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A funeral is a ceremony marking a person's death. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from the funeral itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor. These customs vary widely between cultures, and between religious affiliations within cultures. In some cultures the dead are venerated; this is commonly called ancestor worship. The word funeral comes from the Latin funus, which had a variety of meanings, including the corpse and the funerary rites themselves.

Funeral rites are as old as the human race itself, as well as other hominids.[How to reference and link to summary or text] For example, in the Shanidar cave in Iraq, Neanderthal skeletons have been discovered with a characteristic layer of pollen, which suggests that Neanderthals buried the dead with gifts of flowers. This has been interpreted as suggesting that Neanderthals believed in an afterlife, and in any case were aware of their own mortality and were capable of mourning.

Religious funerals

Jewish funerals

Main article: Bereavement in Judaism

Buddhist funerals

Main article: Funeral (Buddhism)

Catholic xian funerals

Main article: Catholic Funeral

Hindu funerals

Main article: Antyesti

Islamic funerals

Main article: Islamic funeral

Sikh funerals

In Sikhism death is considered a natural process. An event that has absolute certainty and only happens as a direct result of God's Will or Hukam. To a Sikh, birth and death are closely associated, because they are both part of the cycle of human life of "coming and going" ( ਆਵਣੁ ਜਾਣਾ , Aana Jaana) which is seen as transient stage towards Liberation ( ਮੋਖੁ ਦੁਆਰੁ , Mokh Du-aar), complete unity with God. Sikhs thus believe in reincarnation.

However, by contrast, the soul itself is not subject to the cycle of birth and death.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Death is only the progression of the soul on its journey from God, through the created universe and back to God again. In life, a Sikh always tries to constantly remember death so that he or she may be sufficiently prayerful, detached and righteous to break the cycle of birth and death and return to God.

The public display of grief at the funeral or Antam Sanskar as it is called in the Sikh culture, such as wailing or crying out loud is discouraged and should be kept to a minimum. Cremation is the preferred method of disposal, although if this is not possible any other methods such as burial or submergence at sea are acceptable. Worship of the dead with gravestones, etc. is discouraged, because the body is considered to be only the shell and the person's soul is their real essence.

On the day of the cremation, the body is taken to the Gurdwara or home where hymns (Shabads) from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scriptures are recited by the congregation, which induce feeling of consolation and courage. Kirtan may also be performed by Ragis while the relatives of the deceased recite "Waheguru" sitting near the coffin. This service normally takes from 30 to 60 minutes. At the conclusion of the service, an Ardas is said before the coffin is taken to the cremation site.

At the point of cremation, a few more Shabads may be sung and final speeches are made about the deceased person. Then the Kirtan Sohila, night time prayer is recited and finally Ardas called the "Antim Ardas" ("Final Prayer") is offered. The eldest son or a close relative generally starts the cremation process – light the fire or press the button for the burning to begin. This service usually lasts about 30 to 60 minutes.

The ashes are later collected and disposed by immersing them in the nearest river. Sikhs do not erect monuments over the remains of the dead.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

After the cremation ceremony, there may be another service at the Gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, call the Sahaj Paath Bhog Ceremony but this is optional.

Main article: Antam Sanskar

Funerals in Japan

Main article: Japanese funeral

Funerals in contemporary North America

Traditional funerals

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Within the United States and Canada, in most cultural groups and regions, the funeral rituals can be divided into three parts: visitation, funeral, and the burial service.

Visitation

At the visitation (also called a "viewing" or "wake") the body of the deceased person (or decedent) is placed on display in the coffin (also called a casket). The viewing often takes place on one or two evenings before the funeral. The body is traditionally dressed in the decedent's best clothes, which may be slit up the back to facilitate dressing the body. In recent times there has been more variation in what the decedent is dressed in. The body will also be adorned with the usual jewelry, including a watch. The jewelry and watch will remain in the casket after burial, but it might be removed before cremation. The body may or may not be embalmed, depending upon such factors as the amount of time since the death has occurred, religious practices, or requirements of the place of burial.

