When to Schedule a Funeral or Memorial Service

How Long After the Death of a Loved One is a Funeral Held?

If you are in the midst of dealing with a loved one’s death, you’re probably overwhelmed with grief, and in shock regarding the huge number of decisions you have to make while dealing with your emotions. One of the decisions that might seem straightforward, but can actually be more complex than anticipated is when to hold the funeral.

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Today’s bereaved have more flexibility when it comes to planning and scheduling a cremation, funeral, or memorial service. In the U.S. the services typically take place between 3 and 7 days after the death.

In the past, the answer to the question of how many days after death is a funeral held was largely determined by a combination of factors that the family of the deceased had little or no control over. The religion of the deceased, local cultural traditions, local burial practices, and even the local climate or environment all played a part.

Factors Affecting When a Funeral is Held After Death

To help you navigate this emotionally tricky time, we’ve put together a short guideline that will help you balance the range of issues and create a dignified, positive, and moving memorial for you or your loved one.

Religion Plays a Role in Scheduling a Cremation, Memorial Service, or Funeral

One of the most important factors in deciding how long after death funerals are held is the religion of the deceased and his or her family. Many faith traditions have strict rules regarding how much time is to be allowed after a loved one passes before the body is buried.

In Catholicism a 2-day wake is traditional, with the funeral and interment on the third day after death. While once forbidden, cremation is now accepted in most Catholic parishes, and a cremation memorial may be scheduled, giving the family more flexibility when scheduling the service.

Mainline Christian denominations (Methodist, Baptist, Nazarene, etc.) also traditionally observe the 3-day rule—although less strictly than in Catholic tradition. A viewing or visitation prior to burial is typical. If the body is cremated, cremation before or after the funeral is allowed, giving the family of the deceased more options for paying their respects.

In Jewish tradition, it is seen as disrespectful to the body to delay the burial. Funerals are held as quickly after death as possible—within 24 hours for Orthodox Jews when possible—allowing for family travel and other scheduling issues. There are also a number of Holy Days when funeral services are not held.

Muslim burial ideally takes place within 24 hours or before the next sunset following the death, and after the traditional bathing and enshrouding of the body. Cremation is forbidden.

Today, almost all of these faiths show increasing flexibility when it comes to burial traditions, allowing for the fact that families are often far-flung and may have to travel great distances to attend services. Even if your church or synagogue is fairly conservative or traditional, you will have some leeway about when to hold the funeral after death.

How The Burial Method Affects Funeral Scheduling

The burial method chosen by the family will have some effect on when a funeral is held after death, and this question is often tied to the religious faith of the deceased as mentioned above. For example, Muslims typically do not embalm the body of the deceased, but engage in ritual bathing and shrouding. Because there is no preservation, the body is buried as quickly as possible. So the question of when is a funeral held after death is pretty much dictated by the burial method required by the religion.

For a cremation funeral, there is no firm timeline, as the body may or may not be embalmed, depending upon the wishes of the deceased and their family. A cremation memorial service can be held at the discretion of the family. Some will elect to perform the cremation after the funeral, allowing for a viewing or visitation with an open casket so this timeline may be similar to a traditional funeral. But if the family is especially far-flung, for example if mourners will be travelling internationally, a cremation memorial may be held weeks or even months after the death.

This also allows the family more leeway as to location. If, for example, the deceased requested to have his or her ashes scattered in a cremation memorial service at a special place such as the sea or a national park, scheduling a celebration of life at a later date gives the family more control over weather, who can attend, where and how to display the memorial urn, and so forth.

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The bottom line is, the method of burial will affect how soon after death the funeral is scheduled, and preserving or cremating the body allows the bereaved many more options for the burial or cremation funeral.

This is a decision you can make yourself, as part of a funeral planning process, long before your family will be forced to choose under emotional duress at the last moment. As pre-planning is not always possible, there are times when it will be necessary to quickly organize a funeral or cremation memorial. However, when possible, planning ahead will reduce stress for all involved.

Schedules Can Also Affect How Long After Death Funerals Are Held

Travel Schedules – For most families, the typical 3-to-7 day period for the funeral after death is sufficient travel time. However, this will obviously be different for every family, with relatives potentially spread out across the country. Depending on the burial method and faith of the deceased, a memorial service can be held independently of the burial to allow for more thorough planning and for more mourners to travel from far away who might not otherwise be able to show their respects and to share in this important time.

Funeral Home Schedule – An additional issue regarding the scheduling of a funeral comes down to the scheduling restrictions of your funeral home. Many funeral homes observe the traditional Christian holidays such as Easter and Christmas, and Jewish funeral homes may be closed during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover and other Holy Days.

Budget – Finally, budget for the funeral will sometimes play a role in when and how a loved one’s life is celebrated. A beautiful service is possible no matter what your budget. To assist your planning, we have assembled a short guide and worksheet that should help you in planning a dignified memorial for less than the average funeral.

When a funeral is held after death is ultimately a decision unique to each family

Remember, the decision of how long after death funerals are held will be different in every circumstance and there are fewer and fewer hard and fast rules to follow, even among the very observant.

Every family and every situation is different, but we believe that planning and discussing the issue ahead of time, when your family is healthy and not under the emotional stress of a recent death, will help you to make a decision to celebrate your loved one’s beautiful life in a dignified and positive way.


If you have further questions regarding funeral planning and scheduling etiquette, please visit the estate planning section of our blog, for additional assistance and information.

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