Thankfully, most of us don't have to plan very many funerals. We find ourselves in unfamiliar territory for sure when planning the first one. Here's a partial checklist of things to do to make the process go a little more smoothly.
1) If you haven't already during your loved one's illness, you'll immediately want to start a thank you list - a list of people you'll need to thank for their service, meals, and many other things you haven't yet thought about. Trust me on this, you will most definitely forget people if you don't take this important step.
2) If there isn't a pre-written obituary (which I highly recommend), you'll want to start collecting info for it right away. You'll likely have people who live out-of-town that will start searching the internet for info and arrangements. You'll want to discuss in advance, who's to be listed as survivors. Some people feel strongly about listing stepchildren, friends, etc., or not, and this can be a volatile topic in some families. You'll want to identify the person with the best writing skills to review the obituary before sending it to the funeral home, social media, or newspapers.
3) Unbelievably, there are theft rings that target houses during funerals. They use obituaries to plan thefts. Consider asking someone to stay at your house during the service.
4) The decision to have an open or closed casket can also be a tough one that invokes strong feelings. In addition, there are several implications of this decision. For example, embalming is not required, and might not be necessary, if your loved one is cremated or if the casket remains sealed. I highly recommend that you discuss this decision in advance when possible.
5) Identify the friend or family member who is most proficient with publishing software to prepare a slideshow and program for the service. These two items are often most important to family members. You won't want to burden someone with this who isn't already familiar with software. Grandkids, nieces, and nephews are often a good choice and it helps them feel included in the planning.
6) You're going to want to pick out three to four songs if there's to be a service. Again, this can be a difficult decision and you might be surprised how strong the feelings are surrounding the choices. You can avoid conflict by choosing the music with your loved one before passing if you have the opportunity. You'll also want to think about any friends and/or family members who are musically talented and notify them as early as possible so that they can try to make travel arrangements and plans. It's customary to pay for a hotel room for any musicians or clergy who have to travel for the service.
7) You'll need to decide if there's to be a meal before or after the service and who should be invited. Some families invite all attendees while others include close family members only. Your church might provide the meal. Don't be afraid to speak up about what you want if one is provided for you. Everything about the service should honor your loved one and most of the people helping with the meal won't know him or her.
8) Don't be afraid to correct the funeral home as needed. Again, the service should honor your loved one. For example, some funeral homes automatically include an online opportunity to plant trees in memory of the deceased. If that's not something that was near and dear to them, it's okay to ask that it be removed. It's also okay, and recommended, that you correct the obituary as needed.
9) For anyone reading or speaking at the funeral, it's important to print programs and readings in large type. Public speaking is nerve-wracking for most people and you want speakers to be able to easily find their place if they get lost.
10) Once again, flowers are something that people can get excited about. This is another topic that is good to discuss before someone passes. If you order a spray for the casket, or other flowers, ask the flower shop you use to waive delivery fees for flowers ordered by others. Delivery, special handling, and taxes can be a large part of the price of flowers.
11) Be sure to fill vehicles with fuel the day before the service.
12) This next topic is a difficult one, but hey, losing a loved one is difficult. You might want to have an outfit ready for when the deceased leaves for the morgue. It's common for the person to be undressed when leaving the house, facility, or hospital. It doesn't have to be that way if this is something that's important to you. If the plan is to have an open casket service, the outfit used for it is even more important and you'll want to choose one that's somewhat similar to their normal dress, yet on the dressy side.
13) Funeral personnel will ask how many death certificates you want to order. Additional copies should cost about three dollars each and I recommend that you purchase a minimum of fifteen. It's much easier to purchase them from the funeral home than having to purchase more once they're depleted. The funeral home will get them in about two weeks if the person died of natural causes.
14) Determine the line up of vehicles if there will be a procession to a cemetery. The hearse is usually first, followed by one or two cars of immediate family members, followed by two pallbearer vehicles with clergy or speakers. You'll want to put someone in charge of lining up the vehicles as well. It's likely not necessary or practical to dictate the order of anymore vehicles than that.
Items for a funeral kit:
thank you cards. It's a nice touch to use the deceased's personal stationary if there is some.
a sign-in book for the service. The price will likely be double if purchased from the funeral home.
copies of the will. Please be sure you have a will. You don't want to die intestate unless you just don't like your family.
a list of flower shops and/or the name and phone number of a preferred flower shop
copies of paperwork for pre-paid funeral plots
an urn if cremated. I know it's odd to think about but you can buy a beautiful vase for hundreds less than the price charged at some funeral homes.
a pre-written obituary.
printer cartridges for any printers that might be used. You don't want to have to figure out which ink cartridge to buy nor run to an office supply store.
a photo to be used for the obituary and program. It can also be used on an easel next to the coffin if the casket will remain closed. Companies such as FastSigns, can print the photo of a foamboard for around $50.
an easel for the photo that will be placed next to the coffin - if needed
a list of hotels located close to services to share with people. It's a good idea to vet them in advance.
a list of caterers and food choices if there's to be a meal.
a list of preferred music and/ or songs
I hope that this article helps you get through what can be a most difficult time. Don't hesitate to call if we can help in any way!
Please see my next article for a list of costs to expect.