With so many options for meaningful funeral and memorial services, choosing the one that’s right for you comes down to determining which type of service will best honor the life of your loved one.
It is important to note that with any of the following service options, you can choose to have a private or public viewing of the deceased, whether at the funeral home in advance of the service, or at the service itself if appropriate. In addition, each of the following types of services offers the opportunity to personalize the service so it reflects the life of your loved one. A funeral director can assist with planning any type of service and will tailor it to your budget.
A traditional funeral service features the casketed body of the deceased and a formal service that could include a celebrant or clergy, musicians, readings, etc. A traditional funeral can include a public viewing of the body, or the casket can be closed. A traditional funeral service may be held regardless of final disposition (burial, entombment, inurnment, etc.). If cremation is chosen, you can still have a viewing at the service.
A memorial service can take place shortly after the death has occurred or can take place weeks or months after the death. The body of the deceased is not present, although an urn containing cremated remains may be displayed if cremation was chosen.
A memorial service can be similar to a traditional funeral service, with a set service, including a celebrant or clergy; musicians; readings, etc. or it can be less formal. The choice is yours.
These days we have so many options for unique gatherings with family and friends, and gatherings to celebrate the life of someone we love are no exception. Often gatherings of this kind are more informal, but they all share the same goal: to honor the life of someone who was important to so many family members and friends.
Often, celebrations of life offer even more opportunities to personalize the service. Whether the event is held at an outdoor venue (a park, sports complex or even a backyard, for example), or in a unique indoor space (such as a favorite restaurant, art gallery or museum), a unique space offers wonderful opportunities to personalize the event with meaningful special touches.
Some people plan a destination funeral, inviting friends and family to travel to a place of special meaning to the deceased, where they might have a special gathering and/or scatter cremated remains (see Types of Disposition for more information about scattering).
There are many “shades” of green possible when planning a green funeral or natural burial. Based on your preferences, your funeral director may be able to help you with any funeral home services, cemetery capabilities, and inform you on local rules and regulations.
A green funeral incorporates environment-friendly options, and may include any or all of the following: no embalming or embalming with formaldehyde-free products; the use of sustainable biodegradable clothing, shroud or casket; using recycled paper products; serving organic food (if food may be served in a funeral home in your state); locally-grown organic flowers; funeral guest carpooling; as well as a natural or green burial.
In a “purist” natural or green burial, the body is buried, without embalming, in a natural setting. Any shroud or casket that is used must be biodegradable, nontoxic, and of sustainable material. Traditional standing headstones are not permitted. Instead, flat rocks, plants or trees may serve as grave markers. Some cemeteries use GPS to mark the locations of gravesites. A “natural or green burial” may also simply mean burial without embalming, in a biodegradable casket without a vault, when permitted by a cemetery.
A green cemetery is a burial site that does not permit vaults, non-biodegradable caskets or embalming chemicals. It uses no herbicides, pesticides or irrigation for maintenance of the cemetery grounds. Any material used at a green cemetery must meet the goal of replenishing the earth. There are cemeteries in the U.S. that accommodate both conventional burial practices and burial without the use of a vault or outer burial container on their premises. Many natural or green cemeteries feature sustainable landscape design and natural memorialization.
The first green burial in the modern sense took place in England in 1993; by 2012, there were more than 250 green burial sites in operation in the UK. In the United States, one of the first natural burial grounds was opened in 1996 in western South Carolina. Some green cemeteries are established as conservation areas in accordance with specific state laws.
If there is not a green cemetery in your area, you may still be able to have a green funeral and possibly a burial in a traditional cemetery that incorporates many green elements. The use of outer burial containers or vaults is not required by federal or state law, but is required by many cemeteries. Your local cemetery may have begun to offer green burial sections that do not require vaults or may offer solutions that will allow the casket to be in direct contact with the earth, while still fulfilling cemetery requirements for an outer burial container. In many rural areas, vaults or grave liners are usually not required.
As with the concept of “green” in general, green in funeral service means practicing environmental consciousness and being eco-friendly. While many funeral homes are offering green funeral options, they are also making an effort to incorporate green strategies into their business practices.
The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) allows funeral homes to participate in the Green Funeral Practices™ Certificate Program. Exclusive to qualifying NFDA members, this award program recognizes exceptional NFDA member funeral homes that have adopted and implemented ethical, sustainable green funeral and business practices in order to become more environmentally responsible to client families, employees, and their communities.
An NFDA member funeral director can provide you assistance in determining green or natural burial options in your community.
The family of a veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable may be eligible for certain benefits at the time of death. This may include:
Since gravesites in a national or state cemetery cannot be arranged in advance, you should communicate your wishes to family or the person that would be responsible for your funeral arrangements. It is also important that this person know the location of your discharge papers (DD-214).
Burial benefits available for spouses and dependents buried in a national or state cemetery include burial with the Veteran, perpetual care, and the spouse or dependent’s name and date of birth and death inscribed on the Veteran's headstone, at no cost to the family. Eligible spouses and dependents may be buried, even if they predecease the Veteran.
Complete information on Veteran’s burial benefits may be found at: www.cem.va.gov/
End-of-life Benefits: End-Of-Life Benefits | Veterans Affairs (va.gov)
The Department of Defense (DOD) is responsible for providing military funeral honors.
"Honoring Those Who Served" is the title of the DOD program for providing dignified military funeral honors to Veterans who have defended our nation. Upon the family's request, Public Law 106-65 requires that every eligible Veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, to include folding and presenting the United States burial flag and the playing of “Taps.” The law defines a military funeral honors detail as consisting of two or more uniformed military persons, with at least one being a member of the Veteran's parent service of the armed forces. The DOD program calls for funeral home directors to request military funeral honors on behalf of the Veteran’s family. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration cemetery staff can also assist with arranging military funeral honors at VA national cemeteries. Veterans organizations may assist in providing military funeral honors. When military funeral honors at a national cemetery are desired, they are arranged prior to the committal service by the funeral home.
Questions or comments concerning the DOD military funeral honors program may be sent to the address listed below.
Office of the Assistant
Secretary of Defense For Public Affairs
Community Relations and Public Liaison
1400 Defense Pentagon, Room 2D982
Washington, DC 20301-1400
To arrange military funeral honors for a loved one, find a funeral home near you.