life services, which have grown in popularity with the steady increase in cremation over burial, may be held outside the funeral home or place of worship; restaurants, pubs and sporting facilities are popular choices based on the specific interests of the deceased.
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 relatives 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 stipulates 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.
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 cremated remains 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.
The memorial service is a service given for the deceased when the body is not present. The service takes place after cremation or burial at sea, after donation of the body to an academic or research institution, or after the ashes have been scattered. It is also significant when the person is missing and presumed dead, or known to be deceased though the body is not recoverable. These services often take place at a funeral home; however, they can be held in a home, school, workplace, church or other location of some significance. A memorial service may include speeches (eulogies), prayers, poems, or songs to commemorate the deceased. Pictures of the deceased and flowers are usually placed at the altar where the coffin would normally be placed.
After the sudden deaths of important public officials, public memorial services have been held by communities, including those without any specific connection to the deceased. For examples, community memorial services were held after the assassination of James A. Garfield and the assassination of William McKinley.
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.
Other types of funerals
New Orleans jazz
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 been completed, the march proceeds 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. Celebration of those who still have survived death, "the butcher", ensues. 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. Aspects of this tradition have been practiced in other locations by long-time devotees of jazz.
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.
Non-religious funerals are legal within the UK. The British Humanist Association organises a network of humanist funeral celebrants or officiants across England and Wales, and a similar network is organised by the Humanist Society of Scotland. Humanist officiants are trained and experienced in devising and conducting suitable ceremonies. Humanist funerals recognise no "after-life", but celebrate the life of the person who has died. Humanist funerals have reportedly been held in recent years for Claire Rayner, Keith Floyd, Linda Smith, and Ronnie Barker, among others.
Civil funerals are an alternative to religious or humanist ceremonies in the UK. Unlike a humanist funeral, a civil funeral can contain some religious content, such as hymns or reading if the family wish.
Funerals for fallen members of fire or police services are common in United States and Canada. These funerals involve honour guards from police forces and/or fire services from across the country and sometimes from overseas. The presence of outside members is regarded as a sign of respect and support from the brotherhood of fellow officers.
In the case of a fallen firefighter, the casket is often placed on top of a fire engine and draped with a flag. For both fire and police, a parade of officers often precedes or follows the hearse carrying the fallen comrade.
A Masonic funeral is held at the request of a departed Brother or his family. The service may be held in a chapel, home, church, synagogue or Lodge room with committal at graveside, or the complete service can be performed at any of the aforementioned places without a separate, committal.
No one is ever obligated to have a Masonic Funeral. It is not a requirement of the Fraternity that a member have his funeral service conducted, either in whole or in part, by the Masonic Order. Any member who was in good standing at the time of his death may have a Masonic Funeral if he requested it or if his family so requests. Any participation in tire service, other than the attendance of individual Lodge members as a part of the general congregation, is always by request to the Fraternity.
There is no single Masonic funeral service. Some Grand Lodges (it is a world-wide organisation) have a prescribed service. Some of the customs involved may seem unusual to non-Masons. For example, the presiding officer may wear a hat while doing his part in the service, the Lodge members may place sprigs of evergreen on the casket, and a small white leather apron may be placed in or on the casket. The hat may be worn because it is Masonic custom (in some places in the world) for the presiding officer to have his head covered while officiating. To Masons the sprig of evergreen is a symbol of immortality. The white leather apron, called a "lambskin," is the badge of a Mason and it is his to wear, even in death. He wore that apron when he was made a Mason, on the day he received his first degree. Sometimes the wording of the Masonic Services is a bit old and archaic, and may reflect the thinking and values of an earlier day.
East Asian funerals
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, particularly between their mid-80s to age 100. In which case, the funeral is considered a celebration, where wearing white with some red is acceptable. 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.
In Southern China a traditional Chinese gift to the attendees upon entering is a white (and sometimes red) envelope, usually enclosing a small sum of money (in odd numbers, usually one dollar), a sweet, red thread, 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 exception is the red thread, which is tied to the front doorknob of the guest's house to ward off bad luck. 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 however the custom the deceased's immediate family giving gifts and money to others involved in the funeral is not practiced in Northern China.
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.
Contemporary South Korean funerals typically mix western culture with traditional Korean culture, largely depending on socio-economic status, region, and religion. In almost all cases, all related males in the family wear woven arm bands representing seniority and lineage in relation to the deceased, and must grieve next to the deceased for a period of three days before burying the body. During this period of time, it is customary for the males in the family to personally greet all who come to show respect. While burials have been preferred historically, recent trends show a dramatic increase in cremations due to shortages of proper burial sites and difficulties in maintaining a traditional grave. The ashes of the cremated corpse are commonly stored in columbaria.
Religious thought among the Japanese people is generally a blend of Shintō and Buddhist beliefs. In modern practice, specific rites concerning an individual's passage through life are generally ascribed to one of these two faiths. Funerals and follow-up memorial services fall under the purview of Buddhist ritual, and 90% Japanese funerals are conducted in a Buddhist manner. Aside from the religious aspect, a Japanese funeral usually includes a wake, the cremation of the deceased, and inclusion within the family grave. Follow-up services are then performed by a Buddhist priest on specific anniversaries after death.