The only prescribed aspects[How to reference and link to summary or text] of this gathering are that frequently the attendees sign a book kept by the deceased's survivors to record who attended and that the attendees are expected to view the deceased's body in the coffin. In addition, a family may choose to display photographs taken of the deceased person during his/her life (often, formal portraits with other family members and candid pictures to show "happy times"), prized possessions and other items representing his/her hobbies and/or accomplishments. A more recent trend is to create a DVD with pictures and video of the deceased, accompanied by music, and play this DVD continuously during the visitation. After the services, the DVD is given to the family.

The viewing is either "open casket", in which the embalmed body of the deceased has been clothed and treated with cosmetics for display; or "closed casket", in which the coffin is closed. The coffin may be closed if the body was too badly damaged because of an accident or fire, deformed from illness or if someone in the group is emotionally unable to cope with viewing the corpse. During an open casket, if the deceased was of Roman Catholic faith, a large rosary made out of fresh flowers may be hung inside of the coffin.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

However, this step is foreign to Judaism; Jewish funerals are held soon after death, and the corpse is never displayed. As well, Jewish law[How to reference and link to summary or text] forbids anyone to embalm the body of the deceased. Traditionally flowers (and music) are not sent to a grieving Jewish family as it is a reminder of the life that is now lost.(See also Jewish bereavement.)

The decedent's closest friends and relatives who are unable to attend frequently send flowers to the viewing, with the exception of a Jewish Funeral [1], where flowers would not be appropriate (and donations are given to a charity instead). The viewing typically takes place at a funeral home, which is equipped with gathering rooms where the viewing can be conducted, although the viewing may also take place at a church. It is also common practice in some of the states in the southeastern United States that the body is taken to the decedent’s home or that of a relative for viewing. The viewing may end with a prayer service; in the Catholic funeral, this may include a rosary.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
File:Stairway2heavensm.jpg

A visitation is often held the evening before the day of the funeral. However, when the deceased person is elderly the visitation may be held immediately preceding the funeral. This allows elderly friends of the deceased a chance to view the body and attend the funeral in one trip, since it may be difficult for them to arrange travel.

A Traditional Fire Department funeral consists of two raised aerial ladders.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The firefighter(s) travel under the aerials on their ride on the fire apparatus to the cemetery.

Funeral

A memorial service, often called a funeral and often officiated by clergy from the decedent's or bereaved's church or religion. A funeral may take place at either a funeral home or church. A funeral is usually held three to five days after the death of the deceased. Some people consider it important [How to reference and link to summary or text] to conduct the funeral exactly three days after the death.

The deceased is usually transported from the funeral home to a church in a hearse, a specialized vehicle designed to carry casketed remains. The deceased most often transported in a procession, with the hearse, funeral service vehicles, and private automobiles traveling in a procession to the church or other location where the services will be held. In a number of jurisdictions, special laws cover funeral processions - such as requiring other vehicles to give right-of-way to a funeral procession. Funeral service vehicles may be equipped with light bars and special flashers to increase their visibility on the roads. After the funeral service, if the deceased is to be buried the funeral procession will proceed to a cemetery if not already there. If the deceased is to be cremated the funeral procession may then proceed to the crematory.

Funeral services include prayers; readings from the Bible or other sacred texts; hymns (sung either by the attendees or a hired vocalist); and words of comfort by the clergy. Frequently, a relative or close friend will be asked to give a eulogy, which details happy memories and accomplishments; often commenting on the deceased's flaws, especially at length, is considered impolite. Sometimes the delivering of the eulogy is done by the clergy. Clergy are often asked to deliver eulogies for people they have never met.

Tradition [How to reference and link to summary or text] also allows the attendees of the memorial service to have one last opportunity to view the decedent's body and say good-bye; the immediate family (siblings (and their spouses); followed by the decedent's spouse, parents and children) are always the very last to view their loved one before the coffin is closed. This opportunity can take place immediately before the service begins, or at the very end of the service.

During funerals, bagpipes are sometimes played. Curiously, at a police officer's or firefighter's funeral, the pipes are usually Great Highland Bagpipes, not the Uillean pipes usually played by Irish musicians. In the United States, police officers and firefighters are often of Irish, but seldom of Scottish descent [How to reference and link to summary or text]. This custom was quite obvious in the funerals of emergency workers killed in the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks.

During the funeral and at the burial service, the casket may be covered with a large arrangement of flowers, called a casket spray. If the decedent served in a branch of the Armed forces, the casket may be covered with a national flag; however nothing should cover the national flag according to Title 4, United States Code, Chapter 1, Paragraph 8i.

