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Types of Funerals

Types of Funerals

Just as no two people are alike, no two funerals are alike. While funerals often have many elements in common, they can differ greatly among various cultures and religions. A funeral is a most personal event, celebrating the lifespan of an individual. The wishes of the deceased must be honored, as well as any family preferences.

This article will outline the five most common types of funerals. If you'd like to learn more about the burial process, read this sibling article on burial types.

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Five Types of Funerals

Funerals can range from the more traditional service at a funeral home, church, synagogue or mosque, to unconventional approaches such as a burial at sea. Let's explore five major types of funerals, so you can decide what's right for you or your loved one when the time comes.

So how do you decide what kind of funeral is best for you or your loved one(s)? How you (or a loved one) lives or lived life is a good indication of the type of funeral that would most honor that life.

  1. Traditional Religious Funeral Service:

    Prior to this service, the family often welcomes visitors. A visitation may also include a viewing of the body in the casket (except for Jewish funerals). At the service, a religious leader conducts the funeral, which can include prayers, music and songs, and eulogies. Flowers are a traditional decoration, symbolic of sympathy, love and respect.

    If you are a religious or spiritual person, or someone who values tradition, a traditional religious funeral would most likely be your best choice.

  2. Non-religious Humanist Funeral Service:
    The main difference between a religious service and a humanist one is that the latter omits any reference to God or religion. Humanist funerals offer a dignified farewell to the deceased as well as a celebration of life. The focus of a humanist funeral is the tribute section, which can even be written in advance by the celebrant and includes tributes from family and friends. The service also may include a moment of silence, allowing attendees to reflect on the life of the celebrant.

    For those who may prefer something less connected to organized religion, a humanist service is a good alternative. It also is a good choice for those whose family members celebrate different religions, as the service can make no references to religion, and it can certainly be spiritual without being religious. Because a humanist service is very personal, it is recommended for someone who is comfortable having intimate memories of his or her life shared during the service.

  3. Direct Cremation Service:
    With a direct cremation, there is no visitation, ceremony or service beforehand. However, a memorial service may be held at a later date. Direct cremation also may be called a "simple cremation," "low-cost cremation" or a "direct-disposal funeral." In many states, you can bypass the funeral director and work directly with the crematory.

    Those who are intensely private people may prefer direct cremation, which does not include a service. It's also a great choice for those who want to save money, as no embalming or casket are needed and a memorial service afterward can be held at someone's home. Cremation is also better for the environment than a traditional burial, which requires embalming fluid and the use of land for the burial plot.

  4. Green/Natural Funeral Service:
    A green or natural funeral requires fewer resources than a traditional funeral, so it's better for the environment. A green funeral avoids embalming chemicals; the extraneous cement, steel or other non-biodegradable materials that conventional burials put into the earth; and lacks the carbon footprint of cremation. According to the Green Burial Council, a funeral is only truly green when it protects worker health, reduces carbon emissions and conserves natural resources, and preserves the habitat. This is why green burials and natural burials are not synonymous.

    A green or natural funeral service is the likely choice for true environmentalists. If you or your loved one is passionate about reducing one's carbon footprint, a green funeral is the way to go. A green funeral is also a wonderful choice for an outdoorsman or nature lover because the body, buried in only a biodegradable shroud, becomes one with the earth much easier.

  5. Burial at Sea:
    A burial at sea is a type of funeral in which the person who has passed is released into the ocean, usually from a boat but sometimes from an aircraft. Such a burial typically involves the scattering of the deceased's cremations; however, full-body burials at sea are available. Burial at sea is highly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), so it is advisable to hire a company that specializes in this service.

    A burial at sea is an ideal option for anyone who served in the Navy, Coast Guard or Merchant Marines, or anyone with an affinity for the ocean. In fact, the Department of the Navy offers free burial at sea services for veterans and their families, subject to certain restrictions. For Hindus, a common funeral practice is the immersion of cremated remains in flowing waters of a river, so burial at sea is often preferable to a traditional funeral. Burial at sea also can be less expensive than a traditional burial.

Burial Planning Guide

For more information to guide your decision, download a free burial planning guide. You'll find details on everything from cemeteries to navigating the entire process.

No matter which type of funeral you decide on, it's important to start thinking about it while you're still of sound body and mind. That way, you or your loved ones won't make a hasty decision in the throes of emotional distress. By making a decision early, you also spare your loved ones the heartache of having to make the decision for you, and you avoid them possibly regretting their decision afterward.

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