According to one estimate made in 2005, 99.82% of all deceased Japanese are cremated. In most of these cases, the cremated remains are placed in an urn and then deposited in a family grave. In recent years however, alternative methods of burial have gained in popularity; such methods include scattering of the ashes, burial in outer space, and conversion of the cremated remains into a diamond that can be set in jewelry.
In the Philippines
Funeral practices and burial customs in the Philippines encompass a wide range of personal, cultural, and traditional beliefs and practices which Filipinos observe in relation to death, bereavement, and the proper honoring, interment, and remembrance of the dead. These practises have been vastly shaped by the variety of religions and cultures that entered the Philippines throughout its complex history.
Most if not all present-day Filipinos, like their ancestors, believe in some form of an afterlife and give considerable attention to honouring the dead. Except amongst Filipino Muslims (who are obliged to bury a corpse less than 24 hours after death), a wake is generally held from three days to a week. Wakes in rural areas are usually held in the home, while in urban settings the dead is typically displayed in a funeral home. Apart from spreading the news about someone’s death verbally, obituaries are also published in newspapers. Although the majority of the Filipino people are Christians, they have retained some traditional indigenous beliefs concerning death.
African funerals are usually open to many visitors. 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 depends on the traditions of the tribe the deceased belonged to. 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 and then consumed.
The Ashanti and Akan ethnic groups in Ghana will 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 sombre 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 airplanes. The Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop in Teshie, named after Seth Kane Kwei who invented this new style of coffin, has become an international reference for this form of art.
Some diseases, such as Ebola can be spread by funerary customs including touching the dead. However, safe burials can be achieved by following simple procedures. For example, letting relatives see the face of the dead before bodybags are closed and taking photographs, if desired, can greatly reduce the risk of infection without impacting too heavily on the customs of burial.
In Kenya funerals are an expensive undertaking. Keeping bodies in morgues to allow for fund raising is a common occurrence more so in urban areas. Some families opt to bury their dead in the countryside homes instead of urban cemeteries, thus spending more money on transporting the dead.
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's Oliver Twist. Oliver is working for Sowerberry 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". And in Martin Chuzzlewit, Moult, the undertaker, states, "This promises to be one of the most impressive funerals,...no limitation of expense...I have orders to put on my whole establishment of mutes, and mutes come very dear, Mr Pecksniff." 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 commonly employed throughout Europe until the beginning of the nineteenth century. They continue to exist in Africa and the Middle East. The 2003 award-winning Philippine 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.
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 groundwater 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; grand, above-ground tombs are called mausoleums. The socially prominent sometimes had the privilege of having their corpses stored in church crypts. 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 reused due to 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
"Burial at sea" in past generations has meant the deliberate disposal of a corpse into the ocean, wrapped and tied with weights to make sure it sinks. It has been 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. In today's generation, "burial at sea" may also refer to the scattering of ashes in the ocean, while "whole body burial at sea" refers to the entire uncremated body being placed in the ocean at great depths. Laws vary by jurisdictions.
Cremation is also 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 increasingly popular. Jewish law (Halakha) forbids cremation to Orthodox Jews, believing that the soul of a cremated person will be unable to find its final repose. The Roman Catholic Church forbade it for many years, but since 1963 the church has allowed it, as 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. The Eastern Orthodox Church and Islam also forbid cremation. http://www.cremationassociation.org/?page=WhatIsCremation
Among Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some sects of Buddhists such as those found in Japan, cremation is common.
Feeding to scavenger animals
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 of 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 and Karachi, 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".
Mummification is the drying of bodies to preserve them. The most famous practitioners were ancient Egyptians—many nobles and highly ranked bureaucrats had their corpses embalmed and stored in luxurious sarcophagi inside their funeral mausoleums. Pharaohs stored their embalmed corpses in pyramids.
Promession is a new method of disposing of the body. Patented by a Swedish company, a promession is also known as an "ecological funeral". Its main purpose is to return the body to soil quickly while minimizing pollution and resource consumption.
Some people choose to make their funeral arrangements in advance so that at the time of their death, their wishes are known to their family. However, the extent to which decisions regarding the disposition of a decedent's remains (including funeral arrangements) can be controlled by the decedent while still alive vary from one jurisdiction to another. In the United States, there are states which allow one to make these decisions for oneself if desired, for example by appointing an agent to carry out one's wishes; in other states, the law allows the decedent's next-of-kin to make the final decisions about the funeral without taking the wishes of the decedent into account.
Many family members of a deceased person will regard any wishes the deceased had made known as carrying considerable moral authority. Some people may feel it is a person's right to have their wishes regarding their own body and the manner in which they are memorialized respected after death, while others may feel that funerals are rather for the benefit of the living than of the dead.
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 or other instrument stating the decedent's funeral wishes must be easily available, and some notion of what it provides must be known to the decedent's survivors: aspects of the disposition of the remains of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran contrary to a number of his stated wishes, which were found in a safe that was opened after the funeral.
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.
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