Funeral customs vary from country to country. In the United States, any type of noise other than quiet whispering or mourning is considered disrespectful.

Note: In some religious denominations, for example, Roman Catholic and Anglican, eulogies are prohibited or discouraged during this service, in order to preserve respect for traditions. Also, for these religions, the coffin is traditionally closed at the end of the wake and is not re-opened for the funeral service.

Burial service

File:Millais - Das Tal der Stille.jpg

A burial service, conducted at the side of the grave, tomb, mausoleum or crematorium, at which the body of the decedent is buried or cremated at the conclusion.

Sometimes, the burial service will immediately follow the funeral, in which case a funeral procession travels from the site of the memorial service to the burial site. Other times, the burial service takes place at a later time, when the final resting place is ready.

If the decedent served in a branch of the Armed forces, military rites are often accorded at the burial service.

In many religious traditions, pallbearers, usually males who are close, but not immediate relatives (such as cousins, nephews or grandchildren) or friends of the decedent, will carry the casket from the chapel (of a funeral home or church) to the hearse, and from the hearse to the site of the burial service. The pallbearers often sit in a special reserved section during the memorial service.

According to most religions, coffins are kept closed during the burial ceremony. In Eastern Orthodox funerals, the coffins are reopened just before burial to allow loved ones to look at the deceased one last time and give their final farewells.

The morticians will typically ensure that all jewelry, including wristwatch, that were displayed at the wake are in the casket before it is buried or entombed. It would be unseemly to have the decedent's heirs squabbling over a Rolex or an engagement ring. Custom requires that everything goes into the ground.

There is an exception, in the case of cremation. Such items tend to melt or suffer damage, so they are usually removed before the body goes into the furnace. Pacemakers are removed prior to creamation - if they were left in they could possibly explode and damage the crematorium.

Luncheon

In many traditions, a meal or other gathering often follows the burial service. This gathering may be held at the decedent's church or another off-site location. Some funeral homes have large spaces set aside to provide funeral dinners. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

For Irish descendants, An Irish Wake usually lasts 3 full days. On the day after the wake the funeral takes place. Family members and friends will ensure that there is always someone awake with the body, traditionally saying prayers.

Etiquette

Generally speaking, the number of people who are considered obliged to attend each of these three rituals by etiquette decreases at each step:

  • Distant relatives and acquaintances may be called upon to attend the visitation.
  • The decedent's closer relatives and local friends attend the funeral or memorial service, and subsequent burial (if it is held immediately after the memorial service).
  • If the burial is on the day of the funeral, only the decedent's closest relatives and friends attend the burial service (although if the burial service immediately follows the funeral, all attendees of the memorial service are asked to attend).

Traditionally etiquette dictated[How to reference and link to summary or text] that the bereaved and other attendees at a funeral wear semi-formal clothing—such as a suit and tie for men or a dress for women. The most traditional and respectful color is solid black (with a matching solid black tie for men) preferably without any underlying pinstripes or patterns in the weave. But failing that charcoal gray or dark navy blue may be worn. Wearing short skirts, low-cut tops, t-shirts with advertising slogans or suggestive images, or, at Western funerals, a large amount of white (other than a button-down shirt or blouse, or a military uniform) is often seen as disrespectful.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Women who are grieving the death of their husband or a close partner sometimes wear a veil to conceal the face, although the veil is not common now.

Private services

On occasion, the family of the deceased may wish to have only a very small service, with just the decedent's closest family members and friends attending. This type of ceremony means it is closed to the public. One may only go to the funeral if he or she was invited. In this case, a private funeral service is conducted. Reasons vary but often include the following:

  • The decedent was an infant (possibly, they may have been stillborn) or very aged, and therefore has few surviving family members or friends.
  • The decedent may be a crime victim or a convicted criminal who was serving a prison sentence. In this case, the service is made private either to avoid unwanted media coverage (especially with a crime victim); or to avoid unwanted intrusion (especially if the decedent was convicted of murder or sexual assault).
  • The family does not feel able to endure a traditional service (due to emotional shock) or simply wants a quiet, simple funeral with only the most important people of the decedent's life in attendance.
  • The family and/or the decedent, as more frequently preplanned, prefer simplicity and lower cost to that of traditional arrangements. The choice of cremation as an option to casketed burial is increasing and often includes disposition of the cremains at a time privately convenient to the descendent's family members.
  • The decedent is of a distinct celebrity status, and holding public ceremony would result in too many guests who are not acquainted with the decedent to participate. On the other hand, if a state funeral is offered and accepted by the decedent's immediate family, a public funeral would ensue. A recent example of this is the death of celebrity Steve Irwin, in which his family was offered a state funeral but refused. They held a private ceremony for Irwin on 9 September 2006.

