Setting a date for a funeral may depend on a variety of factors, including state law, family custom or religious law. Some special circumstances may delay funerals to accommodate a criminal investigation, for instance; on the other hand, some religious traditions call for funerals within 24 hours of death. While there is no set timeline for funerals in the U.S., most occur soon after death.
The Funeral Consumers Alliance explains that funerals customarily occur “within a few days” of death. The schedule of the clergy or other speakers may affect the timing of services, as well as the schedule of the funeral site. One other concern is getting the word out to people who might want to attend, which is a key responsibility for survivors, according to the Emily Post Institute.
One important factor in determining timetable is whether the body will be embalmed. Although it is traditional, embalming is not mandatory. Some states, including Texas, have passed laws identifying it as fraud for a funeral director to tell consumers that law requires embalming. If you opt out of embalming, most states require that the burial happen within 24 hours, unless some other form of preservation is used, such as refrigeration, according to the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. Delaying the service by a day or two might require embalming, but it permits viewing of the remains at a funeral, which helps comfort the bereaved and provides a social framework for mourning, wrote psychologist Donald W. Steele.
Many religions have rules affecting the timing of burials and funerals. For instance, Jewish law calls for a burial to take place within 24 hours after death. Muslim law does not give a specific timetable, but scholars of Islam teach that burial should occur as soon as possible. In these cases, the funeral must happen quickly, or else be replaced by a memorial service held at a later date. The Roman Catholic Church does not specify a timeline, but the body is typically present at the Funeral Mass, a formal ceremony.
Some deaths occur under circumstances that affect the timetable of funerals. For instance, if your child is stillborn, state law may determine how much time you have to bury your child., according to the Tennessee Office of Vital Records. Another special case involves crime victims and suicides; the District of Columbia is typical in requiring medical examiners to investigate these and the body may not be released to a mortuary. A delay occurs when survivors have the body moved long distances, such as transporting it to a military cemetery, or moving it from another state.
- Funeral Consumers Alliance: Planning a Memorial Service
- Emily Post Institute: Preparing for a Funeral
- Texas Administrative Code: Title 22, Part 10, Chapter 203, Rule 203.8, Misrepresentations
- International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association: Consumer Resource Guide, Funerals
- American Society of Embalmers: The Value of Viewing the Body; Donald W. Steele
- Chabad, Jewish Practice: Timing the Funeral Service; Maurice Lamm
- Islamic Center of Raleigh: The Basic Rules of Islamic Funerals; Mohamed Baianonie
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, Prayer and Worship Office: Preparing for a Roman Catholic Funeral, Answers to Some Questions You May Have
- Tennessee Department of Health, Division of Policy, Planning and Assessment, Office of Vital Records: Funeral Directors Handbook for Vital Records Registration
- The District of Columbia, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner: Frequently Asked Questions
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