The times are changing, and the way funerals are conducted reflects the changing times and a shift in attitude about death. For some, this means that a funeral is less about religion and more about celebrating someone’s life in a more personal way. For others, the rising costs of funerals led to at-home services or memorial services held in places like parks, beaches and other natural locations that were meaningful to the deceased.
Speaking of natural, for people concerned about the environment, there are also eco-burials and services. Eco-burials eliminate the harmful chemicals used in embalming and involve burial with a biodegradable coffin.
Another interesting change is that in recent years, cremation surpassed burial. Cremation is much less expensive, and in some areas, there is an option for a water cremation. This is ideal for those concerned with the fumes expelled by traditional cremations.
Religions and cultures vary greatly in funeral practices. Cultural differences may include spiritual practices involving nature, like those practiced by Wiccans. Some faiths are very minimalist when it comes to funeral traditions, and some are grandiose. Some faiths demand modesty and avoidance of certain colors.
With changes to some funeral traditions and the cultural differences in funeral customs that you may encounter, it can be difficult to know how you should appropriately express sympathy and condolences when someone’s beliefs may be different from your own. Don’t worry. We have some practical advice regarding how to express your sympathy and whether it is appropriate to send flowers.
Non-traditional can encompass a variety of different types of funerals and beliefs. Typically, non-traditional funerals may be held in a place that had meaning for the deceased. For example, someone who surfed might be memorialized at the beach. Someone who enjoyed nature might have a memorial service in a park or by a lake.
For non-traditional services, the most important part is celebrating what made the person unique. The memorial should celebrate in a personal way. If you would like to send flowers, find out what flowers he or she favored and consider adding something to the arrangement that would reflect an attribute or hobby of the deceased. When expressing your condolences, make your words heartfelt and specific to the individual.
Eco-funerals are for the environmentally conscious, so it is often inappropriate to send cut flowers. Sending a plant would be a better alternative, but the deceased may have wished for donations in lieu of flowers. Bringing meals to the family is another way to show you care.
These funerals may take place in a funeral home or in a natural setting. Sometimes the body is buried in a shroud, and in other cases, a coffin made of a natural material like wool or wicker, is used. Some cemeteries do offer spaces for eco-burials. If a nature burial is chosen, there will probably not be a headstone or marker, but the burial will be in a beautiful setting in nature.
Due to the ever-rising costs of traditional funerals and burials, changing attitudes about the environment and the desire to return to nature and the natural, eco-burials are expected to gain popularity.
Jewish funerals are very simple and symbolic. Like eco-funerals, the body is not embalmed and is often wrapped in a shroud and placed in a natural wooden coffin to encourage decomposition. Male guests to the service are expected to wear a jacket and tie with a yarmulke as a head covering. Women do not need head covering but should dress very conservative with no revealing or colorful clothing.
Many Jewish funerals are held entirely by the gravesite, but some may be held in a synagogue or funeral home. The service begins with a rabbi cutting a black cloth to symbolize the individual breaking away from life, and the remainder of the service is recitation of prayers. The family typically places dirt on the coffin before it is buried.
Flowers and wreaths are not appropriate for a Jewish funeral. Donations to charities and Jewish organizations and kosher food are welcome. There is also a seven-day period of mourning called Shiva, and during that time, it is considered a thoughtful deceased gesture to send fruit baskets, condolence baskets with chocolates or to plant a tree in Israel in memory of the deceased.
If you visit the family during this time, they may cover mirrors, burn candles and refrain from normal daily activities to show that death is an interruption of life.
Buddhist funeral traditions vary between different traditions and countries. Although Buddhists do not believe death is an end but a transition from one life to another, it is acceptable to show grief. Mourners may walk with sticks to symbolize the difficulty of carrying the weight of grief.
An altar to the deceased will display a portrait and offerings of candles, incense, flowers and fruit. An image of the Buddha will also be present. Flowers, donations and fruit baskets are appreciated. The appropriate color for flowers is white, and the color red should be avoided.
When you arrive, you should walk up to the altar, bow your head and have your hands before you and together in prayer to show respect. If you are not Buddhist, you should not speak to the family before the funeral.
The family usually wears white, and the service includes chanting and ringing of gongs. Guests should wear dark, loose clothing and avoid jewelry and the color red. Most Buddhists are cremated because Buddha was cremated, but some choose burial.
If there are monks present at the service, they perform last rites before the casket is sealed and carried off by family members. During that time, those in attendance should send good thoughts and accept the impermanence of life.
The Muslim faith values simplicity and moderation. Like some of the other funeral customs listed above, the body is wrapped in a shroud. Once wrapped, a rope is tied at the top of the head and another below the feet. One or two ropes are tied around the middle of the body. The religion forbids embalming and cremation.
At the funeral, men and women are separate, with women traditionally seated at the back. An Imam or the oldest male relative stands at the front with his back to the mourners. He is directly in front of the body facing Mecca. He presents the funeral prayer. The funeral is somber and mostly silent. There should be no talking.
For clothing, men should wear plain pants that do not show any skin, and the shirt should cover everything up to the neck. Nothing should fit tightly. Women should conceal everything except the face and hands.
Views on flowers vary, but since the faith values moderation, they are often not given. Instead, they sometimes prefer a donation to charity be made. If there are flowers, they are usually handled by the family. However, it never hurts to ask what is appropriate before the service.
Like Buddhists, Hindus do not believe death is an end. Instead, it is viewed as a transition. A Hindu funeral consists of chants or mantras led by a Hindu priest.
A Hindu funeral typically takes place within one day, sometimes two, after the time of death. No gifts or flowers should be brought to the funeral, as that would be viewed as a distraction. Although flowers may be sent or brought ahead of time.
At the funeral, the body is placed in an open casket. Guests at the funeral should view the body and offer condolences to the family. Non-Hindus can simply sit quietly during the ceremony, but they are also welcomed to participate in the ritual chanting of mantras, if they would like to do so.
Mourners should wear white and dress conservatively with arms and knees covered. Black should not be worn. Excessive mourning should be avoided. It is believed the deceased is still aware of what is happening, and the sadness they sense may inhibit the soul’s journey.
There are special ceremonies that take place during cremation. After cremation, there may be a reception at the family’s home. After the period of mourning, which typically lasts 10 days, it is considered a thoughtful gesture to send fruit.
Wiccan funerals are similar to eco-funerals because many Wiccans prefer a natural burial without chemicals to allow quick decomposition. However, a Wiccan may opt for cremation if a natural burial isn’t possible.
If the body of the deceased is present, he or she may be laid on an altar. A priest and/or priestess conduct the ceremony and recite chants. Afterward, mourners are invited to speak. The funeral may take place outside in nature or at a private home.
Attendees may or may not form a circle. White candles and flowers may be used to represent death and rebirth as they call the goddess and speak directly to the departed. The body, ashes, a picture or a personal effect may be placed in the center of the circle.
Customs can vary greatly, but Wiccans often expect that mourners may not be aware of what is appropriate. It doesn’t hurt to ask. The desire for funeral flowers also varies. Dress for a Wiccan funeral is often more relaxed and less formal and reserved than other faiths.
No matter what kind of funeral you will be attending, it is important to remember that the funeral is not just for the deceased. The funeral also exists to help the loved ones celebrate a life and recognize and accept the passing.
If you are in doubt about etiquette regarding a funeral, don’t hesitate to ask. It is always better to err on the side of caution to avoid offending anyone at such a delicate time.
If you are looking for a way to express your condolences, our florists at A and Z Flowers Boutique in Astoria, NY, are here to provide a beautiful and appropriate flower, plant or fruit basket.