In some cases (particularly the latter), the family may schedule a public memorial service at a later time.

Memorial services

The memorial service is a service given for the deceased without the body present. This may take place after an earth burial, donation of the body to an institution such as a school, cremation (sometimes the cremations are present), entombment, or burial at sea. Typically these services take place at the funeral home and may include prayers, poems, or songs to remember the deceased. Pictures of the deceased are usually placed at the altar where the body would normally be to pay respects by.

Other types of funerals

File:20000 graveyard.jpg

New Orleans Jazz Funeral

A unique funeral tradition in the United States occurs in New Orleans, Louisiana. The unique tradition arises from African spiritual practices, French martial musical traditions and uniquely African-American cultural influences. A typical jazz funeral begins with a march by the family, friends, and a jazz band from the home, funeral home or church to the cemetery. Throughout the march, the band plays very somber dirges. Once the final ceremony has taken place, the march proceeds from the cemetery to a gathering place, and the solemn music is replaced by loud, upbeat, raucous music and dancing where onlookers join in to celebrate the life of the deceased. This is the origin of the New Orleans dance known as the "second line" where celebrants do a dance-march, frequently while raising the hats and umbrellas brought along as protection from intense New Orleans weather and waving handkerchiefs above the head that are no longer being used to wipe away tears.

“Green” funeral

Those with concerns about the effects on the environment of traditional burial or cremation may choose to be buried in a fashion more suited to their beliefs. They may choose to be buried in a coffin made of cardboard or other easily-biodegradable materials. Further, they may choose their final resting place to be in a park or woodland, known as an eco-cemetery, and may have a tree planted over their grave as a contribution to the environment and a remembrance.

Internet visitation/funeral

A Funeral Home in North Syracuse, New York was the first funeral home to offer and broadcast a visitation and funeral "live" on the Internet. A Funeral Director at the Home said "It's not new technology, just a new application." The use of a web-camera allows relatives who could not otherwise attend services to do so from any computer. Family members and friends separated by distance, weather or circumstance can now become part of the support network by being connected electronically to the ceremonies. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Funerals in East Asia

In most East Asian, South Asian and many Southeast Asian cultures, the wearing of white is symbolic of death. In these societies, white or off-white robes are traditionally worn to symbolize that someone has died and can be seen worn among relatives of the deceased during a funeral ceremony. In Chinese culture, red is strictly forbidden as it is a traditionally symbolic color of happiness. Contemporary Western influence however has meant that dark-colored or black attire is now often also acceptable for mourners to wear (particularly for those outside the family). In such cases, mourners wearing dark colors at times may also wear a white or off-white armband or white robe.

A traditional Chinese gift to the attendees upon entering is a white envelope, usually enclosing a small sum of money (in odd numbers, usually one dollar), a sweet and a handkerchief, each with symbolic meaning. Chinese custom also dictates that the said sum of money should not be brought home. The sweet should be consumed the day of and anything given during the funeral must not be brought home. The repetition of 3 is common where people at the funeral may brush their hair three times or spit three times before leaving the funeral to ward off bad luck. This custom is also found in other East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Most Japanese funerals are conducted with Buddhist rites. Many feature a ritual that bestows a new name on the deceased; funerary names typically use obsolete or archaic kanji and words, to avoid the likelihood of the name being used in ordinary speech or writing. The new names are typically chosen by a Buddhist priest, after consulting the family of the deceased. Most Japanese are cremated.

