Graveside Burial Services: What to Expect & How to Plan

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You have a lot of different options as you plan end-of-life services for yourself or your loved one. One option is a graveside burial service. 

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A graveside burial service can be a standalone service that honors the deceased at the site of their burial plot. You can also choose to hold a graveside burial service as an additional ceremony after a funeral.

Here are some things to think about as you do some future planning for a graveside burial service for yourself or your loved one.

What’s a Graveside Committal or Burial Service?

Most graveside or committal services are held at the location where the body will be buried. They’re typically held when the deceased is interred in a casket but you can also choose to have a graveside service if the deceased is cremated. 

Why plan after a funeral or wake?

There are a couple of reasons why you might want to plan a graveside service for the deceased after a wake or funeral:

  • Survivors may agree that witnessing the casket or urn in its final resting place brings closure. 
  • You may have religious reasons for planning a graveside service in addition to a wake or funeral service.

Why use it as a standalone ceremony?

A graveside service simplifies the process of honoring the deceased, but there are a few more reasons you might choose to opt for this type of service: 

  • Some religious groups, such as Buddhists or Quakers, strive for simplicity in every aspect of their lives. A simple, relatively short service held at the place of interment would fit that bill. 
  • You could also consider a graveside service if you’re uncomfortable interacting with other mourners — the idea of hosting a wake where visitors express their condolences may overwhelm you. You want to be able to honor your loved one but don’t want the process to stretch on for hours. 
  • You might also consider a graveside service because you would rather celebrate your loved one’s life outdoors. Maybe you or your loved one who passed isn’t a member of a religious group, and you would rather not have a ceremony at a nondescript funeral home. A natural setting may be more of a fit.
  • Graveside services are also less expensive than paying for a traditional wake and funeral.

What Happens During a Graveside Burial?

Many factors determine what happens during a graveside burial. 

A ceremony at the cemetery will likely be short, particularly if the gravesite burial accompanies a traditional funeral. It may include readings, prayers, or songs and may last no longer than 20 to 30 minutes.

How long will the graveside service be if it’s the only ceremony? It could be short or it could last up to an hour. You may want to incorporate readings, prayers, and songs, a short sermon, and more. The exact agenda of a graveside burial also depends on the deceased’s religion or the faith choices of the deceased’s family members. 

How to Plan a Graveside Burial Service

There are a few steps you’ll need to take prior to a family member’s graveside service. These steps involve choosing a burial site, picking a casket or urn, and planning the details about what will be said at the service.

Step 1: Choose a cemetery or burial site 

Most of this discussion assumes that you are burying your deceased loved one in a cemetery plot, but there are other options. These options may depend upon your location or faith. Generally, the steps to plan a service stay the same whether the service is held near a mausoleum or columbarium niche.

It’s a good idea to check the records of the deceased before you visit cemeteries in your area. Your loved one may have purchased a burial site earlier in his or her life. Or maybe another family member purchased a group of plots that are available for you to use.

You’ll need to choose a cemetery on your own if the burial plot was not pre-purchased. You might also contact the cemetery office to find someone else who’s selling an unused plot. You may be able to get a good deal on the price.

There are also green burial options in most states. Check with the cemetery director to see what is available in your area. 

Step 2: Choose a casket or urn

Most mourners visit funeral homes to choose an urn or casket for their loved ones. Caskets can be expensive, but you can usually find an option that fits your budget. 

For example, you can choose a casket made of hardwood or metal, vary the color of the liner or personalize the outside of the casket with an image that meant something to the deceased. 

Step 3: Find someone to lead the service

Your loved one’s spiritual leader is usually the one chosen to lead the graveside service. If you or the deceased have no spiritual home, you can still hire a person of the clergy to perform the ceremony at the gravesite.

Ask your funeral or cemetery director for a recommendation of someone who can lead the ceremony at the gravesite if you prefer that the graveside service has no religious undertones. You could also choose to seek the help of a close friend or family member to perform the service. 

Step 4: Discuss the details with the cemetery director 

You may not think about all the details that go into orchestrating the event. The cemetery director is used to interacting with people who are experiencing grief. Most of the time, these directors will take care of the details necessary for the ceremony.

For example, the cemetery director will often take care of transporting the body in the casket to the burial site. He will open and close the site and will also set up a tent and chairs for mourners surrounding the grave. The cemetery director will also make sure the ground around the burial site is even and prepared for visitors.

You’ll also need to pay for these services at the cemetery as well — just as you paid for the casket and burial plot. Make sure you understand the costs associated with those services when you purchase the plot because you can’t accomplish these on your own.

Understand that the cost of a monument or headstone is not included with any of the previous charges. The monument or headstone can be purchased weeks or months after the ceremony. You’ll also pay a fee to have the headstone set in the cemetery.

Step 5: Plan the text of the ceremony

Most of the time, you have complete control over what is said at your or your loved one’s graveside burial service. This may not be the case if a religious leader is asked to perform the ceremony. In this case, the doctrine may dictate what is said and done.

  • The celebrant leading the service may interview survivors if he or she did not know the deceased to determine the deceased’s personality and other details. 
  • You may choose to have the attendees sing hymns, or you may decide to play pre-recorded music over a speaker system.
  • The deceased may be entitled to specific ceremonies at the burial site if the deceased was a member of the U.S. military or a civic group. 
  • You may choose to have scriptures, a poem, or song lyrics read. You may ask the celebrant to read the obituary of your loved one. 

It’s important to remember that if you want the graveside service to have specific characteristics, you need to make your feelings known to the funeral director or cemetery staff. He or she can’t read your mind.

Planning the Right Graveside Service

You may be worried that you are forgetting important details when planning a service, but most people who work in this industry have a set protocol to plan such events. They will walk you through the process and ask questions about floral arrangements or other details that you may have forgotten.

People who choose to work in the funeral industry usually show a lot of empathy and compassion to family members and close friends of the deceased. Let them guide you during this difficult process.