Planning a funeral requires making many types of decisions. You may need to decide whether to plan a closed or open casket funeral, whether to bury or cremate your loved one, and more.
You may also need to make a more general decision: What “type” of funeral service to plan. Sometimes practical factors make one type of service preferable to others.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What's a Double Funeral?
- Why Do People Have Double Funerals?
- What Typically Happens at Double Funerals?
- Is There Different Etiquette for Double Funerals?
- What Are Some Notable Double Funerals?
For instance, it might make sense to plan a double funeral in some cases. This overview will describe a double funeral, what makes a double funeral unique, and how some noteworthy double funerals have played out.
What’s a Double Funeral?
As the name implies, a double funeral is a single funeral service for two people. The specific nature of the service can vary depending on a range of factors, including the culture or religion of the deceased, the surviving loved ones’ wishes, and more.
Double funerals: another meaning
The term “double funeral” usually describes a funeral for more than one person. However, some people also use the term to define a second funeral for someone who already had previous service.
For example, according to historical accounts, more than a month after King Louis X passed away, his brother arrived and participated in a service that sounds very much like a funeral. Because another funeral had already taken place, some researchers consider this to be “the only double funeral” for a king of France in history.
Why Do People Have Double Funerals?
People usually choose to have double funerals when two people die at the same time, or at nearly the same time. Those people would also have had some type of close relationship in life. For example, you might hold a double funeral for two siblings or two spouses who passed on the same day.
However, if you’re looking into how to plan a memorial service or funeral for two people, it’s important to keep in mind that you may need to do some searching to find a nearby funeral home that can accommodate your plans.
It’s not uncommon for double funerals to attract substantially more guests than funerals for single individuals. Some funeral homes don’t have enough space for so many attendees.
That said, if no funeral homes in your area are large enough for a double funeral, you may still have other options. Sometimes a funeral home can offer an alternative to a double funeral by holding two separate services in different parlors at the same time. This may not be ideal, but it’s an option to consider.
What Typically Happens at Double Funerals?
Again, the specific details of a double funeral can vary on a case-by-case basis. There isn’t a standard format for all double funerals.
However, common features of double funerals often make them unique when compared to other services. For example, because double funerals often have many attendees, sometimes those organizing the service will opt for longer visiting hours. This gives all mourners an opportunity to pay their respects.
Eulogies, poems, songs, and other common features of a funeral also tend to focus on both of the deceased in a double funeral. While it’s possible that someone may give a eulogy at a double funeral that only focuses on one of the deceased, someone else usually delivers a separate eulogy for the other individual.
Is There Different Etiquette for Double Funerals?
The funeral etiquette rules that apply to a traditional funeral also apply to a double funeral. There are no specific etiquette differences that distinguish all double funerals from any other type of funeral in this manner.
That said, depending on the circumstances, you may anticipate some differences. These differences don’t always apply to double funerals, but they can.
For instance, again, a double funeral will often have more attendees than a funeral for a single person. Therefore, while you may wish to offer your condolences to the bereaved right away when you arrive at the funeral, you might have to be patient and wait while other attendees do so first.
You should also consider how the way in which you go about offering condolences may differ in the case of a double funeral.
For example, maybe you’re offering condolences to those who planned a double funeral after losing both parents close together. Perhaps one of their parents was an old friend, but you took different paths in life at a young age and you never got to know the spouse very well.
If you offer condolences by giving a gift with a sympathy message, you want to acknowledge both of the deceased in your message. Don’t just mention the person you knew. However, it may also be appropriate to admit that you only knew one of them very well, but you’re sure the spouse you didn’t get a chance to know was a wonderful person.
Double funeral etiquette may also be somewhat unique if you’re giving money to the family. A funeral home will usually charge for approximately two funerals. If you can afford to, you might want to give more money than you would if those planning the funeral were only putting one person to rest.
Those are just two examples. The main point to remember is that there are no universal etiquette rules for double funerals. Any differences between double funeral etiquette and traditional funeral etiquette will be specific to that particular funeral.
What Are Some Notable Double Funerals?
Learning more about a few specific double funerals can help you better understand what might happen during one and, more significantly, why someone might choose to plan a double funeral. Noteworthy double funerals include:
Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds
When Debbie Reynolds died the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher passed, their surviving loved ones decided to give them a double funeral.
This wasn’t merely a practical decision. Apparently, both Reynolds and Fisher had a very close bond towards the end of their lives, and their loved ones wanted to honor that bond. Additionally, according to Reynolds’ son and Fisher’s brother, in her last words, Reynolds said she wanted to be with her daughter. Giving them a double funeral was a symbolic way of granting her wish.
Norman and Gwendoline Hendrickson
Norman and Gwendoline Hendrickson may not be household names. However, their double funeral was so unique that it attracted its share of media attention.
Norman Hendrickson was traveling to the calling hours for his wife who’d recently passed away. Sadly, just as he arrived at the funeral home, he stopped breathing.
Members of the funeral home staff quickly moved Hendrickson to the sidewalk, called for emergency help, and began CPR. In the meantime, one of Hendrickson’s sons-in-law drove to Hendrickson’s home to get his do not resuscitate orders.
In response, his daughter requested that the funeral home place his body in the viewing room with his wife. They obliged.
In fact, it seems the Hendrickson family was able to find a way to avoid making an already sad occasion even more somber with a little bit of dark humor. Along with placing Hendrickson in the viewing room, the funeral staff also granted another request of the family: They placed a sign outside that greeted mourners with the message “Surprise — it’s a doubleheader.”
Helen Cook and Clara Mitchell
Helen Cook and Clara Mitchell also aren’t famous names. That said, as with the Hendricksons, their double funeral garnered some attention for a very specific reason.
Helen Cook and Clara Mitchell were twins. As is often the case with twins, they were extremely close throughout their lives. When Clara Mitchell died of age and health-related complications, a mere 18 hours later (and 20 miles away), her sister Helen also passed.
Some likely dismissed this as a coincidence. Both women were relatively old, so it isn’t too unbelievable that they would die around the same time. Others might think their deaths symbolized the strong bond twins can share.
Regardless, their families mutually decided to host a double funeral for them. According to one of Cook’s daughters, “They always wanted to be the first ones to go because they couldn't fathom the thought of living without each other.”
One of Cook’s other daughters also stated that the mortuary staff told her this was the only instance in which they’d ever held a double funeral for twins.
Double Funerals: Sharing a Bond After Death
Again, a double funeral isn’t always the right choice when planning a service. However, in some instances, it’s the perfect way to remember two people who were close in life.
- Brown, Elizabeth A.R. “The Ceremonial of Royal Succession in Capetian France: The Double Funeral of Louis X.” Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, 17 July 2017, www.cambridge.org/core/journals/traditio/article/abs/ceremonial-of-royal-succession-in-capetian-france-the-double-funeral-of-louis-x/A81D61219FA8DF0F5C08A13A60FB390F
- “Carrie Fisher's ashes carried in Prozac-shaped urn.” BBC, BBC, 7 January 2017, www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38541220
- “Family requests a ‘double’ funeral.” The Calling, NYS Funeral Directors Association, Inc., October 2013, www.nysfda.org/images/PDFs/NEWSLETTERS/2013/2013-10.pdf