Amish gravesites are marked with simple headstones with little writing and no ornamentation.
The Amish, like all religious groups, have particular customs that they observe upon the death of a family member. Funeral practices of the Lancaster Amish settlement differ somewhat from those in other areas.
In the Illinois Amish country and Arthur area for many years now, the body is taken to a local funeral director who is familiar with Amish funeral customs. Family members might wash the body before the undertaker comes for the body. One local funeral home has a large Amish clientele, and still uses the same horse-drawn hearse, said to be the first one in the county. Coffins are stored at the funeral home, basically in three sizes. They are six sided, with two pieces on hinges that fold down to reveal the body from the chest up. The funeral director puts the lining in the coffins as they come from the Amish who make them. Each coffin also has a "rough box," an outer wooden structure into which the coffin is lowered at the grave.
The undertaker embalms the body and normally dresses it in long underwear before placing it in the coffin and returning to the Amish family. The body is usually dressed in white clothing by family members of the same sex. For men, this usually means white pants, vest, and shirt; for women a white dress, cape, and apron. In many cases the white cape and apron is the same one she wore on her wedding day.
In the meantime, word goes out about the death to relatives and those in the church district. An obituary appears in the local newspaper. Prior to the day of the funeral service and burial, usually three days after the death, friends and neighbors come to the home to view the body. This is a somber time, with men and women, dressed in black, quietly sitting in one or two rooms. Visitors greet the family members, and then are asked if they would like to see the body. They are taken to the coffin, and the white sheet or cloth is pulled back to reveal the face of the deceased. The undertaker does not use make-up or cosmetics on the face when he embalms the body.
On the day of the funeral, a church service is held in the home. During the sermons, the minister stands near the coffin to address the congregation. The custom is not to eulogize of speak of the deceased. Rather ministers tend to talk about the creation story, from dust man was created and to dust he returns. Common Scriptural passages are John 5:20-30 and the latter portion of I Corinthians 15, both dealing with the resurrection of the dead.
Since many carriages will be going to the cemetery, a number designating the order is often written in chalk on the side of the buggy. The coffin is placed in the hearse, a box-like enclosed carriage drawn by a horse. The long line of carriages heading to the cemetery is a solemn, impressive sight.
There are about 20 Amish cemeteries in Illinois Amish country. Gravestones are fairly uniform. No one shows his status or wealth with an extravagant tombstone. The stone states the name, birth date, death date, and age in years, months, and days. A majority of the tombstones are written in English now days. In many cemeteries you will still find some headstones written in German. Cemeteries usually have an area where the horse and buggies can park.
At the cemetery, the grave has already been dug. There is no singing. Rather, a hymn is read by the minister or bishop until the grave is filled by the pallbearers. The Lord’s Prayer is prayed silently. Following this, people go to their carriages and some return to the home for a simple meal.
Like so many of their religious ceremonies, the Amish are reminded that their focus should not be so much on this world as on the world yet to come.
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