African funerals

The custom of burying the dead in the floor of dwelling-houses has been to some degree prevalent on the Gold Coast of Africa. The ceremony is purely animist, and apparently without any set ritual. The main exception is that the females of the family of the deceased and their friends may undergo mournful lamentations. In some instances they work their feelings up to an ostentatious, frenzy-like degree of sorrow. The revelry may be heightened by the use of alcohol, of which drummers, flute-players, bards, and singing men may partake. The funeral may last for as much as a week. Another custom, a kind of memorial, frequently takes place seven years after the person's death. These funerals and especially the memorials may be extremely expensive for the family in question. Cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry, may be offered in remembrance and then consumed in festivities.

Some funerals in Ghana are held with the deceased put in elaborate "fantasy coffins" colored and shaped after a certain object, such as a fish, crab, boat, and even an airplane.[1]

Ancient funeral rites

The most simple and natural kind of funeral monuments, and therefore the most ancient and universal, consist in a mound of earth, or a heap of stones, raised over the body or ashes of the departed: of such monuments mention is made in the Book of Joshua, and in Homer and Virgil.

The place of burial amongst the Jews was never particularly determined. Ancient Jews had burial-places upon the highways, in gardens, and upon mountains. In the Hebrew Bible (known as the Christian Old Testament), Abraham was buried with Sarah, his wife, in the cave in Machpelah, the field he bought from Ephron the Hittite; David, king of Israel, and the other kings after him (including Uzziah of Judah) "rested with [their] ancestors" in the burial field that pertained to the kings.

The primitive Greeks were buried in places prepared for that purpose in their own houses; but later they established burial grounds in desert islands, and outside the walls of towns, by that means securing them from disturbance, and themselves from the liability of catching infection from those who had died of contagious disorders.

Funerals in ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, the eldest surviving male of the household, the pater familias, was summoned to the death-bed, where he attempted to catch and inhale the last breath of the decedent.

Funerals of the socially prominent were usually undertaken by professional undertakers called libitinarii. No direct description has been passed down of Roman funeral rites. These rites usually included a public procession to the tomb or pyre where the body was to be cremated. The most noteworthy thing about this procession was that the survivors bore masks bearing the images of the family's deceased ancestors. The right to carry the masks in public was eventually restricted to families prominent enough to have held curule magistracies. Mimes, dancers, and musicians hired by the undertakers, as well as professional female mourners, took part in these processions. Less well to do Romans could join benevolent funerary societies (collegia funeraticia) who undertook these rites on their behalf.

Nine days after the disposal of the body, by burial or cremation, a feast was given (cena novendialis) and a libation poured over the grave or the ashes. Since most Romans were cremated, the ashes were typically collected in an urn and placed in a niche in a collective tomb called a columbarium (literally, "dovecote"). During this nine day period, the house was considered to be tainted, funesta, and was hung with yew or cypress branches to warn by passers. At the end of the period, the house was swept in an attempt to purge it of the dead person's ghost.

Several Roman holidays commemorated a family's dead ancestors, including the Parentalia, held February 13 through 21, to honor the family's ancestors; and the Lemuria, held on May 9, 11, and 13, in which ghosts (larvæ) were feared to be active, and the pater familias sought to appease them with offerings of beans.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The Romans prohibited burning or burying in the city, both from a sacred and civil consideration, so that the priests might not be contaminated by touching a dead body, and so that houses would not be endangered by funeral fires.

Restrictions on the length, ostentation, expense of and behaviour during funerals and mourning were gradually restricted by a variety of law-givers. Often the pomp and length of rites could be politically or socially motivated to advertise or aggrandise a particular kin group in Roman society. This was seen as deleterious to society and conditions for grieving were set - for instance, under some laws, women were prohibited from loud wailing or lacerating their faces and limits were introduced for expenditure on tombs and burial clothes.

The Romans commonly built tombs for themselves during their lifetime. Hence these words frequently occur in ancient inscriptions, V.F. Vivus Facit, V.S.P. Vivus Sibi Posuit. The tombs of the rich were usually constructed of marble, the ground enclosed with walls, and planted round with trees. But common sepulchres were usually built below ground, and called hypogea. There were niches cut out of the walls, in which the urns were placed; these, from their resemblance to the niche of a pigeon-house, were called columbaria.

