are as old as the human race itself. For example, in the Shanidar cave in Iraq, in Pontnewydd Cave in Wales and other sites across Europe and the Near East, Neanderthal skeletons have been discovered with a characteristic layer of pollen, which suggests that Neanderthals buried the dead with gifts of flowers. This has been interpreted as suggesting that Neanderthals believed in an afterlife and performed some sort of funeral services for the deceased. A funeral is a ceremony for remembering, sanctifying and celebrating the life of a deceased person. Funeral services vary, depending upon culture and the person’s religious beliefs, practices and final wishes. In the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and most cultural groups and religions, the funeral rituals are divided into three parts: visitation, funeral and burial service.
The visitation (also called “viewing,” “calling hours,” or “wake,”) is when the body of the deceased person is placed on display in the casket. The viewing normally takes place on one or two evenings before the funeral. One of the most common 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 funeral service, or memorial, is usually officiated by clergy from the decedent's, or church or religion. A funeral may take place at either a funeral home or church. 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. Sometimes there is no viewing, but just a simple graveside memorial service. This is usually according to the wishes of the deceased, made known prior to their death. Funeral services often include prayers, hymns, readings from the Bible or other sacred text, a sermon by the clergy, and often a eulogy by a relative or close friend. Sometimes several members of the family will get up and speak about the deceased, or share happy memories.
The burial service usually immediately follows the funeral. Other times, the burial service takes place at a later time, when the final resting place is ready. If the decedent served in a branch of the Armed forces, military rites are often accorded at the burial service. Pallbearers, usually males who are close, 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.
There are several steps for arranging a basic funeral service. These are the usual steps associated with burial preparation, however, there are many additional steps that may be taken by family members of the deceased. These include, but are not limited to:
Obtain a Burial Certificate - Law requires a burial permit to be procured by next of kin, typically via a licensed funeral director or through the local Vital Records or Birth and Death Registration office. Usually, a nominal fee is charged to acquire a burial permit.
Select a Burial Site - Oftentimes, the deceased will have either orally requested a burial site before death, or even have written such a request in a will.
Transport Deceased to Burial Site - This can be accomplished through a mortuary or special car service, typically in the form of the traditional hearse. However, many opt to customize this aspect of the funeral procession, in terms of the vehicle selected for transportation. There is usually an additional charge associated with transporting the deceased.
Opening and Closing of Gravesite - This must be arranged with the cemetery ahead of time, and there's typically a fee associated with both the opening and closing of the grave. Fees may vary depending on the day and times of service.
Purchasing a Burial Vault or Liner - Burial vaults, or liners, encapsulate the walls of a casket and prevent the surrounding earth from collapsing the casket over time. Typically, these aren't usually required by law, but often mandatory at most cemeteries, as it helps with site maintenance.
Select a Monument or Grave Marker - It is customary, and sometimes required by cemeteries, to purchase and place a headstone, tombstone or memorial marker at the gravesite for identification and also ritualistic traditions.