If you’re unsure what to expect at a funeral, you’re not alone. An estimated 2.4 million funerals take place in America every year. Yet, many guests don’t understand the intricacies of planning, or attending, a funeral service. To help, here is a general overview of what one would expect at a typical service.

The Night Before: Viewing

The viewing, also known as a wake, often occurs a night or two prior to the funeral service. This is a time for family and friends to gather in honor of the deceased, typically at a funeral home or church. A casket containing the deceased is present during the viewing. The casket may be open or closed, depending on factors such as religious tradition, circumstances of death and the family’s wishes.

What separates a viewing from the service?

  • A viewing is for loved ones to say goodbye and pay their respects to the deceased (and the deceased’s family).
  • It is smaller and more informal than the funeral service.
  • Not everyone who attends the funeral will attend a viewing/wake.

The Funeral Service

Funeral services are very personal, and depend on factors ranging from culture and religion to details specified in the deceased’s will. Expect a service to last between half an hour to one hour; longer for public figures, or if there are lengthy readings or speeches. A clergy member or other officiant presides over the funeral service, and a printed program is generally provided to guests. Typical parts of a funeral include:

  • Introduction from clergy or officiant
  • Readings by clergy members or friends and relatives of the deceased. These may be psalms, excerpts from holy scriptures, favorite poems or other inspirational quotes.
  • Words and memories shared about their loved one from family and friends of the deceased
  • Songs or hymns between portions of the ceremony
  • Conclusion by the officiant or funeral director
  • Pallbearers (casket bearers) or funeral home staff carry the casket from the ceremony to the hearse, which will carry the deceased to the cemetery or burial site. Guests traditionally follow the hearse containing the casket to the burial site for interment.

A memorial service, as opposed to a funeral, is conducted when there is no body present. In place of a casket there may be an urn or pictures for mourners to pay respects to the deceased. This service may contain the same elements as a funeral, except for the casket procession.

Same Day, After the Service: Interment and Reception

The Interment happens at the gravesite directly following the service. This is where loved ones have a final chance to say farewell prior to the deceased’s burial. A short service, typically 5-10 minutes, is conducted by the officiant. The casket is then lowered into the ground, or an urn containing the deceased’s ashes placed in a mausoleum. Some families opt to host a post-funeral reception at their home or in a public space, while others disperse following the interment.

Perhaps the last funeral you attended was long ago, involved different cultural expectations, or was highly customized to fit the deceased’s wishes. Maybe you’ve never been involved with planning a service. Regardless of the situation, it’s perfectly natural to have questions about what to expect during a funeral service. We welcome you to contact our staff at Mountain View Funeral Home online or at 480-832-2850 (24/7) for information or help with planning services for your loved one.