The specifics of a funeral service differ greatly based on culture and religion, each carrying its own significance for the deceased and the bereaved. However, there are three general components to a traditional funeral, which include the visitation, the funeral service, and the committal service. Loss of a loved one is devastating, but knowing what to expect up to and including the burial, can often help with the mourning process.
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The visitation, or wake, is typically held before the funeral at either a funeral home or place of worship. This could be scheduled just prior to the funeral, but it is usually held the day before. The length of time allowed for the visitation varies depending on the family’s request, but will typically last from a few hours to an entire day.
The purpose of a wake is to offer friends and extended family of the deceased an opportunity to express their condolences to the immediate family. The viewing is generally less formal than the funeral because there are typically no scheduled speakers. It is simply meant as a time to fellowship with other mourners. During the visitation, extended family members and friends can arrive anytime during the scheduled period.
The Funeral Service
More formal and structured than a wake, the funeral service follows a specific schedule, and typically lasts no more than one to two hours. Traditionally, the funeral consists of several specific steps, though these can be modified based on the family’s request.
A typical funeral will begin with the minister, or funeral home representative, welcoming the mourners. He or she then may offer a prayer, which is sometimes followed by a hymn. The eulogy is then given, usually by a family member or close friend of the deceased. Often, after the eulogy, the family offers an opportunity for mourners to say a few words of remembrance, but this is at the sole discretion of the family.
The funeral service typically closes with the reading of a psalm, and possibly other inspirational Bible verses intended to comfort the bereaved. After a final prayer, the funeral service will move to the committal service.
The Committal Service
The committal service is the final step in the generally accepted three step process of honoring and burying a loved one. If a burial is to be performed, the committal service will generally take place at the graveside. In some situations, the family may request a combined funeral/committal service, which would also take place at the graveside.
The purpose of a committal service is to allow the bereaved the opportunity to witness the lowering of the coffin into the ground. A statement is made by the minister or funeral director as the coffin is lowered, and often dirt is scattered onto the coffin by loved ones.
If a cremation is to follow the funeral, the committal service will be different from a burial in that, rather than the minister speaking the final words while the body is lowered into the ground, they will be spoken at the end of the funeral right before the hearse leaves for the crematorium. Sometimes though, the family prefers the committal service to take place as a curtain closes, hiding the coffin from view.
The mourning process is an incredibly personal one, and each family will decide for itself what works best. The standard visitation, funeral and committal services are designed to help ease the family’s burden by allowing them a measure of simplicity in their time of grief.
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