A condensed version of this list is available in the Tools and Checklists section of the site.
The first step to planning any funeral or memorial service should be to speak with the Deceased’s closest family (and sometimes friends) to decide on what type of service to choose. Family members often have suggestions that were expressed by the Deceased; these will usually conform to familiar family rituals that surround death. It’s important to consider religious preferences in the discussion. Also, funerals can cost several thousands of dollars, so a budget and discussion of who will provide the funds is important, though it can be difficult to discuss. Confirm a possible date with family and friends, and make sure to account for any mourners who will need to travel long distances.
Speak with your religious leader or a local funeral home if you need help with details such as burial site, cremation, casket/urn selection, transportation, flowers, etc. There is no legal requirement that you must use a funeral home in making the arrangements, but they are often helpful resources. (Please note: Make sure to know your rights; the Federal government has instituted some legal practices to help consumers avoid being swindled by funeral homes and there are also state laws that offer protection. Do not be afraid to speak up if you feel something is overpriced or if you feel the funeral director may be taking advantage of your grief.)
Select clothing and/or jewelry for the Deceased; be sure to select clothing/jewelry that reflects the Deceased and is an illustration of who they were. Many families choose to have symbolic jewelry buried or cremated with the Deceased including wedding bands and other important pieces. (Please note: The funeral home will likely need these items right away.)
Select a location for the funeral. There are endless options for sites of funerals. You can choose a funeral home, a family’s home, a church, at the graveside or some other location that was important to the Deceased. If the Deceased will be cremated or you are holding a memorial, the choices for location are more flexible as you do not have to consider transportation or display of a casket at the location.
Decide on the details of the service: if there will be a wake or visitation; who will conduct the service; if it will be closed or open casket or if an urn of the Deceased’s ashes will be present; who will give a eulogy; if there will be music, flowers or readings; if you will allow the attendees to share thoughts about the Deceased; who will be pallbearers if needed; if there will be programs or a display of pictures of the Deceased; if you will use a guest book; and any other details that may be required or requested by family and friends.
Write an obituary or have the funeral home write one for you and place it in the newspaper and/or online. Note that an obituary is considered “official” notification of the death to the public, but obituaries only posted online are not yet considered official. The obituary must be placed in the local newspaper(s) of general circulation to be considered a formal notice of death. (Please note: Be careful about how many personal details you include to avoid someone using the information in the obituary against the family or the Deceased.)
Consider what you would like to do with gifts from friends and family as many people will likely want to send flowers, food or do something to help the family through their time of need. Many families choose to ask people to make a donation to a specially created memorial fund or a charity in lieu of flowers. It is also a good idea to appoint someone to be in charge of collecting cards and other gifts at the funeral.
If you choose to use a funeral home, speak with them to coordinate your wishes with the services they provide. These will usually include transportation of the casket from the funeral home to the funeral site and then on to the cemetery. They can also arrange for police escorts for the procession from the funeral to the cemetery, as well as transportation for the family which might include limousines in formal funerals. Funeral directors and staff are usually great sources of information about arrangements in your community.
Discuss an overview of the day of the funeral with everyone. Make any arrangements for a pre- or post-funeral gathering, which often takes place at the home of the Deceased or next of kin. Make sure to discuss food and beverage considerations for that gathering. Guests will likely bring food, as giving food to the family of the Deceased is a custom that has been practiced for years in many cultures. Be sure all close family members and friends know when they need to arrive at the funeral and what their roles are for that day.
Finally, consider asking a neighbor, friend or even the local police to keep an eye on the families' homes during the service. Those who prey on the grief of families might try to burglarize the homes of the primary family members during the service. This happens because the service date and time are always printed in the obituary, along with the names of the survivors. It is not difficult for outsiders to look up the addresses of those listed in the obituary and use the knowledge of their absence to their advantage. Take precautions to avoid any problems.
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