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In the United States, there are many different types of funeral services. It can be difficult to keep them all straight in your head, or even to differentiate between the various terms.
In this article, we hope to shed some light on 10 of the most common types of funeral services and related events in the English-speaking world. We’ll list and define each ceremony, and also add some detail on what to expect at each of them.
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10 Types of Funeral Services
Here are the ten types of funeral services:
- Funeral service
- Graveside or committal service
- Direct burial
- Direct cremation
- Memorial service
- Celebration of life
- Scattering ceremony
Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.
What is a Traditional Funeral Service?
The traditional funeral service is still the most common type of funeral ceremony held in many parts of the country. At a traditional funeral service, the casket or urn is usually present. Friends and family may sing or play songs in memory of the deceased, and someone may also deliver a eulogy. Traditional funerals are often religious in nature, so a pastor will most likely give a sermon.
A hearse will transport the remains to the cemetery for burial immediately following the traditional funeral, if there is a casket. There may or may not be a short graveside (or “committal”) service, at which the casket is buried or the urn is inurned. Following this, the family may host a reception or lunch in memory of their loved one.
The funeral service is typically preceded by a viewing or visitation (usually the night before), and followed by a graveside service. See below for more details on each of those types of funeral services.
What is a Graveside Service? (a.k.a. Committal Service)
A graveside service is a funeral service that occurs at the cemetery, where family and friends pay their final respects before the casket is lowered into the ground for burial.
Because loved ones are committing the deceased back to the earth, this intimate service is also called a committal service. A graveside service often follows a traditional funeral, but sometimes may be the only service a family chooses. Often a pastor will speak a few words of comfort (think “ashes to ashes and dust to dust”) or the funeral director may share a few remarks at the wishes of the family, but otherwise this service is usually fairly short and simple.
For example, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge’s committal service contained the following:
- Rev. Penner commits Coolidge’s body to burial
- Poem: Warm Summer Sun, by Robert Richardson
What is a Direct Burial?
Sometimes a family desires to bury their loved one, but does not plan a funeral or other formal ceremony. In this case, they may choose a direct burial option. With direct burial, there is no visitation, funeral, or even graveside service. The funeral home simply buries the casket. Sometimes, a family will choose this type of funeral with plans for a memorial service at a later date.
Direct burials are a more affordable option for the family that will not be having a formal funeral, but still wishes to have their loved one interred in a cemetery. Often, direct burial happens when the family does not live near the decedent.
What is a Direct Cremation?
Similar to direct burial, direct cremation is a stand-alone event. It is simply a cremation; there is no formal visitation or funeral. Following cremation, the funeral home or crematory returns the remains to the family, who may or may not choose to have a memorial service later on down the road.
Direct cremation is usually the least expensive option for final disposition. Read more about direct cremation here.
If you choose a direct cremation for your loved one, the funeral home or crematory will most likely return the remains to you in a very basic container. But you may choose to have the remains transferred into a permanent urn (the facility serving you will be happy to do this for you). If you are searching for the perfect urn, you may want to browse through our beautiful collection of funeral urns.
What is a Memorial Service?
The memorial service is one of the most common types of funeral services. It is very similar to a traditional funeral, with the exception being that the body or cremated remains are not present.
The beauty of memorial services is that they do not have to occur within a certain time frame following a death. They can occur a day after interment or inurnment, a year later, or whenever. The remains are not at the center of this service, only the precious memory of the deceased.
Related: 34 Creative Memorial Service Ideas
What is a Celebration of Life?
A celebration of life is a unique ceremony unto its own. While it can take the place of a traditional funeral service, it’s common for the celebration of life to occur days, weeks, or even years following the funeral. This means that the remains are often not present. However, this can vary depending on the family’s preference.
Celebrations of life are exactly that: celebrations! Personalization is important in a celebration of life, and it is usually more joyful than somber. Depending on the region and culture of the family, a celebration of life may include food, dancing, and happy memories shared of the deceased.
What is a Wake?
A wake is the solemn service usually occurring just before the funeral. The origins of traditional wakes are in Catholicism, so the faithful may say the Rosary during the wake.
Traditionally, wakes take place in the home, but many funeral homes now serve as venue. People sometimes call wakes visitations or viewings. During the wake, loved ones come together to comfort one another and to pay their final respects to the deceased. The remains may or may not be present.
For more information on wakes, including etiquette and expectations, please see here.
What is a Viewing?
The term viewing is often used interchangeably with wake and visitation, but it does have an official meaning all its own. It is fairly straightforward: at a viewing, the body is usually present to be viewed by mourners. The funeral home usually hosts the viewing the night before the funeral service.
For information about viewing the cremation (which is entirely different than a formal “viewing”), see this article on witnessing a cremation.
What is a Visitation?
As mentioned above, people generally use the terms visitation, wake, and viewing interchangeably. But the body is usually not present at the visitation, which most likely takes place at the funeral home. The emphasis is placed on visiting with grieving family and friends, so it’s going to be less formal than the funeral.
Read more about visitations here.
What is a Scattering Ceremony?
A scattering ceremony occurs when a family chooses to scatter the cremated remains of their loved one, rather than keep or bury them. Usually, the family scatters the ashes into the wind, at a location that was especially important to the deceased.
Scattering ceremonies can be simple or elaborate. The family may release the ashes silently and serenely into the ocean…or incorporate them into a spectacular firework display. The ceremony itself is usually similar to a graveside or committal service. It is an appropriate time to say a few words to honor the departed loved one. Consider reading a favorite quote or Scripture, saying a prayer, or singing a hymn.
Related: Methods for Scattering Ashes
Keep in mind that, depending on the state you’re in, there are laws surrounding where ashes may be scattered.
We hope that this article enlightened you on the differences between these 10 types of funeral services, ceremonies, and events! It’s not easy to remember the little details that differentiate these otherwise similar services, but it helps to know what to expect at each of them. Let us know what your thoughts are in a comment below.