A funeral has been described as "an organized, purposeful, time-limited, group centered response to death involving rites and ceremonies during some or all of which the body of the deceased is present." A funeral is the way we take care of the dead -- by properly and honorably disposing of the body, usually through burial or cremation -- and taking care of the living by providing the spiritual, social, emotional and practical context in which to take leave of their dead.
Funerals provide surviving family members and friends a caring, supportive environment in which to recognize the death of a loved one, and to share memories and feelings about that person. A funeral is often the first step in the healing process as taking leave of a person physically is an essential task.
I've never arranged a funeral before. What do I need to know?
At some time in our lives, most of us will make or assist in making funeral arrangements. This will not be an easy time, but we offer these tips for smart planning:
Be an informed consumer and ask questions
Choose an independent, privately-owned funeral provider
Discuss all service and payment options during the funeral arrangements
Make sure you receive a copy of the funeral home's General Price List
Be prepared and make decisions and organize details in advance of need
Feel free to plan a personalized and meaningful ceremony that reflects your wishes and the life of the person you have loved
What do funeral directors do?
Funeral directors are caregivers and administrators. They make the arrangements for the transportation of the deceased, complete all necessary paperwork, and implement the choices made by the family regarding the funeral and final disposition of the deceased.
Funeral directors are listeners, advisors and supporters. They have experience assisting the bereaved in coping with death. They are trained to answer questions about grief, recognize when a person is having difficulty coping, and recommend sources of professional help.
What types of funeral services exist?
Every family is different, and not everyone wants the same type of funeral. Funeral practices are influenced by religious and cultural traditions, costs and personal preferences. These factors help determine whether the funeral will be elaborate or simple, public or private, religious or secular, and where it will be held. They also influence whether the body will be present at the funeral, if there will be a viewing or visitation, and if so, whether the casket will be open or closed, and whether the person will be buried or cremated.
What is the purpose of embalming?
Embalming sanitizes and preserves the deceased, retards the decomposition process and enhances the appearance of someone disfigured by traumatic death or illness. Embalming makes it possible to lengthen the time between death and the final disposition, thus allowing family members time to arrange and participate in the type of service most comforting to them.
Is embalming required by law?
No. Most states, however, require embalming when death is caused by a reportable contagious disease or when a deceased is to be transported from one state to another by common carrier, or if final disposition is not to be made within a prescribed time period.
Funeral Cost Questions
What does a funeral cost?
Though media reports have pegged funerals as the third most expensive purchase in consumers’ lifetimes, the reality is the average funeral costs fall far below those for weddings, cars, boats, RVs, and the cost of one year at a public university. The reality is that none of us really wants to purchase a funeral. The range of memorial expenses is wide and depends on a number of variables. Professional services, facilities, motor equipment, merchandise, cemetery and crematory fees, flowers, printing - all may be part of final expenses. All funeral home fees are itemized by federal mandate. No discussion of funeral arrangements will be held unless the family has a General Price List in their possession, from which to make informed decisions. The price list is available to anyone who requests one in person at the funeral home, whether or not they are there to make funeral arrangements. Likewise, price information is available over the phone.
What recourse does a consumer have for poor service or any questionable business practices?
Funeral service is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and state licensing boards. In most cases, the consumer should discuss problems with the funeral director first. One may also seek recourse through the NC State Board of Funeral Service: www.ncbfs.org.
What to Do If Death Occurs
What should I do if a death occurs at home?
When death occurs, Hall-Wynne & Gentry-Newell & Vaughan personnel are available to assist you at any hour, seven days a week.
Will someone come right away?
If you request immediate assistance, yes. If the family wishes to spend a short time with the deceased beforehand, it is permissible. Our staff will come when the time is right for you.
If a family member dies away from home, can Hall-Wynne still help?
When death occurs away from home, Hall-Wynne can assist you with out-of-state arrangements and have the deceased transported to the preferred location.
American Funeral History
What is the history of the funeral profession in this country?
The American funeral profession emerged in the aftermath of the Civil War, picking up steam at the turn of the 20th century. Local funeral homes across the country began to win respect as established and trusted places of business and as a source of comfort for families suffering from loss.
Photo Courtesy of John Kramer & Son, Alexandria, LA
The foundation of the emergent industry was embalming, a practice that gained legitimacy during the Civil War years. During and after the Civil War, embalming became acceptable to more Americans who wanted to ensure that, no matter what, they could have a last look at their lost loved ones. A critical turning point in popular awareness of embalming, and in establishing it as a permissible American practice, was the cross-country journey of Abraham Lincoln's body after the war.
The rapid spread of embalming spurred the swift emergence of funeral homes across the country in the first few decades of the twentieth century, as American life was transformed by urbanization and medical advances. Undertakers no longer traveled to the home of the deceased to prepare the body but instead transported people from home or hospital to the funeral home, eventually making the funeral home an American institution in local neighborhoods. Funeral directors lived with their families in these homes, and very often wives and children worked with the father in preparing services for people in grief.
Another significant trend to emerge in the closing decades of the twentieth century was the intrusion of multinational corporations into what has become known as "death care." Corporations like Service Corporation International have acquired many family-owned funeral homes. Even though most funeral homes are independently owned, these corporations continue to play a major role in U.S. funerals well into the 21st century.