Funerals in Scotland

An old funeral rite from the Scottish Highlands is to bury the deceased with a wooden plate resting on his chest. In the plate were placed a small amount of earth and salt, to represent the future of the deceased. The earth hinted that the body would decay and become one with the earth, while the salt represented the soul, which does not decay. This rite was known as "earth laid upon a corpse".[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Mutes and professional mourners

From about 1600 to 1914, there were two professions in Europe now almost totally forgotten. The mute is depicted in art quite frequently but in literature is probably best known from Dickens' "Oliver Twist". Oliver is working for Sowerberry's when this conversation takes place: "There's an expression of melancholy in his face, my dear ... which is very interesting. He would make a delightful mute, my love". The main purpose of a funeral mute was to stand around at funerals with a sad, pathetic face. The professional mourner, generally a woman, would shriek and wail (often while clawing her face and tearing at her clothing), to encourage others to weep. These people are mentioned[How to reference and link to summary or text] in ancient Greek plays, and were employed throughout Europe, but the practice largely died out in the nineteenth century. They continue to exist in Africa and the Middle East.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The 2003 award-winning Philippine comedy Crying Ladies revolves around the lives of three women who are part-time professional mourners for the Chinese-Filipino community in Manila's Chinatown. According to the film, the Chinese use professional mourners to help expedite the entry of a deceased loved one's soul into heaven by giving the impression that he or she was a good and loving person, well-loved by many.

Funerals for heroes

Viking chieftains were placed in ships after their death, together with tools and weapons.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The ships were then set on a course out to sea and set ablaze. This is still re-enacted as part of festivals in the north of Europe, particularly at Up Helly-Aa and the Delamont Viking Festival. Military heroes such as Nelson, Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill had their coffins paraded through the city of London, placed on gun carriages. The guns were originally pulled by horses, but are now pulled by sailors. This is called a State Funeral.

Final disposition of the dead

Some cultures place the dead in tombs of various sorts, either individually, or in specially designated tracts of land that house tombs. Burial in a graveyard is one common form of tomb. In some places, burials are impractical because the ground water is too high; therefore tombs are placed above ground, as was the case in New Orleans, Louisiana. Elsewhere, a separate building for a tomb is usually reserved for the socially prominent and wealthy. Especially grand above-ground tombs are called mausoleums. Other buildings used as tombs include the crypts in churches; burial in these places is again usually a privilege given to the socially prominent dead. In more recent times, however, this has often been forbidden by hygiene laws.

Burial was not always permanent. In some areas, burial grounds needed to be re-used because of limited space. In these areas, once the dead have decomposed to skeletons, the bones are removed; after their removal they can be placed in an ossuary.

"Burial at sea" means the deliberate disposal of a corpse into the ocean, wrapped and tied with weights to make sure it sinks. It is a common practice in navies and sea-faring nations; in the Church of England, special forms of funeral service were added to the Book of Common Prayer to cover it. Science fiction writers have frequently analogized with "Burial in space".

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Cremation, also, is an old custom; it was the usual mode of disposing of a corpse in ancient Rome (along with graves covered with heaped mounds, also found in Greece, particularly at the Karameikos graveyard in Monastiraki). Vikings were occasionally cremated in their longships, and afterwards the location of the site was marked with standing stones. In recent years, despite the objections of some religious groups, cremation has become more and more widely used. Orthodox Judaism and the Eastern Orthodox Church forbid cremation, as do most Muslims. Orthodox Judaism forbids cremation according to Jewish law (Halakha) believing that the soul of a cremated person cannot find its final repose. The Roman Catholic Church forbade it for many years, but since 1963 the church has allowed it so long as it is not done to express disbelief in bodily resurrection. The church specifies that cremated remains are either buried or entombed. They do not allow cremated remains to be scattered or kept at home. Many Catholic cemeteries now have columbarium niches for cremated remains, or specific sections for those remains. Some denominations of Protestantism allow cremation, the more conservative denominations generally do not.

Hindus consider the funeral as the final "samskar" or ritual of life.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Cremation is generally mandatory for all Hindus, except for saints and children under the age of 5 years.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Cremation is seen as the only way in which all the five elements of fire, water, earth, air and space would be satisfied by returning the body to these elements as after cremation the ashes are poured into the sacred river Ganges or into the sea. After death the body of the deceased is placed on the ground with the head of the deceased pointing towards south which is considered the direction of the dead. The body is anointed with sacred items such as sandalwood paste and holy ashes, tulsi (basil) leaves and water from the river Ganges. The eldest son would whisper "Om namah shivay" or "Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya" near the ear of the deceased.[How to reference and link to summary or text] An oil lamp is lit besides the deceased and chapters from the holy Bhagavad Gita or Garud Purana are recited. Traditionally the body has to be cremated within 24 hours after death, as keeping the body longer is considered to lead to impurity and hinder the passage of the dead to afterlife. Hence before cremation as the body lies in state, minimal physical contact with the body is observed.

