Freemasons are people from all walks of life who pride themselves on moral virtues and religious practice. To be a mason is to partake in the social and the spiritual betterment of present day society, in hopes that such values will carry over to future generations. Masonic symbolism is shrouded in mystery and cannot be fully explained unless you are part of the brotherhood; however, there are many Masonic examples that are out in the open, particularly in regards to the rituals that occur at the time of a Mason's death.
Masonic Allegory of Death
Masons have a peculiar allegory about death that expresses their belief in the afterlife. It's an ominous drawing called "Time and the Virgin" depicting an old man holding a scythe, much like the grim reaper, behind a young female who is weeping over an open book and broken column. The old man is analogous to the Greek god Chronos, an aspect of time personified. This image symbolises that every Mason must be patient and persevere with thoughts of hope when death strikes, and how once people pass away the concept of time becomes eternal and thus the soul immortal.
Masonic Funeral Ceremony
During a Masonic funeral, the deceased Mason is placed into a coffin with his Masonic attire draped over his body, such as his apron to symbolise how he lived his life in purity and temperance. A piece of evergreen is then laid on his heart to symbolise the immortality of his soul, and the peacefulness in which it now rests. Generally, family and friends attend the funeral service along with other Masonic brothers; even if they did not personally know him, other Masons can pay respect to his life as a member of the Freemasonic fraternity.
Every Mason gets the same Masonic prayer recited during his funeral, regardless of his religious background. The Masonic chaplain or clergyman reads a eulogy that speaks about the principles of Freemasonry. The chaplain speaks about how a Mason builds his character the same way he builds a house, and how once a person dies his soul is placed in the temple of heaven, built by God, whom the Masons call "The Grand Architect of the Universe." The prayer may also include the reciting of Psalm 23 from the Bible, which is a standard for many non-Masonic funerals as well.
Many Masons are honoured after their death with the erection of a heavily symbolic monument at their grave site. This monument may include a statue of the Mason's likeness, or just a column with Masonic etching over it. Often, a soldier or commander who fell during a war is given a broken pillar, such as the one displayed in Albany Rural Cemetery, to symbolise the unfinished life. There is also a famous statue called "Friend to Friend" at the Gettysburg Cemetery, which depicts an act of "Brotherly Love" between fellow Freemasons.