How to Plan and Organize a Funeral

Whether the deceased has made prepaid funeral and burial arrangements or not, the surviving family members must still answer questions, pay some bills, and plan the final details of both funeral and burial arrangements. They do this while grieving and stressed. The first step to take depends on where the loved one dies. If the loved one passes at home, the family should contact a funeral home and be prepared to stay with the loved one’s body while several essential pieces of official business are completed. Usually, the funeral home will arrange to have someone come to the home to pronounce the official death and perform the necessary paperwork before conveying the body to the funeral home. If the loved one dies in a hospital, the nurses will prepare the body, allow any family present to spend a few moments with their loved one, and then have the body transferred to the morgue. From here, a funeral home will be contacted.

The Funeral Director: Your Ally in Planning a Memorial Service

The funeral director and a pastor or priest are people to talk to first. The funeral director arranges for the burial or cremation, but he also does a great deal more. Even if you don’t plan to have the service or wake in the funeral home itself, you will work with a funeral director, who will handle some of the legalities, and will also walk you through the process of planning a service.

Tips for Planning a Non-Traditional Memorial Service

Choose a place for the service. It could be a small church, or a chapel in a church, or a community room. If the deceased was a member of an organization, the organization may have an appropriate facility. Some senior citizen residences and assisted living facilities have common rooms that can be booked for private parties, and if your relative was a resident, the convenience may encourage his or her friends from the facility to attend.

Decide on a day and time. Generally, people will come in about 15 minutes to a half an hour before the service is formally scheduled to being. The service itself may take anywhere from half and hour to an hour (or more). After the service, you might arrange to have cookies and coffee, hors d’oeuvres, or a whole spread for people to eat while they are chatting. Often, the family then goes out for a meal and invites others to join them.

Decide on a framework for the service. A chaplain can help you with this, even giving you a model of someone else’s program. Usual elements of a service are given below:

  • Opening music
  • Chaplain’s welcome
  • Bible reading
  • Music interlude (music played by a family member)
  • Bible reading
  • Eulogies by three speakers
  • Children’s remembrances
  • Closing remarks by a colleague
  • Closing remarks by the chaplain
  • Closing music

Write an obituary. Most newspapers offer tiny free obituaries. If you want a larger one, you may have to pay, depending on where you live. The funeral director can place the ad for you. You’ll also want to notify as many people as possible yourself. E-mail is fine.

Decide on extras. Flowers are a nice touch. A picture of the deceased is traditional. In addition, at some memorial services, family members arrange computer slide shows, or have poster boards with collages of pictures. (This is a project children can help with). A musician can be hired, or someone in the family can play. A printed program, with a picture and perhaps a more lengthy biography that you may have put in the paper, is also appropriate.

Prepaid Funeral Arrangements

When there is a prepaid funeral arrangement, it usually includes the following services: transfer of the body of the deceased, embalming and sanitary care, dressing and cosmetics, placement of the body in the casket, or cremation services. Be assured that reputable funeral homes take care of these duties with utmost respect and treat the body with dignity.

Also included are the services of the funeral hearse and/or service car, staff for visitation, ceremonies, and graveside service depending on the method of burial, the receiving of flowers, the printing of memorial cards and registry book, sending the obituary to the newspaper, and having death certificates made up.

The funeral home will contact the church where the funeral or memorial service is to be held as well as the staff at the burial site, and arrange for the gravestone to be placed and engraved.

Funeral Planning Checklist

Assuming that the funeral and burial has been prepaid and some arrangements made in advance, here is a day-by-day checklist for information that is needed from the family in the days immediately following the death. Have family and friends help with some of these duties, since those who are grieving the most may not be able to talk on the phone or make decisions quickly.

First Day To-Do List for Funeral Planning

  • Make phone calls to immediate family and close friends to notify of the death.
  • If the deceased died in a nursing home, the family may only be given one day to remove all the belongings. Someone will have to sign for the belongings. It is important to see the list of what the patient had at the nursing home, so ask for the list, and be sure to read it carefully before signing.
  • Provide the clothes the deceased will wear. This is needed for cremations as well.
  • Decide on the date and time for the funeral. Will the burial immediately follow the funeral or not? Keep in mind that many grave sites charge extra for weekend burials.
  • Read over the draft of the obituary and make any changes necessary.
  • Contact the deceased’s lawyer regarding the will, and have the executor meet with the lawyer as soon as possible.
  • Contact the church minister who will be performing the funeral or memorial service and burial.

Second Day To-Do List for Funeral Planning

  • Arrange for an organist and any special musical performances, and find out what those will cost.
  • If the church does not provide a meeting hall for serving food, check other locations and prices.
  • Arrange for refreshments/caterers if there will be food served to funeral attendees.
  • Make sure there will be enough tables and chairs at the reception to fit the serving tables and all the funeral attendees.
  • Does the caterer provide table linens? Plates and utensils? Is this a separate cost from the food and drinks?
  • Make phone calls again to the immediate family and close friends, informing them of the viewing and funeral service time and locations. Then contact the less immediate family and friends who would want to be told of the death and funeral.
  • Decide who is to give the eulogy at the funeral or memorial service.
  • Contact family and friends who could serve as pallbearers. A memorial service following a cremation may not involve mortuary staff, so find family and friends who could serve as ushers.

Third Day and Beyond To-Do List for Funeral Planning

  • If the deceased did not pre-plan the funeral service, then the immediate family will have to decide on hymns and other elements of the service with the help of the minister.
  • Gather together framed photos and memorabilia representing the deceased to display on a showcase table at the viewing. Assign someone to be in charge of setting up and taking down the display.
  • Call the deceased’s insurance companies, retirement check provider, and credit card companies to notify them of the death. The funeral home will probably contact the government and/or Social Security and send them a death certificate, but ask the funeral director to make sure.
  • Ask the lawyer to advise about other organizations and agencies to be notified. Some of these groups such as banks need legal notifications and not just a phone call.

Funerals Serve to Reunite Family and Friends

Although a stressful time for the immediate family, the days following a death can become a time to renew familial bonds with distant relatives, grow closer together by comforting and serving each other, and rekindle friendships dulled by time. The days of sadness following the death of a loved one can become a time of reunion.

As our lives become more complicated and more diverse, many families find that they have complicated mixtures of religions and value systems. People move a great deal, and may not die in the community in which they lived most of their lives. A memorial service is a chance to celebrate a life, and with today’s newfound and acceptable freedom in this areas, the service you plan has the potential to truly memorialize and celebrate the life of a loved one.