Funeral Practices and Memorial
What do we do after someone dies?
Funerals as Rituals
• Ritual: A symbolic activity performed by a
– Often done at crucial turning points or during
– Provides order and familiarity during a
potential time of chaos.
The American Funeral System
– Too expensive in terms of time and energy.
– Distances us from death.
• In support
– Makes sense of a chaotic period.
– Reunites a scattered community.
– Constructive role in grief work (e.g., makes the death
– General public reports a fairly high level of satisfaction
with the funeral industry.
Tasks associated with the funeral
• (1) Disposition of the body: for health, social, and
religious reasons the body must be removed.
Different traditions, but respect is central in all.
• Contemporary American society:
– Embalming: grew in popularity after the Civil War.
Removal of bodily fluids and replacement with artificial
– Prevents the spread of disease and slows decay. Allows for
open casket viewing.
– Not required by law, but without can’t have a viewing
(2) Disposal of Body
• Options include in-ground burial, above
ground entombment, cremation, and
– Burial: Variety of waiting periods. Determined
by religious views (e.g., Judaism requires burial
within 24 hours), body preparation, gathering
– Cremation: 1800ºF. Water evaporates, other
soft-tissue spontaneously combusts. Anything
remaining is pulverized.
– Account for 25% of deaths now.
(3) Making real the implications
• Allows for recognition and acceptance of
death by the survivors.
• Seeing the body might make the death seem
• Some argue that this is undermined by
making the deceases look alive and by not
allowing people to view coffin being placed
(4) Activates Social Support
• Family integration: we live in a far-flung
society. Gives everyone a chance to
• Jewish funeral system lasts almost a year.
Cemeteries and Memorialization
• Resurgence of entombment and rapid
increase in cremation.
• Increase in flush to ground markers.
– Makes grounds keeping easier.
• Use of memorial photography and video.
– Provides a tangible memory of the event.