How To Avoid Disaster at a Funeral.

time to say goodbye

Death is a difficult time.  The dynamics and emotions involved often create situations unlike any others you will ever encounter and despite the intentions of the best of families the situation often deteriorates into unhappiness for those left behind.  Many of the incidents that cause the drama could be easily avoided with some careful planning.

  1. Make sure everyone knows who the executor is.  The executor has to carry out the last wishes and cannot know those last wishes unless they have frequent conversations and ask questions.  The executor then needs to guide the family through the process of the  final wishes.

  1. Accept that it is an emotional time for everyone.  Introspection about life and value is often painful and sensitivities are high.  It is not a time people are best able to make difficult decisions or navigate complicated situations.  Make some allowance for those vulnerabilities.  Be gentle with one another.
  1. Plan.  Plan.  Plan.  Unless a loved one is taken by violence, an accident or a natural disaster, there is most often some warning that death is coming.  Talk about death and what is wanted and not wanted.  Ask specific questions.  It is not enough to say you want to be cremated.  Where are the ashes to go and not go?  What is to be worn?  What is to be included or not, such as jewellery?  Open casket or not?  What type of service?  What specifically do you want and not want?  The more a person can specify music, photos, speakers, invitation for those attending to share, flowers etc etc, the better.  A funeral home can be a great help in helping you consider what needs to be decided.  Let the person have as much input as they are capable of and comfortable with, remembering that it is not about YOUR discomfort, it is about their need to reconcile their lives and sometimes they just need to be given permission by YOU to be able to talk about these things.
  1. Have the person come up with some system to mark where they want things to go.  The selling the assets, dividing the money, those are the broad sweeps, but it is all the little things, wanting people to have certain objects that can cause the biggest fights.  Put different coloured dots on the things you want to go to different people, keep the legend for the dots in a safe place.  Or, keep a little notebook handy and as you think of things jot down who they should go to, try to cover as much as possible.  It will help incredibly.  Don’t forget about people in your life who might love a little reminder of you such as grandchildren or good friends.  Perhaps you can simply let your executor know that if you have forgotten someone, or if someone wants something, they are free to choose something from the things you have not designated.  Trust me, someone always gets forgotten and those little things go a long way in smoothing over hurt feelings.
  1. Especially consider the family and attendance during a prolonged ending.  How can you include those family members far away?  What is fair with expectations considering time commitments to job and family and finances.  When the end is near, who has to travel?  Who wants to travel?  Who cannot travel?  What about accommodation when they arrive?  Someone to pick them up from the airport?  Travel once they are here?
  1. Make sure everyone who will be there is clear on the last wishes regarding life support etc.   This is not a fight you want to have.  Let the hospital know who is in charge of those final wishes and encourage the family to go through THAT person for information.  This means THAT person must provide accurate and complete information to everyone in the family so that everyone is included and up to date.  That needs to be considered when choosing a person to handle these things.  Who can work with everyone and will do the right thing and include everyone?
  1. As soon as you know that someone’s health is beginning to fail, make sure you let people know so that they can decide whether to visit while there is still time.  Don’t filter.  Give people the information and let them figure out what to do with it.  Many people make the effort at these times to resolve past difficulties.  This can be very healing in allowing the person to pass with peace, but also for the people left behind.
  1. Do your research concerning a funeral home well prior to death.  Compare prices and options and suitability.  SHOP so you will get the best value for dollar spent so your loved one can be buried with dignity.  Speak to people you know who may have had recent experience.  Don’t ever just pick a funeral home after a person has died and you must find one immediately to take care of the body.  It is the wrong time to have to make such important decisions.  If you do your homework, you can state with confidence to the others what the costs will be and concentrate on your loved one and not a budget.  Be sure to guide the others in the process, letting them know that the casket they want is way outside the budget and if you go with that you will have to compromise in other areas, etc.
  1. Consider that if you are working with a funeral home they can meet with the person who is ill and help relieve their fears by making sure their final requests will be met.  They also can be on board to come and collect the body as soon as a doctor releases it.
  1. Know what the process is once death has occurred.  If you are at a home, you may be required to call an ambulance and/or the police.  A doctor or a coroner may have to attend to pronounce.  If you do not have a funeral home prearranged to collect the body, the body will go to the morgue while you get things organized.  It is not the hospital’s job to make arrangements for you.  It is not their job to advise you on what you should do.  If you are in a hospital, they will need to move the body to the morgue as soon as the family is finished.  They cannot leave the body in a room to suit your time schedule.  You do not want any loved one to have to view a body in the morgue.  It is much kinder and gentler to have any viewings at the funeral home.  Trust me, there are practical things to consider in preparing the body for your family to see.  Find out what happens where you live and be prepared.
  1. Have a couple of good pictures of your loved one on hand to provide for the funeral home.  This is important, especially if they have never met the deceased as this will guide them as to how you want them to prepare the body.  Hair style is one of the biggest considerations and next is the amount of, or lack of make-up.  The purpose of viewing a body at a funeral is often to instil a final impression of peace and calm for the family and friends.  You want your loved one to be recognizable, not guessed at.
  1. It can be so helpful to have the family attend the funeral home together once the person has passed.    The director will explain everything and prompt you with those decisions that need to be made.  People can ask questions.  The intents of the person who has passed can be explained and then the desires and wishes of the family can be considered in planning the funeral.   Everyone will be on the same page, they will know what is happening, they will feel included.  You have a better chance of not forgetting things.  It can be very helpful to enforce the budget or to have the witnessed offer that “John” would be happy to pay for extra flowers separate from the division of the costs amongst the others, etc.
