Hi, my name is Crystal, and I love tradition and ritual, but I also love novel things and creating something special just for one person. When my mum died a few years ago, I decided that I wanted to write her funeral service – not just my eulogy, but the whole service. I wanted to tie in traditional elements as well as Bible verses and poems that she loved, but I also wanted something that was just for her and her alone. I learned a lot through that experience. If you have lost a loved one, I extend you my sympathy. I know how that feels, and I want to help with the funeral service. This blog has ideas and tips for writing your own service as well as a range of other things. I hope it helps.
Although the world is becoming more connected and traditional customs are being lost, funerals and funeral rituals remain diverse across cultures.
Typically in the West, the body is taken to a funeral home to be attended by funeral directors before being driven to the memorial service in a hearse. Coffins are traditionally wooden or painted in muted colours and the service is a sombre reflection on the deceased life's. But many cultures around the world have their own unique funeral rites and styles of service.
In Ghana, coffins can come in all shapes and sizes. Often the design of these "fantasy coffins" reflects a particular aspect of the deceased's life, such as their occupation or hobby. It's not unusual to see bodies carried inside carefully-crafted lions, planes, fish or even mobile phones and cola bottles. The designs are so eye-catching that coffin-maker Paa Joe was invited to display his work in at an exhibition in the UK two years ago.
If a funeral service is held at a crematorium relatives will usually scatter the deceased's ashes in a meaningful location. But in Japan, close family and friends will sift through the cremated remains, usually just an hour or so after the funeral service, using chopsticks and place any bones into an urn. Sometimes two people will pick up the same bone at once in order to carry it carefully to the urn. Because of this practice it is a great taboo in Japan to pass food between diners using chopsticks. Similarly, chopsticks should never be left sticking upright in a bowl of rice, as it is reminiscent of the way incense sticks are used at funeral services. Unsuspecting foreigners can easily commit a serious faux pas when dining thanks to Japanese funeral customs.
The choice of music is an important part of a funeral service, but in New Orleans music has become a central part of an elaborate ritual. Originally borrowing from traditions brought to America by African slaves, the New Orleans jazz funeral grew in popularity during the 20th century. A funeral can last a whole week and finish with a parade to the funeral service accompanied by a jazz band playing the sorts of downbeat dirges associated with traditional Christian burials. Once the body is interred, however, the band will break into upbeat jazz music and the event turns into a joyous celebration of the deceased's life. The victims of Hurricane Katrina were given this truly New Orleanian farewell.
Meanwhile, in eastern Indonesia, it's not unusual to see dead relatives continuing to accompany their families on outings. Villagers in Tana Toraja like to give their relatives an expensive send-off using a water buffalo offered as a sacrifice. Saving up for this elaborate funeral service can take some time, and so the dead are often given their own room in the family home and are treated like a living family member.