Q. I’m going to a graveside funeral for the first time.  Can you tell me what’s involved and why families choose this type of service, rather than a regular funeral at a church or funeral home?  Is there any special etiquette I should know about?

A graveside funeral, which is also known as “direct burial,” is held at the site of the deceased’s grave in the cemetery.  Attendance is usually limited to a small gathering of family members and/or close friends.

This type of funeral may be chosen because the deceased had little or no family (or relatives live very far away), and few people will attend.  Or the bereaved, overwhelmed and exhausted, may prefer a simple, private experience.  They may feel unable to cope with complicated arrangements and decisions required at a regular funeral and/or with a crowd at a funeral home or place of worship.  


A graveside funeral is also a way to minimize expenses, a significant consideration for many families in the current economic climate.  A graveside service costs far less than a funeral at a church or funeral home.  Prices can range from as little as $200 to $1700.  In contrast, the average cost of a regular funeral now tops $7000. 


A downside, however, is the possibility of bad weather.  Because the ceremony is outdoors, attendees may wind up slogging through mud if it rains--or shivering on a cold, windy day.  Unlike a funeral home or church or temple venue, a cemetery is not air conditioned on a sweltering day.


When you arrive at the grave, you will see chairs (reserved for immediate family only) arranged near the coffin.  Unless you must sit for health reasons, you should stand through the service.  Fortunately, you won’t stand for too long.  The service will be much briefer than at other funerals.


Note that a graveside service can also follow a funeral held elsewhere.  In this case, attendees who will go on to the cemetery usually drive in a procession of cars to the location.  Information on where cars will assemble will be announced.


At either type of graveside service, be sure to check the weather and dress accordingly.  Pay special attention to your shoes.  Choose a pair both for comfort while standing and for protection if the ground will be muddy.  And of course, remember that the cemetery is no place for cell phones or texting. 

If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.  


Image source: Flickr Creative Commons/V31S70

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