Traditions In Our Community Through The Years

Two pallbearers holding a funeral casket.

As the world changes around us, it is important to remember where we came from, and to strengthen the traditions that unite our families and our communities. For hundreds of years, funerals have been a way for families to come together not just to mourn, but also to reunite and strengthen important bonds. For us, the funeral has always been about family just as much as it is about the deceased.

Although many parts of the funeral service have changed, they continue to be influenced by our traditions dating back centuries. As you plan a loved one’s funeral services, or think about your own final arrangements while preplanning, it can be helpful and comforting knowing that these meaningful traditions have persisted through the generations, and continue to bring comfort and grace to our families.

Funerals Are A Community-Wide Affair

In the years before the modern funeral service, back before mass-produced caskets or even paved roads, a funeral in our region in the 19th and early 20th century was a time for an entire community to come together to support the family of the deceased. First, the women of the community would care for the deceased in the home by washing and dressing them, and would attend to the family by cooking and cleaning for them. No one was left to mourn alone.

Meanwhile, the men of the community would build a simple coffin out of wood, and would help with transporting the deceased to the cemetery. These early coffins didn’t have handles—the men would carry the coffin on their shoulders. It wasn’t unusual for funeral services to be held many weeks or even months after the burial. This gave clergy and extended members of the community time to travel for the funeral, by horse or by foot.

When it came time for burial, every member of the community would help. One by one, each friend and family member would place dirt upon the coffin, until the burial was complete.

Communities Stay Together, Even After The Funeral

The community’s care for the family of the deceased didn’t end after the funeral was over. The men from the community would take care of the family’s farm work, while the women from the community would continue to do the cooking. It was understood that bereavement could greatly impact a family’s lives and routines, and the community came together to help in any way they could. It was customary for the family of the deceased to do the same for their neighbors when the time came.

We believe that continued grief support is an important part of the grieving process. Like our ancestors, we know that a grieving journey can be long and complicated, and nearly everyone needs help along the way. We offer a number of resources available to our families who are experiencing grief.

Learning From Traditions Of The Past

These traditions might look a bit different today, but they haven’t disappeared from our community. We still hold dear the value of community members helping each other through this time. Additionally, some traditions we might consider “new,” like green burial, or waiting to hold a funeral to accommodate everyone who wants to be there, are actually ancient rituals that our ancestors practiced.

We are in the midst of a revival of some of our ancient traditions, and we can learn from those who came before us by remembering to lean on those who love us, and to offer help to those that are struggling. When funerals are considered a community-wide undertaking, we remind ourselves and those around us that we are not alone, and that a funeral brings us together in love and cooperation.

For five generations, the Farris Family has had the honor to serve the families of Virginia during their most difficult times. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about our funeral services and memorial services, please reach out to us at any time. We are always available.

This article references “Traditional Appalachian Funerals,” by William E. Phipps, and “A Perspective On Death In Appalachia,” by Donna Loughrige.


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19415 Lee Highway, Abingdon, VA

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