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How Long After Death Is a Funeral?

How long does it take to have a funeral after someone dies? Planning for a funeral can be overwhelming for family members, especially if it's unexpected. 

Timing is essential as different faiths have their requirements for how long a funeral can or must occur after death, so the length of time before a funeral end varies. Here at Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals, we provide religious and traditional funeral services.

Most funerals tend to happen only days after a loved one's death, but how long after death are most funerals held? What determines the timeline for the funeral? How long after a loved one's death do you have to contact relatives and plan the service?

Average Time Between Death and Funeral

Most American funerals take place within one week or less from death. With the help of a funeral home, a week is typically enough time to make arrangements and contact loved ones. 

Historically, funerals had to take place after just a matter of days because of decomposition. With today's preservation methods, families have more time to prepare and get affairs in order. This helps families make arrangements and to pick a day to hold the funeral.

A standard funeral can be up to about two weeks after the date of death. If the body is cremated, the family can wait as long as they'd like, but most are done within a month at the latest. If the deceased is already buried or cremated, a memorial service can be held later. 

The length of time between death and a funeral varies depending on the person's religious faith, but on average, it's about a week. 

Assuming the body is adequately preserved and stored, it's possible to have one up to two to four weeks later, though the longer you wait, the less likely having an open casket is an option.

If you choose cremation, the funeral can be held simultaneously as the body's condition is no longer a concern.

Factors in Scheduling a Funeral

Scheduling the funeral will be determined by the availability of the funeral home, which tends to be busier on weekends. 

Other factors that come into play aside from religion include the following:

Family members can attend the funeral, which might require a delay if people travel from multiple locations.

Medical situations include a family member who needs to attend but undergoes necessary surgery or gives birth. 

Other life situations where a funeral is typically delayed would fall on a person's birthday or anniversary. 

In these cases, it's common to schedule the funeral for a different day to avoid associating the death with what should be a happy event.

Bad weather, such as a forecasted snowstorm or hurricane, may affect scheduling a funeral. 

The family might choose to do it right away to avoid the weather or postpone until it's safe for everyone to attend.

Availability of the funeral home and their schedule. Since more funerals are held on weekends to accommodate travellers and people who work a regular weekday job, scheduling on a weekday may get you in sooner.

Legal concerns may delay a funeral, such as if a body needs to have an autopsy and is being held by the coroner or hospital.

Funding can also be an issue. If you're budget limits you, you may choose a weekday instead of a weekend to bury a loved one, as some funeral homes will offer lower rates on less busy days. 

On the other hand, you may need to do the funeral right away if you opt not to embalm the body due to the cost.

If the body needs to be transported to another city or state, this can delay the scheduling of a funeral.

How Long Before a Body Must Be Buried?

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Decomposition begins once death has occurred, but embalming can slow it down for approximately seven days. 

Embalming can keep a body preserved for a very long time, such as years, but it requires specific refrigeration, humidity, and sterile conditions to do so. 

If no preservation process is used, the body needs to be refrigerated and buried as soon as possible as refrigeration will not slow decomposition as embalming would.

Scheduling a Catholic Funeral

Adherents to the Roman Catholic traditions hold a funeral three days after death. The two days prior are traditionally a time to have the wake, which can last one to two days.

Scheduling a Christian Funeral

Christian funerals follow the Catholic schedule, but a small viewing replaces the wake before the funeral. 

Christian denominations are less rigid about the three-day schedule, and you will see some variations within the time frame one about one week.

Scheduling a Jewish Funeral

In Judaism, a funeral should be held without delay and scheduled as soon as arrangements can be made. 

Orthodox Jews require the funeral to be within 24 hours of the death. Funerals cannot be held on specific Holy Days. 

Orthodox and Conservative Judaism does not allow for burial, but Reform Judaism does, while all do not qualify for embalming unless required by law.

Scheduling a Muslim Funeral

Muslims also require that a funeral occurs within 24 hours of the death, or if that is not possible before the next sunset occurs. 

In the Muslim faith, bodies are bathed and shrouded, and there is no embalming process unless required by local or state laws. 

Since most bodies are not embalmed, the burial needs to be done as soon as possible. Cremation is not an option.

Scheduling a Hindu Funeral

Hindu funerals differ from other major world religions in that cremation is the traditional method of burial. 

The funeral takes place at the family's home, though some families opt for using a funeral home instead. 

Funerals must happen quickly, usually within 24 to 48 hours of the death. Hindu funerals also include a separate cremation ceremony, known as makhani, that takes place at the cremation site. 

Some Hindu families include a third ceremony, the shraddha, that usually occurs approximately 10 to 13 days past the death date, or in some cases, on the first anniversary of the death date.

Scheduling a Buddhist Funeral

A funeral for a practising Buddhist usually occurs during the week following the date of death. 

Buddhists hold their funeral for a deceased person based on the date of death and will be either on the third, seventh, 49th, or 100th day after the original death date. 

Bodies may be embalmed, and cremation is allowed. The whole mourning period can last up to 100 days.

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 deceased's body 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 a funeral is held after death is pretty much dictated by the burial method required by the religion.

There is no firm timeline for a cremation funeral, as the body may or may not be embalmed, depending upon the deceased's wishes 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 that this timeline may be similar to a traditional burial. 

But if the family is incredibly 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 particular place such as the sea or a national park, scheduling a celebration of life at a later date gives the family more control over the weather, who can attend, where and how to display the memorial urn, and so forth.

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 organise a funeral or cremation memorial quickly. 

However, when possible, planning will reduce stress for all involved.

When are Funerals Held?

