Written By: Stephanie Pislis
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
The steps that must be taken immediately following the death of a loved one can be a confusing and daunting process. Not to mention an emotionally draining experience for the family members and loved ones involved. Unless you yourself have already taken the lead in planning a funeral, most of us are oblivious as to where to start or how to proceed. This article will aim at making the process of a typical funeral service clearer and easier to understand by focusing primarily on an open casket exposition (i.e. a wake) followed by the burial of the corpse in a funeral service, which is sometimes also referred to as an interment.
When looking at funeral customs and body disposition, the customs and practices undoubtedly vary depending on the country that you live in. In the United States, and North America in general, there are primarily three main options for body disposition. Those being, burial (interment or other), cremation or medical donation. With more and more people leaning towards the less expensive method of cremation, much of the older generation typically tend to opt for a traditional burial and exposition.
What are the first steps?
What is the first thing that happens when a loved one passes? Depending on where the death occurs, the family is either notified by the hospital or institution or, if the passing occurred at home, the family must notify someone themselves. Before the body can be moved from its last resting place, a declaration of death must be made. This practice is done by a health care practitioner and therefore the first step that is generally done following a death is to call 911. Once this is done, transportation must be arranged. This step is undertaken by a local funeral home. The body is to be transferred, with care, to a mortuary where it will then be placed in a refrigerated room with a constant temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This low temperature is necessary in order to slow the process of decomposition of the body as much as possible. This delay of decay is due to the fact that microorganisms which are one cause of decomposition have a much more difficult time reproducing at lower temperatures. As a result, the body is able to stay in tact until further burial arrangements can be made. This process of preservation is known as embalming.
The science behind body preservation
Ideally, a funeral takes place within one week of the death, especially if an open casket viewing is desired. There are several methods used in order to slow down decomposition. Specially formulated chemicals and preservation fluids are injected into the body during the embalming process when an open casket viewing is required. While a lowered temperature and preservative fluids may slow the process, nothing can completely stop the process of decay. Therefore, it is important to try to arrange the funeral as soon as possible. In some cases, however, this may not be possible. For instance, if the body must be flown in from another country, or if a coroner must take special and lengthy measures in a criminal investigation, this would delay burial arrangements. In circumstances where the body may have suffered severe trauma, it may be recommended to have a closed casket instead of an open one during an exposition.
How do I choose a funeral home?
After the body is placed in the mortuary, the next step is to choose a funeral home. You do not necessarily have to continue with the same funeral home that transported the body. However, keep in mind that if you do decide to transfer the body to a different location, secondary transportation fees will surely apply. Just like with any other service, it is highly recommended to shop around for the right funeral home. Remember that a funeral is meant to serve as a memorable ritual that honors the dead and celebrates its life. For the living, it is an event which will never be forgotten and it is also an important step in the grieving process. A funeral allows family members and friends to achieve closure as well as a sense of serenity in knowing that their loved one has departed from this earth in peace. Therefore, rushing to choose any funeral home, or the one offering the lowest price, may not be the right approach.
Make sure to inquire about any specific rituals of practices that are necessary in regards to your own culture and traditions. Whether you are planning a traditional Italian funeral or a traditional Vietnamese funeral, for example, the funeral home of your choosing should be able to fulfill your specified and personal needs. Many funeral homes, especially larger ones, specialize in various cultural rituals. Further, you should be mindful of whether the funeral home conforms to the specifications of your own culture and traditions.
The burial ground
This brings us to the final step in the funeral process. Burial or interment. A specialized lot, or site in a cemetery, is a helpful tool for mourning. Knowing that you can visit the remains of your loved one at any time is a comforting thought for many. Personalizing the tombstone or decorating the lot with flowers and personal relics is often done by family members in order to achieve a more personalized experience that pays homage the the deceased. If a cremation is desired by the family or the deceased themselves, a burial may still take place. It is possible to bury the ashes of your loved one in an urn just as one would do with a casket. Sometimes people will finance their burial plot years in advance of their death in order to alleviate financial burdens for their relatives. This may be something to consider during the span of your life.
If all these steps are followed, your funeral service experience should leave you with a feeling of accomplishment and closure. However, the emotions experienced following the death of a loved one are often severe and profound. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to experience your emotions. Grief is an extremely individual and personal experience and you should never feel ashamed with the way you are feeling. A proper funeral is aimed at aiding the living and honoring the deceased.
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