A priest is called in to lead the formal religious rituals, after which the body is taken to the cremation ground, where the eldest son normally lights the funeral pyre, this act is considered to be the most important duty of a son as it is believed that he leads his parents from this world into moksha. Immediately after the cremation, the family members of the deceased all have to take a purifying bath and observe a 12-day mourning period. This mourning period ends on the morning of the thirteenth day on which a Shraddh ceremony is conducted in which offerings are given to ancestors and other gods in order to grant liberation or moksha to the deceased.

Recently a new method of disposing of the body, called promession or an Ecological funeral, has been patented by a Swedish company.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Its main purpose is to return the body to soil quickly while minimizing pollution and resource consumption.

Rarer forms of disposal of the dead include excarnation, where the corpse is exposed to the elements. This was done by some groups of Native Americans; it is still practiced by Zoroastrians in Bombay, where the Towers of Silence/Daxmas allow vultures and other carrion eating birds to dispose of the corpses. Zoroastrianism believes that fire is sacred and should not be defiled by cremating a human body. It is also practiced by some Tibetan Buddhists and is sometimes called Sky burial.[How to reference and link to summary or text]Cannibalism is also practiced post-mortem in some countries. The practice has been linked to the spread of a prion disease called kuru.[How to reference and link to summary or text]Mummification is the drying of bodies to preserve them. The most famous practitioners of mummification were ancient Egyptians: many nobles and high-ranked bureaucrats of the old Egyptian kingdom had their corpses embalmed and stored in luxurious sarcophagi inside their funeral mausoleum or, in the cases of some Pharaohs, a pyramid.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Control by the decedent of the details of the funeral

In law in the United States, the deceased have little say in the manner in which their funerals can be conducted. The law generally holds[How to reference and link to summary or text] that the funeral rituals are for the benefit of the survivors, rather than to express the personal whims and tastes of the deceased.

The decedent may, in most U.S. jurisdictions, provide instructions as to his funeral by means of a Last Will and Testament. These instructions can be given some legal effect if bequests are made contingent on the heirs carrying them out, with alternative gifts if they are not followed. This assumes, of course, that the decedent has enough of an estate to make the heirs pause before doing something that will invoke the alternate bequest. To be effective, the will must be easily available, and some notion of what it provides must be known to the decedent's survivors.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Some people[How to reference and link to summary or text] dislike the clutter and display of flowers at funerals, and feel that there is an unseemly competition in the number and size of the floral arrangements sent. Many newspapers[How to reference and link to summary or text] refuse to print an obituary that requests that flowers not be sent; to do so would be to offend the florists' industry. Many obituaries do, however, contain notices regarding "memorial gifts" to a charitable organization. It is usually understood in these situations that a gift to the charity made in memory of the decedent relieves the donor of the social duty of sending flowers.

Anatomical gifts

Another way of avoiding some of the rituals and costs of a traditional funeral is for the decedent to donate some or all of her or his body to a medical school or similar institution for the purpose of instruction in anatomy, or for similar purposes. Students of medicine and osteopathy frequently study anatomy from donated cadavers; they are also useful in forensic research.

Making an anatomical gift is a separate transaction from being an organ donor, in which any useful organs are removed from the unembalmed cadaver for medical transplant. Under a Uniform Act in force in most jurisdictions of the United States, being an organ donor is a simple process that can often be accomplished when a driver's license is renewed.[How to reference and link to summary or text] There are some medical conditions, such as amputations, or various surgeries, that can make the cadaver unsuitable for these purposes. Conversely, the bodies of people who had certain medical conditions are useful for research into those conditions. All US medical schools rely on the generosity of "anatomical donors" for the teaching of anatomy. Typically the remains are cremated once the students have completed their anatomy classes, and many medical schools now hold a memorial service at that time as well.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

See also

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