Funeral homes are generally open seven days a week and hold services throughout the whole week. 

Saturdays are the most popular day for funerals in America. Alternatively, Sundays are generally the least busy day of the week for funeral homes. 

For burials, some cemeteries may charge a fee for opening and closing a grave on Sunday.

How Long After Death Is Cremation?

A body is generally cremated a few days after death. The next-of-kin would need to sign off on the cremation authorisation. 

In some cases, such as an active police investigation, a coroner must also authorise it.

Reasons to Delay a Funeral

Delays to funerals are generally rare, but families may have specific reasons to delay services. 

The most common reason a family might delay a funeral is to allow for loved ones to come in from out of state or country. 

It is more likely that circumstances outside the family’s control cause delays. Deaths out of state/country, criminal investigations, blizzards, pandemics, or power outages may delay funeral services. 

In cases of long delays, a funeral could be an excellent option to consider. 

How Long Between Death and Funerals

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Typically, a funeral is held between one to three weeks after a death. 

However, this can vary depending on various factors – such as religious beliefs, which in some cases would mean the deceased would need to be buried as soon as possible – sometimes as soon as within a day of the death.

Funerals are generally held on weekdays because funerals held on Saturdays or Sundays can often work out to be more expensive, as crematoria or cemeteries may charge extra. Many funeral directors will only take weekend bookings by request.

How Long Does it Take to Organise a Funeral?

The type of funeral you'd like to organise can affect how long it takes to plan. 

For example, if you're thinking of unique funeral ideas and want to have a quirky funeral for the departed, availability and extra special planning can cause delays. 

Also, there are often things that need to be considered when planning a funeral, which becomes more of a prolonged process than intended. This could include:

  • Accounting for friends and relatives who live out of the area and would need to travel/book time off to attend the funeral
  • We are ensuring close relatives and friends aren't on holiday at the time of the proposed funeral date.
  • Avoiding upcoming events that have already been pre-planned, e.g. a relatives' birthdays

Once you have everything in order, planning what will be said at the funeral, the order of service, and the day's logistics need to be taken care of. 

This can be as thought out and as carefully planned as you like – but it's likely that regardless, you'll be planning up until a few days before the funeral. Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals will always find creative ways to pull costs in line with your budget.

How Long Can You Delay a Funeral?

As funerals are usually between one to three weeks after a death, it's unwise to delay the funeral for too long. 

The initial rush to organise a funeral so soon after death is required due to nature's natural course of body decomposition, as well as emotional urgency – as mourners want to be able to say goodbye and make their peace with the passing of a loved one.

However, it's essential to acknowledge that sometimes delays cannot be avoided. This could be because:

  • The deceased's body is part of a criminal investigation and needs to be preserved for post-mortem and criminal evidence purposes.
  • The dead was a soldier whose remains have not yet been found
  • The dead has been categorised as a missing person

Relatives or friends may live overseas and could not be able to travel for a few weeks.

However, in any of these instances, it may be beneficial to hold a memorial service when you can – but be swift in organising the actual burial or cremation as soon as possible, depending on how long it will take to have the actual funeral.

Do You Have to Have a Funeral?

No – you don't have to have a funeral if the deceased did not want one organised. 

However, the law requires that the body is taken care of using cremation or burial, which is naturally often followed by a funeral or memorial service.

To prepare fully for a funeral, learn what to do when someone dies. Alternatively, take the pressure away from your own family and loved ones by planning your funeral.

When to Have a Funeral After the Death of a Loved One

A funeral is typically held around one or two weeks after the death, though it may be longer if the funeral director only has certain days available or an inquest into the death. 

You may wish for your loved one to be buried as soon as possible, depending on their religious beliefs.

However, a recent report published by Dignity revealed an elongation in the average time between death and a funeral: from under ten days to over three weeks. 

The report found that changes to cremation regulations and movement to "by appointment" only for Coroners offices and Registrars are just a couple of factors causing this.

What Are the Most Common Days and Times for a Funeral?

Most funeral services take place either late in the morning or around midday, often during the week. 

This allows family or friends who are travelling a long distance to arrive in good time, and it usually fits in well with the arrangements for the wake or funeral reception.

It's important to remember that you don't have to accept the first date and time the funeral director offers. Be patient and consider what works best for you and your family.

Can You Have a Funeral on a Saturday or Sunday?

If you wish to arrange the funeral for a weekend, it could prove to be more expensive, as most funeral directors, crematoria, and cemeteries may charge extra. 

It isn't uncommon to have a funeral on a Saturday or Sunday, but many funeral directors will only take weekend bookings by request.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Date

We've listed a few things you may wish to consider before choosing a date and time for your loved one's funeral:

Whether you have any family or close friends who aren't local and may need to travel a long distance to attend the funeral

If there is an upcoming event or occasion that you may wish to avoid, such as a family member's birthday or anniversary

Ensure that family and close friends aren't away on holiday before choosing a date

Arranging a funeral at concise notice may mean that everyone who would like to attend may not be able to rearrange work or other prior commitments.

When Funerals Occur After Death

Although it's most common for a funeral to occur within a week of a person's death, religious dictates can shorten the time to within a day or two, or in some cases, extend it. 

Scheduling the funeral also depends heavily on factors such as the availability of the family to travel, the funeral home's schedule, legal concerns over the body, and avoiding difficult situations such as a medical crisis or severe weather. 

If you find yourself tasked with planning a funeral, reach out to your funeral home director for guidance. Let Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals help you select the type of funeral service that best fits your needs.

Most funeral homes will be experienced with the rules and regulations of your state and most prominent religious requirements regarding scheduling the funeral. 

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