Every milestone of life has its own distinct period of remembrance and celebration. We celebrate birthdays, for example, at least as much as we celebrate births themselves. We also celebrate weddings as two people joining together in relationships for the rest of their lives and we celebrate anniversaries as living celebratory bonds of these vows. But there is one final event that we often push to the back of this milestone list, one that most people would rather not think about on a day to day basis. Funerals aren’t typically thought of as fun to think about but that doesn’t mean they aren’t every bit as important as birthdays or weddings. There is no way to avoid the fact that funerals are sad and difficult for people but, at their best, funerals are to celebrate lives and friendships of the loved ones who have passed on. They don’t need to be explicitly celebratory but that doesn’t mean they can’t contain a lot of fond memories as well as difficult ones. But how does one plan a funeral worth remembering? What are the most important things to think about when planning a funeral and what does one have to keep in mind when deciding how a funeral is going to proceed? The answers to all of these questions lie, somewhat paradoxically, in both the past and future of the funeral as a cultural ritual. The funeral home and the funeral director might be an important part of ceremonies nowadays but hundreds of years ago the landscape of the funeral was very different. There were still general funeral caskets and other common types of funerals, such veteran funerals, but most funerals were far simpler and more direct affairs. When people during the medieval and Enlightenment eras had funerals, most of the time it was just a few groups of people coming together to pay their respects. The funeral industry itself only started to evolve during and after this time, helping to streamline and manage these affairs effectively. Let’s take a look at a few specialized funerals and see how they have changed from a century or two ago to now.
The Military Funeral
Military funerals have always stood a little apart in the funerary world as they require a certain energy and attention to detail that other funerals direct into other areas. For example, while many, but not all, funerals are religious today, all military funerals involve a similar procedure but based around a slightly different design. This is just a very fancy way of saying that military funerals, whether they are religious or not, are designed to pay tribute both the person and the bigger picture of their relationship to the nation. In comparison it is quite similar to your standard religious funeral but also a little different. In a religious civilian funeral, there might be a focus on the person’s relationship to their divine or sacred figure. In a military funeral, this also might exist but it will be coupled with a thematic overlay that discusses the relationship that the deceased had with their nation as well. Funeral caskets at military funerals will often be draped in the colors of their unit or a flag that symbolizes what they have sacrificed for the good of their country. This is similar to what you see at religious funerals where the casket might be draped in sacred iconography or symbols that relate to the deceased’s specific religion. In either case, these funerals are examples of devotion, whether it be through the funeral caskets or the art or the music. Hundreds of years ago, most, if not all, funerals were religious so military funerals were, by their very nature, tied to religion in some fundamental way. The world today is a little less strict about these things and this loosening of traditional values can be seen, again through the art displayed on funeral caskets or the music. In either case, military funerals are and ought to be ceremonies of solemn and dignified reflection on what it means to be devoted to something larger than oneself. We could do with a little reflection on this outside of funerals as well.