Should You Plan a Religious or Non-religious Funeral

Should You Plan a Religious or Non-religious Funeral

When the family has different religious preferences than the deceased, or if there is a disagreement about religion within the family, it can complicate funeral planning, raise tensions and make an already emotional time harder on everyone. Discuss blending religious preferences into one ceremony, or having different beliefs represented at the funeral and graveside service. Consider a memorial service or celebration of life service if needed, to accommodate the spiritual beliefs that become especially important during a time of loss. Funeral directors can help navigate these choppy waters.


Few things are as emotional as the death of a loved one. And few things elicit strong opinions more than religion. A funeral can involve the collision of the two.


When the Deceased and the Family Had Opposing Views

If the family, especially the spouse, have different religious beliefs than the deceased did, it can be hard to know how to proceed with funeral planning. Is it better to honor the wishes of the departed, or plan a funeral that the family finds more comforting? That question elicits strong reactions.


Funeral directors will tell you that funerals are for the living. They are to help loved ones work through emotions, share their grief and their memories, and seek comfort from one another. If you subscribe to that point of view, then it is better to plan a funeral using the religious preferences of the family. It can be hard for some people to let go of the idea that the deceased is angry with them. This is part of the grieving process. Many funeral directors will encourage the family, if they are feeling guilty, to embrace the idea that the departed would understand their need to plan a service they find most comforting.


An alternative idea is to hold a funeral service that reflects s religious or non-religious sentiment, and plan a graveside service that reflects the opposite. If the question is between two different religions instead of between religious or non-religious aspects, this same approach can be used. It's also possible to have aspects that honor two different religions in the funeral. Funeral directors can assist in planning a service at the funeral home instead of a house of worship, and uses officiants from two different religions during the service.


When Members of the Family Disagree

A different version of this problem is when members of the family disagree on whether to have a religious service, or what religion should be recognized in the service. In the case of 2 different religions, compromise may be possible by having officiants from 2 religions jointly conducting the service. Alternatively, the funeral service could be held by a representative of one religion, and a different officiant could preside over the graveside service.


When the disagreement is between religion or the absence of religion, finding a compromise becomes much more difficult.  Dividing the service and the graveside service between the two is an option still. If families are unable to come to an agreement, they may be able to agree on planing the funeral service around the departed's beliefs.


The Memorial Service or Celebration of Life Service

When resolving the religious aspects of the funeral service becomes doubtful and compromise isn't an option, consider having more than one service.  A memorial service, or a celebration of life service, can be held at any time: before or after the funeral service. Typically these services don't have the body of the deceased present, so they can be scheduled weeks or months later. They could also be scheduled on an important date like the departed's birthday. These ceremonies can be held in a home, community center or events hall, a church, outside or any place that would have been special to the departed. Funeral directors can offer suggestions.