What do we do after a person dies?

Throughout human history and in places around the world, people have done many different things with their dead. The ancient Egyptians, for instance, took great care when preparing the bodies of their dead rulers; it was believed that their leaders were immortal and would need their bodies in another world after death (the afterworld). In a process that took several months, ancient Egyptians carefully preserved dead bodies through a process called embalming. They wrapped the bodies with layers of linen, wax, and spices. Some of these mummies still exist today, some 6,000 years later.

In the United States today, most people are buried in coffins. Funeral ceremonies take place so that people can honor the deceased and give comfort and support to his or her family and friends. Music, prayers, and eulogies speeches remembering and praising the dead person are often a part of these ceremonies. A funeral usually ends when the deceased is taken to a cemetery, a place where bodies are buried in the ground. A headstone or marker listing the person’s name, birth and death date, and other information is placed at the burial spot. Family members and friends may later visit and decorate the grave site with flowers in memory of their loved one.

Many times, too, people choose to be cremated instead of buried. In a cremation, the body is burned until nothing but ashes remain. According to the wishes of the person who died, these ashes might then be buried, or kept in an urn, or sometimes they are scattered over the land of a place that was important to the deceased. One of the most creative things that were done with somebody’s ashes happened when Gene Roddenberry (the creator of the Star Trek series) had his ashes put aboard the space shuttle Columbia after his death in 1991. Later, his wife Majel’s ashes were also launched into space, as were the ashes of James Doohan, who played Scotty in the original series.