North American Death and Burial
Most people in North American die either in hospital or at home. When someone dies, arrangements are made with a funeral home to get the body and prepare it for burial. Funeral homes are private businesses. They usually handle most or all aspects of a funeral, except for providing the burial plot. That usually has to be purchased separately.
Funeral homes may operate in many kinds of buildings. Old roomy private homes and new modern one-level buildings are common types. When the funeral director receives the body, his staff embalms it so it will not decay quickly and will look lifelike at the funeral service. For one or two days before the burial, friends, relatives and acquaintances are invited to visit the funeral home and pay their respects to the dead person. The deceased person is usually dressed in their best clothes, and lying on their back in a coffin.
A coffin is a large wooden or metal chest designed to hold the body. Members of the dead person’s immediate family usually act as hosts for the funeral home visitation. They greet the mourners and talk to them about the deceased. Usually, there are happy photographs of the dead person near the coffin. Gifts of flowers also surround the coffin. Usually the mourners are asked to sign a guest book.
The funeral service may take place at a church, if the deceased person wanted that. Frequently, however, the service is held at a chapel at the funeral home. Attending a funeral is considered a sign of respect, and people will often travel a long distance to attend. Usually friends and relatives will take a day off work for the occasion. Notices are put in the newspaper for several days before, so that people will know when to come.
A minister or priest usually conducts the funeral service. There will be hymns, prayers, and perhaps a sermon, like a regular church service. Sometimes, the minister will speak at length about the dead person. Sometimes, a member of the family does this. Opportunity is allowed for other people to talk about their memories of the dead person. At the end of the service, the coffin is wheeled out to a waiting car, called a hearse, which drives the dead person to the burial place. The mourners go to their cars and follow the hearse to the cemetery. At the cemetery, a hole has already been dug to receive the coffin. Usually there is a short ceremony at the grave. Sometimes, flowers are put on top of the coffin as it is lowered into the grave.
A handful of soil is tossed on the coffin, indicating burial. Usually the mourners leave before the cemetery workers cover the coffin with earth. Then the mourners may all go back to a church hall or restaurant for a meal. A funeral can be quite costly. Even an inexpensive coffin can be several thousand dollars. Sometimes, the deceased will be placed in an expensive rental coffin for the visitation and funeral, but buried in a less expensive coffin.
Even so, a full funeral rarely costs less than $5,000, and usually quite a lot more. And this does not include the price of the burial plot or the stone grave marker. Sometimes poor people are buried at government expense. It is traditional in North American to bury the whole body in the ground. However, cremation is becoming more popular. The advantage of cremation is that it is less expensive, uses less land, and it appeals to people who don’t want an elaborate funeral.
Some people may wonder why so much attention is paid to a dead person. But funerals are really for the living. They are a way of saying goodbye to the dead person and receiving mutual support and encouragement from friends and family. Some funeral homes help to organize grief counselling or support groups to grieving family members. Usually the funeral service is performed in the Christian tradition and refers to the hope of resurrection or rebirth from the dead that Christians believe in. It is now becoming common for people to plan their own funeral service before they die. And usually attempts are made to make the service appropriate to the person who died. This makes it more satisfying and memorable for the family and friends.