How Do Funeral Services Work Without a Body?

Updated

Many people think of a traditional service with a body present when they imagine a typical funeral. While it’s true that funerals often take this form, it’s worth noting that loved ones can organize many different types of funerals.

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You might wonder if it’s actually necessary for a body to be present during a funeral. Keep reading if you have questions about this topic. This general overview will provide you with essential information on whether you can have a funeral without a body and how it may differ from a more “traditional” service.

Can You Have a Funeral Without a Body?

It’s absolutely possible to have a funeral service without a body present. Sometimes people pass away without anyone ever recovering their bodies. Major accidents or natural disasters sometimes destroy most or all of someone’s physical body. This doesn’t mean their loved ones shouldn’t arrange funeral services for them.

While families who plan on cremating loved ones may hold funeral services before the actual cremation, some choose to cremate a body first. They might choose to host a memorial service later. Although these memorial services sometimes differ from traditional funerals in various ways, they still serve the same purpose as a funeral.

Similarly, even if a family doesn’t cremate a loved one, they might still bury them immediately after their passing instead of organizing a funeral first. They may then host a memorial at a later date.

Some people choose this option for various reasons. For instance, they may prefer that a loved one’s memorial service be a joyful celebration instead of a somber funeral. Burying the deceased's body first and taking a few weeks to grieve before organizing a service can make this task easier.

Other situations may occur, such as when it’s impossible for many family members and friends to make travel arrangements in time to attend a traditional funeral. In these circumstances, a family debating between a memorial or funeral service might opt for a burial now and a memorial later, giving potential guests more time to make travel plans.

Finally, families sometimes feel that having a body present during a funeral inevitably results in the occasion feeling too morbid for their comfort. They may prefer to replace the traditional casket and body with something less upsetting. 

» MORE: Lose a pet? Create a diamond from their ashes to help you remember how they brightened up your life.

 

What’s a Funeral Service Called When There Isn’t a Body? 

As you may have guessed based on the above examples, many call a funeral without a body a memorial. Others use terms such as “celebration of life” to refer to this type of service.

They may do so when they specifically want to emphasize that the event should be one that gives them the chance to reflect on their happy memories of a loved one instead of dwelling on their painful emotions.

How Can You Have a Funeral Without a Body Present? 

Again, sometimes a family must organize a funeral without a body because a loved one’s body has been lost in some way. In this situation, a family might want to know how they can modify a traditional funeral to ensure it still honors the deceased’s memory properly.

That said, even when it’s possible to have a funeral with a body, a family might still choose not to. Some feel making this change gives them more freedom to plan a unique service instead of adhering to traditional expectations. They might also choose not to organize a funeral for a loved one if they didn’t want a funeral. They were open to the idea of a memorial service that may be held weeks or months after their passing.

Either way, someone organizing a memorial or funeral without a body has many options and ideas to consider when deciding how they’ll plan a respectful service. Ideas to keep in mind include the following:

Placing mementos in a casket

A family may choose this option if they wanted to organize a funeral with a body, but were unable to do so. Instead, they can hold a traditional service with a casket set up to display mementos, pictures, and similar items. They alone might choose which mementos to include, or they can give funeral guests the option to place their own mementos in the casket if they’re comfortable doing so.

It’s also not necessary to bury a casket after this type of funeral. A family can therefore save money by renting a casket instead of purchasing one.

Playing videos or slideshows

This is another option to keep in mind if it’s impossible to organize a funeral with a body. That said, this is also an option to consider if a family decides to organize a funeral without a body not because they have no other choice, but because that’s what they would prefer.

Playing a video or slideshow depicting happy memories of a loved one on a loop is a way to ensure a deceased loved one is “part” of their own funeral service without their body or casket on display. Again, a family might go this route if displaying a casket is too morbid for their tastes. Videos and slideshows highlighting positive experiences can be much more appealing than holding a funeral with a body in the room for some.

Display boards

Although many funeral homes will help families produce videos or photomontages to play during funerals, this service may be slightly too costly for some. Others might simply worry that a video on a loop could become a distraction. 

These are just two reasons some opt for display boards instead. These can be simple poster-sized boards featuring pictures of a loved one. As with placing mementos in a casket, a family can be the only ones to decide what to include on a board or they can give guests permission to add their own items.

Musical performances

Many traditional funerals include music. However, the type of music a family decides to include may depend on the type of service they plan.

For example, maybe a family has chosen to hold a funeral without a body that will essentially take the form of a joyful celebration of life. If so, they may decide that their loved one’s favorite music should play an important role in the service. They might organize a memorial featuring several musical performances that help guests have a pleasant, perhaps even fun experience.

Some might initially feel less than comfortable with the idea of a memorial for a deceased person being fun. However, others believe that a deceased loved one’s service should reflect who they were in life. If they were the type of person who always wanted to help others have a good time, it might be appropriate to plan a service accordingly, instead of insisting on a sad and mournful occasion.

Activities

This is another nontraditional idea that’s worth keeping in mind when the goal is to ensure a service is joyful and celebratory.

Sometimes it makes sense to organize a service that involves participating in an activity that the deceased was passionate about. For instance, maybe the deceased loved baseball. If so, the deceased's family could plan a memorial baseball game.

This type of service could feature a blend of traditional and nontraditional elements. Perhaps between innings, guests might also deliver eulogies or play music just like they would at a funeral.

That’s just one example. While this type of funeral without a body has become increasingly common, it tends to take place several weeks or months after a passing because it can take some time to organize, like a celebration of life memorial.

Ash scattering

Scattering a loved one’s remains after cremating their body can be an informal event that bears little resemblance to a funeral service. However, it doesn’t have to be.

Some funeral homes even assist families in planning ash scattering services similar to funerals in many ways. They can include eulogies, religious readings, and various other common elements of funeral services.

Display urn

A family often considers many factors when deciding whether cremation or burial is best in the aftermath of a loved one’s passing. For instance, evidence suggests that cremations are less harmful to the environment than burials.

A family might thus consider cremation if their deceased loved one was passionate about protecting the planet. However, they might still want the opportunity to organize a somewhat traditional service that gives family and friends a chance to pay their respects.

Hosting a service with a display urn is an option in these circumstances. A service with a display urn can be as traditional or as nontraditional as a family wishes. The significant difference between this type of service and a funeral with a body is that instead of a casket, an urn containing the deceased’s cremated remains will be on display.

More Common Than Some Realize

Having a funeral without a body may not seem traditional, but people have actually been organizing these types of services throughout history. This general overview covers just some of the ways you might organize such a service for your own loved ones.

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