Like all religious groups, the Amish follow their own unique traditions to mark a death in the community. Funeral practices vary slightly across different Amish settlements, but all feature the core Amish values of humility, simplicity and community. There are no songs, no grand monuments and very little ritual. Members of Amish communities believe that each death is God's will and part of a divine plan. Rather than dwelling on the loss of a loved one, the Amish attempt to keep the focus on the world that awaits beyond the veil.
immediately upon hearing of a death, extended family members, friends and neighbors offer a hand with household tasks, freeing up the immediate family to take care of preparations for the funeral. Among the first tasks is washing the body, which is done in most cases by members of the family in their own home. While some Amish settlements refrain from the practice, others allow an undertaker to embalm the body, refraining from adding any makeup. Family members of the same sex then dress the deceased in white clothes. For men, this typically means a shirt, pants and a vest, while for women it means a dress, a cape and an apron -- often the same cape and apron worn on the deceased's wedding day. The body is then placed in a simple, pine coffin made by members of the community. The coffin is usually six-sided and without any kind of decoration while featuring a hinged top section, opening to allow the deceased to be viewed from the chest up.
Viewing & Final Preparation
While family members and friends are preparing the body, word spreads fast throughout the community, and an obituary is printed. All dressed in black, family, friends and neighbors then visit the home to comfort the family and view the body. The coffin with the deceased, draped in a white sheet, is kept in a simple, undecorated room on the first floor of the family home for two days before the funeral and burial. In final preparation, men of the community pitch in to dig the grave while women prepare food for the funeral dinner.
The funeral is held three days after the death. A religious service is usually conducted in the home, although it may also be held in a barn or large store. As there are usually many horses and carriages, parking space is an important consideration. The service lasts for about one-and-a-half hours as a minister reads from Scripture and hymns. He also delivers a sermon that is careful to focus on God and the creation rather than on honoring the life of the deceased.
After the funeral service, the coffin is placed in a large, black, horse-drawn hearse. Family and friends board their own horse-drawn carriages for a long, solemn procession to the cemetery. At the grave site, the headstones are kept very simple and equal in size to one another, each usually stating the deceased's name, birth date, death date and age in years, months and days. After a brief graveside service and viewing, pallbearers lower the coffin into the grave and cover it with earth as a minister reads from a hymn. There is no singing, and no flowers are placed on the grave. Family members and friends may then return to the family's home for a meal, which is prepared by members of the community and also kept quite simple.
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