  1. Introduce the family to the funeral director/people who will be handling the funeral.  You do not want a family member being mistaken for a guest on the day.  You can also cover any special needs, such as someone in the family who might be blind, or deaf, or a disabled child that might get disruptive.  Let the director know how you would like a situation like the child handled, as in, “everyone in the family understands, dad had a special relationship with him, and would not want him shushed.”
  1. Make sure you SEE examples of the flowers so you know what your money is providing.  You always have the option of getting the flowers from somewhere else if you are not completely happy.  Flowers are the one very personal touch that is added to a funeral.  What were the person’s favourite flower?  Make sure you ask because the answer often surprises people.  Look at the room where the funeral is being held, where will flowers delivered be set?  Does the room need something more to make it more inviting?  A picture perhaps?
  1. Should loved ones send flowers or is there somewhere the money spent on flowers should be sent instead?  Perhaps the hospital that cared for your family member, a charity or a community program they participated in or supported?
  1. Carefully consider the obit, you will need extra heads on this one so no-one is forgotten and no names are misspelled.  You might even want to write up the obit prior to death and have your loved one approve or alter it as they would like.  The obit is often how many people find out about the passing. There may well be people you are not aware of who would like to attend.   It is often kept as a remembrance.  You might even like to have them printed up and few to hand out for those who do not get the paper.
  1. What should be printed on the programme?  What pictures should be used?  Will there be a slide show?  Make sure you check on the pictures other family members have, you want to use the best you can, and as much as you love your pics, they may not be the best available.  Plus, this is just one more way to make people feel included.  Let other family members who want to, help . . . With everything they can.    Trust me, there are so many things to think of, everyone can benefit from the input and promptings of others in the family.  You want to do all the work so that on the day of the funeral, everyone is on board, knows what is happening, and can simply focus on the loved one.
  1. What music will be played?  Is someone singing or playing an instrument?  Make sure you speak to them about what they might need to set up and see whether they can rehearse just prior to the funeral or the night before if they need.  If you are using a recording, you will want to assure it is a good quality recording.  Also think about the prelude and postlude music as this is yet another way in which you can personalize the service.  Most funeral homes are happy to play whatever you provide them with.
  1. Is there to be a viewing?  When?  How will that happen, who will be included?
  1. Will others be allowed to share at the end of the service?  Find out if there is a funeral booked in after you because often, if there is not, they are quite happy to allow you some extra time for comments.  You will need to have a gentle moderator in charge of this so it does not drag on but you will be surprised how these things often work out beautifully.  You can always suggest time is up but people are invited to gather somewhere afterward to continue their sharing.
  1. Consider that people who may want to say something, and should, but who are not good speakers or are afraid, can be given help to write out what they want to say and can stand and have someone with them to read it, or just have it read.
  1. Include everyone.  There can never be too much love.  It fosters healing.
  1. Consider that everyone has their own way of grieving, this is what a funeral is about, to facilitate the healing for those of us left behind.  Do everything you can to be considerate of that and to help people do and say what they need to.  Sometimes people want to tuck a letter into the coffin, or a small token . . . these things are so irrelevant to any planned process and if they help the requestor to let go,  … let them if you can.
  1. It is lovely to have one bouquet that is set up to allow the family members to take a single flower home with them.  Some people like to have a flower to throw on top of the coffin as they say their final goodbye graveside.  Consider where the flowers from the funeral are to go afterwards.  There are obvious choices for a partner of a deceased, or the parents of a child etc.  Sometimes there is no clear cut choice.  Perhaps they could be divided up, or donated.
  1. To take the body to its final resting place, to witness one final time, the essence of the person who has passed is a great responsibility.  It is not about you.  It is about the person and a family is often an ambassador of that representation.  Welcome people, be kind.   In death, most people forget about past hurts and anger.  There is only love.  Let it be a time of healing for everyone.
  1. Tend to the practical money matters quickly.  The more you are prepared and know what is required, the easier it will be.  Bank information, notifications that must be made, any monies coming in etc.
  1. Be more time sensitive to the people matters.  People need time to grieve and while you might be handling it fine and are ready to start going through the will or moving people, they may need as much time as you can allow to be ready.  Particularly dissuade a partner from making any huge changes for at least 6 months where possible.  It is just too much at once and decisions made in haste are often later regretted.
  1. The death and funeral are the easy part in dealing with the loss.  It is the long days after when everyone else goes back to their normal lives and moves on and you realize that your life will never be normal again without the person you lost, that becomes difficult.  Try if you can to get together, to at least talk with one another, and to recognize grief is a process without rules and that everyone will find their own way, their own pace … and need to be supported.

Above everything, communication is key.  With communication can come planning.  Most discord and upset occurs because there is no plan or the plan is not shared or because people are not sure if “mom told him what she told me.”

2 thoughts on “How To Avoid Disaster at a Funeral.

  1. I never took into account that showing pictures of the deceased to a funeral home can help determine how the body should be prepared. That being said, I wonder if it would be ideal to bring both really nice photos of them, or if they can also benefit from casual ones as well. Not only that, but it could be interesting to learn more about what they are looking for and the different strategies they have for preparing.


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