What Happens at a Private Interment When Someone Dies?


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If you’ve been invited to a funeral, you might have come across the term “private interment.” This might sound intimidating, but it simply means the family wishes for the interment to be a private affair for only close family and friends. Like a private funeral, you’ll know if you’re invited to a private interment.

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Interment is the process of laying someone to rest. This can be done in the ground in a traditional cemetery, but it can also be in a mausoleum. Sometimes there is a graveside service open to all funeral attendees. Other times, the family wishes for privacy during this step. 

Humans have practiced all types of interment for thousands of years. Today, families have a number of options for how they choose to lay their loved ones to rest. This includes having private interment if they so choose. In this guide, we’ll explain what happens at a private interment when someone dies as well as proper funeral etiquette.

What’s a Private Interment?

Interment differs from the funeral or memorial service. Interment, also sometimes called burial, is the actual process of placing a deceased person into the ground or mausoleum. For a traditional burial, this means lowering the casket into the plot within the cemetery grounds. 

A private interment is when the family chooses to keep this process amongst close friends and family only. In some cases, the family won’t attend this graveside process at all. The cemetery can do it prior to the service or within the family’s timeline if there is to be a viewing. 

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Why choose a private interment?

What leads some families to choose a private interment service vs. something open to all funeral guests? There are many reasons, but it comes down to personal preferences. While the funeral is seen as a highly emotional time, these feelings are even more intense at the graveside. This can be the final goodbye, and many families choose to keep this private. 

A private interment might be chosen for any of these reasons:

  • Cost: A larger graveside service is expensive. The family might need to hire an officiant, and there might need to be seating or other costly elements. A private interment is always cheaper. 
  • Final goodbye: Because lowering the body into the ground is typically seen as the final goodbye, it’s understandable for this to be reserved for the closest of family and friends. 
  • Public figure: If the deceased was a public figure, many families choose to keep the interment private to keep it intimate. 
  • Funeral or memorial is at a later date: Travel, sickness (or pandemics), and other issues can lead to a postponed funeral. Some people choose to hold a virtual funeral or interment for those who can't make it. Tip: We recommend GatheringUs's virtual funeral planning service to help you with logistics, tech, and day-of-funeral production.
  • Religious customs: Finally, some families choose to include religious or cultural customs on the internet, and this might not be something that’s open to non-practitioners or those outside of these circles. 

How does the interment differ from the funeral?

Aside from the actual lowering of the body into the ground or placement into the mausoleum, how does an interment differ from a funeral? There’s understandably a lot of confusion around the key differences, especially for those who never attended an interment or graveside service. 

The word “interment” literally leans to place deceased remains into the ground. It’s generally referring to burials within the Earth, though it’s come to mean any type of burial practice. 

Like a funeral, many families do choose to include some form of service at the graveside. This can be private or public, and it might include any of the following:

  • Prayers
  • Religious music
  • Eulogy readings
  • Final goodbyes from friends and family
  • Throwing dirt on the grave
  • Moment of silence
  • Religious readings

The only difference between this and a funeral service is that the body will be placed within the ground. Some families choose to host both a funeral and graveside service, while others limit the occasion to just one. There’s no right or wrong way to have an interment as long as they follow the guidelines of the cemetery. 

Interment vs. inurnment

Lastly, it’s important to recognize how this word has shifted throughout the years. With more people than ever choosing cremation vs. burial, a new word has formed. This word is “inurnment.” 

As you might have guessed, “inurnment” refers to the process of placing cremated remains within an urn. They can stay in this urn temporarily or long-term, depending on the family’s wishes. While it’s not common to have a public inurnment ceremony, some families choose to honor this occasion. 

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Who’s Usually Allowed to Attend a Private Interment?

There are no formal rules about who is or isn’t allowed to attend a private interment. It’s entirely up to the family, their budget, and their comfort level. Because this is a highly personal decision, it’s commonly limited to close friends and family. 

Most private interments are attended by the following guests:

  • Parents
  • Children
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Close aunts or uncles
  • Close friends

The family can invite as many or few people as they wish. Some welcome all funeral guests to the funeral. Others ask that this be kept intimate and private so the family can focus on their grief. 

How will you know if you’re invited?

If you were close to the deceased, how will you know if you’re invited to the private interment? In most cases, you’ll receive a formal invitation. This will be included in the funeral invitation. The family will directly request your presence at the graveside service, letting you know if you’re welcome to bring any guests with you. 

Otherwise, the family might reach out in-person or via email, phone, or text. While you can ask what the family plans for the interment, work your question carefully. If you aren’t invited, don’t take this personally. It’s considered poor etiquette to ask for an invitation to any type of private service. 

Remember, that you’re still welcome to grieve the deceased in your own way. If you’re invited to the funeral, this is a great way to show your support to the bereaved family without attending the private interment. 

What’s the Etiquette for a Private Interment?

If you are invited to a private interment, there are some important things you should know. This is all about supporting the family and saying your final goodbyes while staying respectful. 

These etiquette points only apply if you’re invited to a private service. If not, do your best not to take this decision personally. Families choose to keep this private for any number of reasons, and it’s not a reflection on your relationship with the family or the deceased. 

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Don’t invite anyone else

The first thing to remember is that you shouldn’t invite anyone else unless you’re told this is acceptable. Sometimes the family will welcome you to invite a partner, friend, or another person as a form of support. This is especially true if you’re not a close member of the family. 

However, if you’re not told you can bring someone else, don’t. This could be unexpected for the family, and you don’t want anything to disrupt their mourning. In addition, it’s polite not to share too much information about the private service to other funeral guests who might not have been invited. Always protect the family’s privacy. 

Say your goodbyes quickly

It’s common for guests at a graveside service to be asked to say any final goodbyes to the deceased. If you choose to do so, keep it brief. The focus should be on the family and the legacy of the deceased. 

Remember there are many ways to grieve on your own and make sure your thoughts are heard. From writing a heartfelt letter to the family, the deceased, or even just yourself, there is always a time and place to make your feelings known to the world. 

Support the family

Last but not least, this is the best opportunity to support the family and ask what they need. While there are a number of sympathy gift ideas that are perfect for a funeral, these aren’t appropriate for the interment service. Deliver these either before or after the service. 

However, you can support the family by helping set up, saying a few words, or simply being a kind listening ear. Just being there is a form of support in itself. 

Prepare for a Private Interment Service

Most people don’t attend many private interment services in their lifetime. As such, it’s understandably a confusing occasion. This guide above helps clear up any misunderstanding about who’s invited, what happens, and what to expect after receiving an invitation. 

A private interment is an intimate opportunity to share your final goodbyes after a loss. As the person is laid to rest within the earth, you have a final moment with them in your presence. Though they’ll always be with you, this is a powerful, emotional occasion. How will you make it count?

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