If you are attending a funeral service for the first time, it can be helpful to know ahead of time what to expect. Funerals deal with difficult emotions and it can create nervousness and anxiety for some people if they do not quite know what to expect or how to behave. In order to help provide more clarity, we have put together some common details to expect before, during and after a funeral.
Before the Funeral
If you are attending a funeral for the first time, you may have many questions about what might take place. Talking with a trusted family member or friend to answer your questions can help, but the details provided from the family arranging the funeral service will give you a lot of information on what type of service to expect. These details are often based on the individual being honoured and the preferences of the family so if you know them well, you may already have a sense of what to expect without knowing it.
A viewing, visitation, wake or prayer service may be held the evening before the funeral service. A prayer service will often have a set time that it will be for, whereas the others will usually have a time window where you can visit during. These events are an opportunity to visit with the family, pay your respects to the deceased and ensure that you’re able to participate in acknowledging the life that has been lost. It’s also an opportunity to grieve with the family if your schedule will not allow you to attend the main funeral service.
The main service could be a funeral or memorial service. We encourage those who are going to attend to arrive early if they would like to view the deceased, sign the register or visit with the family. Should you arrive just short of the time it starts, these opportunities may be missed.
You may also find out Funeral FAQ’s helpful.
During the Funeral
Traditionally funerals will start with a procession of the casket or the urn into the chapel. For many services, the casket will be closed by this time and not be reopened. Typically the officiant will lead the procession followed by the casket or urn, and then the family. It’s respectful to stand during the procession. There will be reserved seating at the front of the chapel for the family members.
Once everyone is in place, the officiant (clergy, priest, minister, celebrant) will begin the service and invite the congregation to sit. Music, tributes and messages will be shared at this time and some religious services will have a time of communion. Sometimes there is “congregational singing” when everyone will have the opportunity to sing as a group. Most Christian services will end with a procession out of the chapel, where the officiant will lead followed by the casket bearers, the casket or urn, the family and then the friends. In a few religious traditions, the casket will be opened at the end of the service and it would be a tradition to file past the casket to pay your respects before exiting the chapel.
When a burial will occur, the funeral director will provide instructions about how to safely participate in a procession to the cemetery.
If you are attending a funeral for the first time, you can expect that an officiant will lead the service and will indicate when it is time to participate. You will have the opportunity to approach the casket for a final moment before it is removed to proceed to the cemetery.
We also have a blog regarding Funeral Etiquette that you may find helpful. It offers advice on what to wear to a funeral, how to conduct yourself, what you can say to be supportive and cellphone use (the answer is pretty much never)
For those who will be cremated, oftentimes a body is not present at the funeral service. In some cultural practices it will be, so look to that as an indication of what to expect. If the body is not present, an urn will likely be present and the service will proceed as usual or may take on more of a memorial service air.
In some cultural practices, the funeral will end with a procession to the cremation chamber and attendees are welcome to witness the cremation. You can learn more about different types of funeral services here.
The staff at the funeral home will also be helpful to you. They will indicate where to go, where to sit and can answer any questions you may have. If you are attending a funeral at Country Hills, please feel free to call us to confirm any details or to address your questions ahead of time. During the service, we will be available to assist you where we can.
After the Funeral
After the funeral service takes place, many families will host a funeral reception. The type of event to expect depends largely on the preferences of the family and what best honours the person who has passed away. The location and time of the reception may also indicate what to expect for you. Sometimes it may be a light reception with an opportunity to visit with the family. Other times a full meal may be prepared. If it is held at the funeral home, you can usually expect a quieter affair, while those held at a home or restaurant may lean towards being more celebratory or casual. Each funeral reception is different though so it can be hard to know exactly what to expect.
When a funeral ends in burial at a cemetery, there is usually a brief ceremony called a committal. The committal is typically a series of short scriptures and a prayer that are said to end the service. Some families may watch while the casket is lowered to the grave. Some families will end the service while the casket is still at ground level and leave it for the cemetery workers to finish lowering the casket and filling in the grave. The officiant and the funeral directors will direct these services.
As a friend or family member supporting those who are grieving, you can offer your support and help to get through the important steps required after a passing, or just simply being there for them. The time after a funeral can be very different for each person so it’s best to ask directly how you can help or just be there to listen and offer support where it’s needed.
For those attending a funeral for the first time, know that just being there is often all of the support that your loved ones need during this time. What will happen at the funeral or what to expect can help to calm any anxiety you may have, but just showing up and being there is truly the most important thing you can offer!