We at Persephone believe in telling the truth, even about the most uncomfortable topics. The truth is, most of us will have to plan a funeral at least once in our lives. Making the kinds of decisions that need to be made after someone dies would be hard in the best of circumstances; tackling them while grieving and in shock is very challenging.
When my mom died, I was pretty sure my dad wouldn’t be up for taking care of the details, so I offered to make the arrangements. Fortunately, I had friends and family around to help. Which brings us to the first step in planning a loved one’s funeral:
1. Ask for help. There’s a lot to do and not a lot of time in which to do it. The people who love you will be asking what they can do to help, don’t hesitate to delegate tasks to them.
2. One of the first things you’ll need to do is contact the funeral home. They’ll bring your loved one to their facility and schedule a meeting with you to discuss the arrangements. Military and other service funerals (like for police and firefighters) have their own protocols and traditions, if you’re planning such a funeral you’ll need more information than this article will provide.
3. Before you meet with the funeral director, you’ll need to know or decide if your loved one wanted to be buried, placed in a crypt or cremated. The director will probably ask you to bring a set of clothing and items like eyeglasses or dentures. You’ll also need a recent photograph, a list of names for all immediate relatives (parents, siblings, children, spouse) the deceased’s social security number (for obtaining copies of the death certificate) and date of birth and marriage. It also helps to have a list of music, names of any charities for donations and if you’d like to choose your own officiant.
4. During the meeting, you’ll choose a coffin, arrange for a showing or service, provide the funeral home with information about any applicable church or cemetery, and discuss cost. It’s expensive, and most funeral homes have options available to help pay the costs over time. Outside the cost of the coffin, which can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, you’re paying for preparation of the body, handling of official paperwork, the obituary, transportation costs, the showing and/or service, burial, internment or cremation costs and various other services and fees. Funeral prices can vary widely depending on where you live, and most funeral homes offer plans in a range of prices. If the deceased had an active life insurance policy, in some cases that may be signed directly to the funeral home to cover costs.
5. As you’re meeting with the funeral director, you’ll also need to contact your loved one’s friends and family. Nowadays it’s a good idea to check/know if your loved one had friends online or participated in any internet communities. This is a great task to delegate, and most friends will be happy to take this task off your plate.
6. Contact a florist, who can help you pick a floral arrangement.
7. Speak with the officiant, especially if they didn’t know your loved one personally. Jot down some of the stories and memories that you treasure the most to share, as well as any of your loved one’s favorite quotes or scripture.
8. Get rest and eat when you can. Being busy can help push you through those initial periods of intense grief, but remember to take care of yourself.
After the service, when all the family has gone home, there are still a few things left to do.
9. If your loved one received benefits from Social Security, you’ll need to contact them and send a copy of the death certificate within 30 days of the death.
10. If he/she received a pension, you’ll need to contact the administrators and possibly send a death certificate to them, as well.
11. If your loved one did not have a will or did not name a beneficiary, you may need to contact an attorney about handling the estate.
12. Accounts, subscriptions and services in your loved one’s name will need to be closed or transferred. Most outstanding bills need to be paid, but some companies will work with you if you’re unable to.
All of this underscores the importance of thinking about the ‘what ifs?’ without dwelling on them. A few uncomfortable conversations now can save you and those you love from having to make grief filled decisions later.