Roughly 80% of traditional funerals would fall within 5 to 7 days of death.
However, there are many moving parts and variables that impact exactly when a funerals can take place. Some of these factors include:
- Religion of the deceased and their family
- Past military service
- Extent of trauma during the death
- Settling the deceased’s estate and providing payment
- Cremation versus traditional burial
- Regional and cultural influences
- Even the weather!
Religion Impacts How Soon A Funeral Can Be Held
Sometimes religion can affect the timing of a funeral.
For example, in an Orthodox Jews must have a burial occur by sundown the same day. In rare circumstances, it can occur by sundown the following day.
On the other hand, Baptists gather family for a nearly 10 day long funeral.
Military Service Also Impacts Funeral Timing
If the deceased was a military member, a military cemetery may be preferred. At the most well known military cemetery–Arlington National Cemetery–funerals take place 6-12 months later.
Funerals for Those Who Passed Traumatically Take Longer
For many families, a viewing is an important part of the funeral process. Viewings become much more challenging to host when the deceased passed traumatically.
To restore the person’s complexion, embalming and ‘restorative art’ need to be scheduled by the director.
These processes can take considerable time as it is both art and science. Art to beautify the deceased. Science to let the chemicals involved do their work and have the proper effect.
When scheduling services with your funeral director budget at least one full day.
Be cautious if your funeral director meets the family in the morning for arrangement, embalms midday, and then hosts the viewing that night. This sort of rush leaves so much room for error. Plus, it’s difficult for families to gather up attendees in such a quick timeframe.
Payment Issues Can Cause Funeral Service Delays
Traditionally, funeral homes would extend a certain level of credit on a case-by-case basis. Today, however, most funeral homes require that payment be received before services are rendered.
To clarify, “services rendered” does not mean picking the body up. The body really needs to be in the care of the funeral home chosen by the family, as soon as possible.
No, “services rendered” refers to embalming, cremating, viewings, scheduling the actual funeral.
Funerals can be expensive. Often it takes a few days for families to come up with funds for the more traditional viewings and church services.
Cremation Impacts Funeral Timing
One of the services that really throw a monkey into the wrench works is cremation. It does not seem like cremation would make things trickier, but it very much can.
Each state has its own legal requirements before a body can be cremated. These often include:
- Death certificate signed off by a doctor with a cause of death
- Cause of death being approved by a local Medical Examiner
- The State’s Vital Statistics Department providing authorization to cremate
Seems simple enough, but what takes 2-3 days in Virginia can take 2+ weeks or more in Florida. And those estimates do not even include the scheduling of the cremation and the action being performed!
Cremation and the cool-down of ashes even in the more advanced and efficient crematories, still takes hours to accomplish.
There are ways of working around these obstacles associated with cremation, though. If the family needs the urn present at the memorial service (This is different from a funeral in that the body is not considered present even if it is in ash form.), there is nothing wrong with using a ceremonial urn if the ashes were not set to be buried that same day. Or the family can schedule and have the funeral quickly but with the cremation to happen sometime later.
Cultural and Regional Funeral Nuance Exist
A last thought on what may influence the timing between a loved one’s passing and their funeral, is the culture and region that they lived in when they died.
Funeral culture in the Southeast United States (excluding the more far south portions of Florida), is more built around taking the time to gather up more family and attendees, and plan things like the “repass”.
A repass is a fancy, Southern word for “reception” and Southerners do love their potluck receptions.
In the Northeast or Midwest, depending on the time of year, the ground may be too frozen to dig the cemetery plot for burial and the body would be kept in a communal cemetery tomb until everything thaws.
Some families have services on both ends of that time period, and this includes scheduling out services months in advance.
Then there are some families who want the entire funeral process completed within 3 days because that is how they have always done it through many of their generations.
Hard and Fast Rules for Funeral Timing
Except with receiving the state authorization to cremate, there are no hard and fast rules for the other services and the family has options.
When it comes to burials, there is no required waiting or even really any authorization needed once the cemetery’s requirements are met. A body that has been buried can be exhumed and the remains can be researched if need be. But if a body is cremated, there is no longer anything but the most broken, trace amounts of DNA to be found within the ashes.
The ability to have an investigation into the cause of death even after burial is paramount. All the possibilities and opportunities for examination of the remains needs to happen and be signed off on before the cremation. This means if the family wanted a memorial service and then a graveside service immediately following, where and when the ashes would be interred, then these services are going to have to be scheduled further out.
Arranging with a Funeral Director Takes Time
Great effort and scheduling go into planning a funeral, most of which occurs when your friendly, neighborhood funeral director or mortician meets with the Next of Kin in a meeting that is called the “Arrangement”.
There are never any re-dos with funerals, so the family and director need to commit to getting the details nailed down quickly and efficiently, openly communicating with one another about any changes so there are no surprises when it comes time to the funeral.
Have questions about what the expectations are timewise for your loved one’s faith? Do not be afraid to ask the funeral director or the religious leader involved with the services, as there are a myriad of rites and rituals that may need to be observed.
There are so many factors and variables with scheduling a funeral or burial, that the timing for services may not always line up with the expectations of what the family had envisioned. I do my very best not to harp on this subject, but patience and communication really are the key to having a smooth and loving funeral experience. When in doubt, ask a funeral director for advice and direction in such matters, as it is their job to know how to overcome just about any obstacle one could encounter with funerals. I swear, we directors love helping people. It is hands down why each of us were called to such an emotionally charged career. So please, do not hesitate to ask your director the hard questions and allow them to take much of the responsibility and weight off your shoulders.