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A non-religious funeral service may be chosen when the deceased did not practice any specific type of formal religion. Non-religious funerals are also appropriate when the deceased had been an Atheist or a Humanist.
Because there are no historical guidelines and traditions in place for this type of funeral, the format is usually dictated by the deceased person’s wishes or by their family.
All religions have traditions and rituals that serve to honor the dead and assist bereaved families in handling their grief. The need for a fitting way to remember a departed loved one and say goodbye is universal, even among the non-religious. So really a non-religious funeral just means a ceremony to honor the deceased that is not tied to the traditions, rituals, or beliefs of any particular religion. Many of the same elements, such as eulogies and non-religious funeral readings, are used.
A non-religious funeral serves to help mourners express their sadness and offer their condolences to the family. In some cases, the funeral service may also be a celebration of the life that the deceased person lived.
Because there are no traditions set for non-religious burial ceremonies, they tend to be highly personalized. That means guests can expect, among other things, inspirational readings and stories about the deceased person’s life as told by friends and family.
Non-religious funeral services may not adhere to any particular religious traditions, but they do often follow the same general format: an opening statement, stories from friends and family, a eulogy from a respected member of the community, a moment of silence or meditation, and perhaps some music. One common element typically found is readings. A purpose of most funerals is to gather the bereaved to remember the deceased and comfort the grieving family. Non-religious funeral readings, whether they’re from famous works of prose and poetry or they’re written just for the service, have a way of bringing everyone together during the ceremony.
Since the deceased person did not follow a particular religion, the only guidelines about cremation, autopsies, and embalming would come directly from the individual or the individual’s family. Therefore, guests who attend a non-religious funeral can expect a range of scenarios: an open casket funeral, a closed-casket funeral, or a funeral where the ashes of the departed are present in some type of ceremonial urn.
Attendees can expect almost anything, in fact. Some new and growing non-religious funeral traditions include a ‘green burial.’ Also called ‘eco-burials’ or ‘natural burials,’ they often entail a biodegradable coffin and a quick burial. Therefore, expect the funeral to be within 24 or sometimes 48 hours of death. Green burials often skip the step of preserving the body by embalming, so the funeral service is most likely to feature a closed casket.
Donations to charity are usually an appropriate way to honor the deceased, no matter what beliefs they held to during their lifetime. Other ways to honor the deceased is by delivering some type of tribute to the life lived. For green burials, it might be appropriate to give potted plants as gifts of sympathy. Cut flowers rely on resource-heavy flower farming, which may not be in accordance with ‘green’ principles supported by the deceased. Sending locally sourced, organic flowers can also be an appropriate way to show your sympathy for the deceased person’s family.
The funeral celebrant could be anyone the family deems proper to lead the ceremony. It might be a family member or a respected member of the community. Sometimes the funeral director provides guidance on the format of the service, helping the family prepare a fitting service for the deceased.
The venue for a non-religious funeral service could be anywhere the family designates, even the chapel of a religious community. From a simple memorial service to a full-fledged ceremony that reflects the deceased person’s life and tastes, non-religious funerals are typically highly personalized, including the location of the ceremony.
Attending a Funeral? Take This Time to Think About Your Own As Well.
Attending a funeral is a good opportunity to consider what you'd want for your own memorialization. You can even plan it now, decades in advance, so your loved ones don't have to worry about it later. Learn more about advance funeral planning.
Guests who attend a non-religious funeral service should expect to behave in a way that’s typical for any type of funeral service, religious or otherwise. The funeral may be non-religious or atypical, but the feelings of sadness and grief are the same.
Expect the general mood to be somber and for guests to act with respect to the family’s wishes for the ceremony. They may wish for the service to take on a more celebratory nature, where the deceased person’s life is remembered with joy and fondness. There may be music that the departed person enjoyed during their lifetime, so expect to hear non-traditional music at some non-religious funerals.
Guests should dress in a way that’s traditionally recognized as proper mourning attire. That is, dress in black or dark colors, and be conservative with style. The exception would be if the family has let it be known that another type of attire is appropriate in accordance with the nature of the funeral service.
Below are samples of readings you may expect to hear at a non-religious funeral.
"Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
"Life Well Lived" Author Unknown
A life well lived is a precious gift,
of hope and strength and grace,
from someone who has made our world
a brighter, better place.
It's filled with moments, sweet and sad
with smiles and sometimes tears,
with friendships formed and good times shared,
and laughter through the years.
A life well lived is a legacy,
of joy and pride and pleasure,
a living, lasting memory
our grateful heart's will treasure.
"Death Is Nothing at All" by Henry Scott-Holland
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
"i carry your heart with me " by e.e. cummings
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
"Something Beautiful Remains" Author Unknown
The tide recedes but leaves behind
bright seashells on the sand.
The sun goes down, but gentle
warmth still lingers on the land.
The music stops, and yet it echoes
on in sweet refrains.....
For every joy that passes, something beautiful remains.
A Quote from Winnie the Pooh
If ever there is a tomorrow when we're not together there is something you must always
remember… You are braver than you believe. Stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.
But the most important thing is even if we are apart I'll always be with you.
What is a funeral like for an atheist?
Atheist funerals are growing in prevalence and typically center around a celebration of the deceased person’s life. The service provides a place for mourners to express their sadness and to acknowledge loved ones who are left behind.
What is a humanist funeral service?
This is a secular funeral service for people who may have called themselves ‘humanists’ during life. Humanism is a philosophical or ethical stance, not a religious tradition, so the appropriate funeral would be a non-religious type. However, anyone may choose a humanist funeral.
What is a humanist celebrant?
This is a person who performs important services for people who prefer a secular celebrant at funerals, weddings, and other rituals.
What happens at an atheist funeral?
Guests at an atheist funeral service can expect to hear any or all of the following: stories of the deceased person’s life, memories from friends and family, music that the deceased person enjoyed during life, and readings. Readings for funerals always serve to help the grieving family, so expect these offerings to be inspirational.
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