What is a funeral?

After a death has occurred there are many ways to honor the life that person lived.  What is important to remember is that participating in the final goodbye is acknowledging that there is a place in this world that the person filled and no one else can fill that space.  If you know someone who has died, or the family member of the person who died, you should take the time to attend their services.  It is a sign of respect to the loved ones and to the deceased.

Below, you will find definitions and explanations of the types of services that honor the lives of the deceased (definitions in italics are borrowed from Staffer Funeral Homes in Frederick, MD’s Website):

Visitation: Sometimes called a “wake” or a “viewing”, the visitation is often held at the funeral home, usually a day or two before any type of service. This is the time when people come to pay their respects to the deceased, and support and comfort the family and other loved ones.  For a wake or viewing, the body is always present.  A visitation, however, may or may not have the remains (cremated remains or body) present.

Funeral: A traditional funeral is held within several days of a person’s death, usually in a place of worship or the funeral home.  The service is led by clergy, life celebrant or other officiant, during which people may say prayers, deliver eulogies, read passages from scripture or literature, and sing songs. At the end of the service, the body is removed by the pallbearers to the hearse.  In the definition of a funeral, the body of the deceased is always present.

Burial: A typical means of disposition. If the deceased is to be buried, the site of the interment will be announced. Unless the gravesite is on the place of worship’s grounds, a processional of cars will form to drive to the cemetery. Everyone attending is welcome to follow the family to the gravesite service unless it is announced that the burial will be private, but no one is obliged to attend.  


Cremation: Is another means of disposition.  If the body is to be cremated after the service, it will be taken back to the crematorium.  The family may or may not chose to have their loved one cremated before the service.

Memorial Service: At a memorial service the intact body is not present.  However, the cremated remains may be present, but do not have to be present.  Memorial services can be religious or secular.  They can be held at the funeral home, a church, a garden or park – just about anywhere.   And unlike a traditional funeral that takes place immediately, a memorial service can be held weeks or even months after a person’s death—allowing more time for the family to plan a creative tribute. Often, families are choosing to create a Celebration of Life to honor their loved one.  You can read more about that here.  

Reception: After the funeral or memorial service, families often choose to host a gathering at their home, the home of a friend, a restaurant or reception hall, or some other venue to share memories of the person who has died, and to continue supporting one another. If, when and where this type of gathering will be is often announced at the end of the service by the officiant or a family member.


In future blog posts, we will explore funeral service etiquette.  We hope to help you navigate the sometimes-difficult responsibility of offering appropriate condolences to the families and friends of those who have died.

I want to thank Stauffer Funeral Homes for guidance in making this blog post.  They are another funeral home that is committed to superior funeral service.  We are fortunate to collaborate with them.

– SarahB

Sarah Barickman is an outreach director and life celebrant at Altmeyer Funeral Homes and CARE Funeral & Cremation Specialists in the Ohio Valley.  She and her husband, Mike, have lived in Wheeling for 18 years, where they have been raising their two children, Lilly & Haden.  Sarah is a collector of people, she has never met a stranger and will always strive to be of service to others.