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September 21, 2020 Beyond The Dash

What is a Graveside Service?

Accompanying your loved one to their final resting destination

What is a Graveside Service?
A graveside service allows mourners to follow their loved one to the grave where they will be laid to rest. (Shutterstock)

If a loved one has recently passed away, you’re likely in the process of preparing for the funeral. The funeral is your opportunity to say goodbye. For some families, this includes a graveside service, also known as a committal service.

Whether you are hosting a graveside service or attending as a guest, you may not know what to expect—or what is expected of you. If you are looking for answers to common questions about graveside services, read on. 

What is a graveside service?

A graveside service is a short scripted ceremony held at the gravesite. It usually follows a longer and larger church service and funeral procession to the cemetery. Sometimes families forego the church service, hearse or walking procession, however, and simply hold the funeral at the gravesite.

A committal service is a traditional part of Christian burial. However, this type of service isn't exclusive to those of Christian faith. For many, the chance to accompany a loved one to their final resting destination is a final way to pay respects. 

What does a graveside service entail?

Typically, a graveside service will feature a short 30 minute speech or prayer given by either a religious official or loved one. There is usually only one eulogy given, and very few prayers or blessings. Additionally, there are no photos or videos displayed and there are rarely any musicians. If the deceased is Jewish, their family might throw dirt on the coffin at the end of the ceremony, as tradition requires. The entire ceremony is very short, compared to a full church service.

The full funeral congregation typically does not stay to witness the entire burial process. The body is usually fully buried by cemetery staff later on, while mourners move onto a reception or other gathering.

How many people attend a graveside service?

This depends on the wishes of the family. A graveside service can either be private and reserved for only immediate family members or it can be open to all. However, if there are many people, everyone except the immediate family usually stands. 

Graveside service etiquette

Graveside service etiquette is very similar, if not identical to, traditional funeral etiquette. It is customary for attendees to dress nicely. Although black is no longer the only socially acceptable color, attendees are encouraged to dress modestly and in somber colors. Use your best judgment, depending on the values of the family hosting the event. 

After the service, attendees typically file into a line to pay their respects to the family of the deceased and to thank the officiant for their time. What happens after the graveside service depends on the wishes of the family. Most often the host will invite funeral attendees back to their own home or a rented venue to share food, company and memories.

The last goodbye

Graveside services offer mourners a chance to accompany their loved one directly to the place where they will be buried. This allows families and friends the chance to gather alongside their deceased loved one to both pay their respects and honor their memory. Whether you are the host or guest, knowing about graveside services will help you prepare for the moment your loved one is lowered into the ground. Keep those you love close to you during the funeral service so that you have support during this time. 

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