Although funerals and celebrations of life share many of the same attributes, they often seem quite different. Both forms of commemoration are ceremonial and gather people together in recognition of a shared loss. A funeral is more traditional and a celebration of life is a reflection of recent changes in social values. Both allow the family and community to officially acknowledge the death of a member of their group, provide support to the mourning family by gathering affected friends, co-workers and neighbors and transition the departed to a different social status. They accomplish these three things is differing ways. Now we will look to what the majority of us view as a traditional funeral.
Funerals have a long history. Comprised of three activities, the visitation, the funeral ceremony and the graveside committal service, many of us are familiar with their format.
The Visitation: Before the funeral, often on the previous night, the visitation, wake or viewing is the period when mourners spend time with the family and provide support, and pay their respects to the deceased. Many times this involves standing before the casket to see the body, either alone or with a member of the loved one’s family.
The Funeral Ceremony: Usually held at the funeral home or a place of religious worship, the traditional funeral service is typically officiated by a clergy member or your funeral director. The officiant often leads mourners through a well-known funeral order of service, including the reciting of Biblical passages, hymn-singing, prayers and invocations.
The Committal Service: After a slow and dignified procession from the place where the funeral was held to the cemetery, the committal service takes place. It concludes when the casketed remains are put into the ground and final prayers are made.
If you want to learn more about the history of funerals in America, please visit the website of the National Museum of Funeral History. Now let us turn to the celebration-of-life format.
Celebrations of Life
In her book The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver writes “To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know.” We believe this excerpt provides great insight into the main objectives of a celebration of life. A funeral, as described above, is more structured and spiritually-defined, while a celebration of life is more targeted at telling the story of the loved one. A celebration of life is not simply focused on witnessing the change in social status of the deceased, it provides an opportunity for people to gather to celebrate the individuality and accomplishments of the departed.
Much like a memorial service, a celebration of life combines flexibility with many of the rituals found in the funeral order of service. Celebrations of life allow for more creativity than do traditional funerals. Also, celebrations of life usually occur after the physical care of the loved one’s remains via burial or cremation, allowing the family much more time to plan and the ability to make better choices on how to celebrate the life of one so cherished.
If You Need Advice, Please Count on Us
We have a wealth of experience listening, advising and providing ideas to families in regards to commemorating the life of a loved one. We are in the perfect position to help you decide between a funeral and a celebration of life. We will give you all of the time that you require to make this decision and we will fully explain your funeral service options. As is written in the book Chocolat by Joanne Harris, “[l]ife is what you celebrate. All of it. Even its end.” Please allow us to help you demonstrate the respect and love you have for your deceased by calling 708-532-5400 and speaking with one of our caring funeral directors.
Kingsolver, Barbara, The Poisonwood Bible.
Harris, Joanne, Chocolate.