Believe it or not, death is considered as part of life. Every culture has its own way of celebrating a deceased person’s life. A funeral is done in order to lay the dead to rest or prepare him to afterlife. A dead person can be cremated or buried in a specific place (e.g. cemetery). The word “funeral” came from the Latin word “funus” which can be associated to “death”, “corpse” and “burial rites”. Funerals are considered as old as mankind itself. People around the world have been doing these ceremonies, honouring the dead for almost 300,000 years now.
Even as early as the year 60,000 BC, people already know how to prepare the dead for a funeral. The remains that some researchers have found in burial caves in Iraq and Wales proved it. They discovered Neanderthal skeletons with flower pollens placed near their bodies. Embalming, which is the process of preserving the dead’s body, has a long history as well. The earliest societies known to be practicing embalming were the Ancient Egyptians and Chinchorro people of South America. As early as 3400 BC, Ancient Egyptians were already practicing Mummification to deceased people. They put the remains of their rulers in intricate coffins and bury them in pyramids. Body preservation is done by putting certain chemicals in a corpse or doing certain processes like keeping the body in dry places so that it won’t decay easily.
In some cultures, jars are used instead of coffins. Southeast Asian people did jar burials during the Neolithic period. Researchers have found burial jars that contain human remains in countries like Vietnam and the Philippines. Aside from caves and pyramids, other places where early societies bury the dead are in mounds and ships. Ship burials are said to be practiced by the Vikings. Cremation or the burning of remains, on the other hand, is common among Ancient Greeks. In East Asia, it later became a norm among Japanese people after the Second World War.
During the old times, there were no funeral homes (also called funeral parlors) that will provide services for deceased people and their loved ones. In those times, coffin viewing for relatives is mostly done at home. Funeral homes and the funeral industry itself started to boom in the United States after the Civil War. New ideas on how to take care of the dead have also emerged. Funeral homes helped people by planning and arranging the dead’s funeral. Hired morticians are in charge of embalming and dressing deceased people. They prepare them for public viewing by adding makeup to improve their appearance.
Funeral parlours have facilities like viewing rooms and chapels for the dead people and their families. They are also selling urns and coffins to their clients. Aside from taking care of necessary documents, these establishments are also responsible in transporting the dead in cemeteries and crematoriums. They have vehicles like limousines and carriages used for funeral processions.
Funeral homes have helped revolutionizing the way of bringing the dead to its final resting place. They made funerals more systematic and helped the funeral industry grow into a million-dollar industry. Thousands of funeral parlours and cemeteries are currently operating in the United States alone. There are also a handful of students taking up Mortuary Science in some colleges and universities to become funeral directors in the future.
They usually study the human anatomy, the science of embalming, and the way to manage funeral parlours. These establishments are maybe doing new embalming techniques, but they continued the thousand-year-old tradition of giving care and respect to dead people.