I’m happy to announce that I recently finished my first mystery novel. How a romance writer got into mystery writing is a story for another day, but it was both fun and challenging. This is a cozy mystery, but there has to be a murder, right?
The person who dies in my mystery is Amish (a little insight into how I ended up working on this project), and I had to find out as much as I could about the Amish funeral traditions. Here’s what I learned…
A person has to be invited to a funeral. They don’t just automatically show up as with English funerals. The closest kin invites the attendees. In one case, all of the cousins were invited, which is very unusual. Large numbers of family members prevent this. Most Amish families have over seven children, so you can imagine how many cousins, uncles and aunts there are. One Amish woman attested to close to 500 people were present at her father’s funeral.
The funeral director will come get the body, embalm it, and bring it back to the house. (Just a note here, the embalming of Amish bodies is dependent on state laws and the projected time for the funeral. If the funeral is to be held more than three days from the time of death, the body is embalmed regardless. If the funeral is scheduled to be held before the three day mark and state law doesn’t require embalming, then the body is not embalmed.) The body stays in the house until time for the funeral. This is an old custom of having the body at home. I’m not sure how I would feel about it, but most Amish find it comforting to have their loved one close. To them, it’s like having more time with the person. They may even sit and talk to the body. Only the chest and face are visible, and they do not put makeup on the deceased like in English funerals.
Amish funerals are usually held in a huge barn. Four people from the church district are asked to be ushers. They take care of the family once the person dies. They serve the family all of their meals, get the food ready for the funeral meal, and make sure the graveyard is ready with blankets and other necessities.
At the end of the funeral, everyone walks past the casket one final time with the family going last. This can take a while especially if the family is an emotional family, but also from the sheer numbers of mourners and guests.
Going to the gravesite is optional. English people might attend the gravesite ‘service’ if they are friends of the family. But they too would have to be invited. The funeral meal is served after the gravesite. For Pennsylvania Amish, it always consists of cold roast beef, prunes, mashed potatoes, and rolls. Sometimes a veggie is served. Prunes are always served because they’re supposed to strengthen the body.
All in all, Amish funerals seem very much like English ones, where those still on earth say goodbye to those who have gone on.