A funeral is a rite of passage like other ceremonies -- baptism, bar mitzvah, graduation, wedding -- when we recognize an important event that distinguishes our lives.
A funeral commemorates the life that has been lived and, in many cases, a fraternal, religious or military organization to which the deceased belonged is asked to conduct a brief ceremony during visitation hours or at graveside services.
If the family wishes to have such a ceremony, the funeral director, who has experience in organizing these ceremonies, should be informed at the time arrangements are being made.
Such a request should also be included in any end-of-life planning.
Most of these ceremonies take place during calling hours when friends and relatives visit the funeral home to pay their respects to the deceased and express their condolences.
For convenience, the times of visiting hours are usually included in the deceased's obituary published in the local newspaper or on the Internet.
Visitors who wish to participate in formal rituals conducted during these visiting hours should call the funeral home to inquire about the scheduled times for these ceremonies.
Some fraternal and religious organizations who routinely participate in a deceased member's funeral include: American Legion, B'nai B'rith, Order of Eastern Star, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, The National Grange, Imperial Order of Dragon, Knights of the Golden Eagle, Knights of Pythias, Maccabees, Masons, Loyal Order of Moose, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Order of Pythian Sisters, National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, The Holy Name Society and Knights of Columbus, among others.
As with the fraternal and religious organizations, the family must request a military funeral for the deceased at the time arrangements are being made.
Veterans with honorable discharge papers are entitled to have an honor guard participate in the funeral service.
The funeral director will need time to properly organize and schedule the military ceremony participants. The military funeral detail should be from the same branch of service from which the deceased was discharged.
The military funeral may include a chapel and/or graveside service and the casket may be covered with the American flag.
Attendance at these special ceremonies can be a great solace for friends and families as they recall with honor and prayer their loved one and a life well-lived.
This article was prepared with information from Mark Phillips of the William J. Burke Funeral Home, the Maine Funeral Directors Association and "Funeral Customs the World Over" by Robert Haberstein and William Lamers.