What happens at a funeral?

Wondering what to expect at a funeral? While no two funerals are ever the same, there are a few commonalities that you can expect on the day.
What happens at a funeral?

If you’ve never attended a funeral before or it’s been a while since you stepped foot in a cemetery, the idea of supporting or mourning a loved one can be incredibly daunting and emotional. Depending on religious, spiritual and personal beliefs – every funeral is bound to be different… but there are usually a few things you can expect.

What to expect at a traditional funeral

In some cases, the deceased may choose to pre-plan their own funeral. In other cases where a death is unexpected, a family may plan a funeral and choose to include or omit certain aspects. 

traditional funeral may include:

A visitation or wake

These are fixed hours in which you can view the deceased and visit the family.

A memorial service, or a celebration of life

While a memorial service is more traditional, sometimes people opt for an intimate casual gathering with loved ones to commemorate or celebrate the person who has died, and the life that they lived. (For a celebration of life, you may be given dress code instructions, like wearing bright colours, for example).

The burial or insertion

If the person has chosen to be buried, the casket or coffin is placed in an underground grave at the cemetery.

If they have chosen to be cremationed, you might witness the insertion of the coffin into the cremator.

Read more about the difference between funerals, memorials and wakes here.

Other things to expect at a funeral

Speeches, eulogies or music

If the deceased person was religious or spiritual, a spiritual leader may give a sermon or a speech. It is also common for family, friends and loved ones to eulogise or speak about the people who they have lost. For many, this is a difficult yet cathartic experience.

For those attending the funeral, learning about the person who has died is a nice way to commemorate them and all their achievements in life, too. Some funerals may also have a choir or musical selections, where you can either follow along and sing, or simply watch and listen.

Silence or a range of emotions

We all experience loss differently. Mourners may cry or remain silent, or they may laugh and smile as they remember fond memories of the person they lost. All reactions are normal, as there is no right way to grieve.

Different cultural or religious funeral traditions

If you’re attending a religious or a spiritual ceremony, or you’d like to learn more about how different cultures conduct funerals, ceremonies or wakes, you can read the below guides and get accustomed to all kinds of traditions:

Wrap up

While no two funerals are ever the same, there are elements that can be expected before you step foot in the cemetery or place of ceremony. If you’re supporting a friend or a loved one, ultimately your presence is all that is needed and will be greatly appreciated. But, if you’re looking for ways to support the mourners in the days following, you might want to cook or buy them a meal, spend quality time with them, or run errands for them, for example. There are plenty of other ways you can help – read our guide on Supporting a Friend Through Grief here for more.

If you have specific wishes for your funeral, consider Willed’s prepaid funerals.

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