Sadly, there will come a time when many people will have the distressing task of arranging the funeral of a loved one. Whether it's a spouse, parent, child or sibling, their death will be traumatic enough, but the thought of going into a funeral directors premises and not knowing what to expect, can be very upsetting and daunting.
Knowing the process in advance, and what will be expected of you, will ease the burden a bit, so the following guide may help those of you who have never had to do this before.
You do not have to contact the funeral home immediately following the death
It is up to you when you visit the funeral home; you do not have to contact them immediately death has occurred. The death will have to be registered - within five days of the death occurring - and the registrar will give you a certificate for the funeral director, usually called the 'green form', so you can leave it until you've registered. If the coroner is involved, the funeral cannot take place until he has completed his findings, so the registration will be delayed.
The main thing is, go to the funeral directors when you feel ready and able to cope with the many, often upsetting, questions you will be asked. You can either make an appointment, or just turn up, it doesn't matter, they are prepared for both. You will be taken into a private room, offered refreshments, and then somebody should come in and introduce themselves as your funeral arranger/director.
Funeral homes are not the dreary places they used to be, the chances are you will be seen by a kind young woman, rather than the 'Adams family' look-a-like people equate with an undertaker. The premises are often light and airy, in calming colours, nothing like the sombre dark furnishings of years ago.
Maybe think about the type of service you require before going to the Funeral Director
It may help before you go, if you can think of the type of service you require - religious/non religious, burial or cremation for instance.
You will be asked a lot of questions, and will have to sign a couple of forms; if your loved one died in hospital, you may have to sign a form giving the funeral directors permission to collect the body and take it back to their chapel of rest. If it is to be a cremation, you will have to sign a form for the cremation to take place, called the 'A' form and usually a form from the funeral directors showing all their fees.
Allow plenty of time to discuss your options
The arrangements can take anything from half an hour to a couple of hours, depending on how well in advance you are prepared. Some people go in knowing exactly what they want, others have no idea, so to be prepared in advance will cut down the amount of time you need to be there.
Some typical questions will be -
Burial or cremation?
Is the deceased to be dressed in one of the funeral home robes, or his/her own clothes?
Is the deceased wearing jewellery, and is it to stay on or be removed?
You may want to pass it down to a member of the family.
Do you want to visit your loved one in the Chapel of Rest?
If this is requested, hygienic treatment - most commonly known as embalming - will probably be carried out, and the funeral director/arranger, should ask the permission of the next of kin/person arranging the funeral for this to take place. Embalming is an invasive procedure, which involves replacing the body fluid with a preserving fluid, ensuring that the deceased is preserved and ready for people to visit him or her.
Not all funeral directors carry out this procedure, but most do, and they should inform the next of kin/person arranging the funeral that it will take place. There are certain conditions, which mean the body cannot be embalmed, such as septicaemia, but the funeral director will discuss this with you if this is the case. Because this is an invasive procedure, you may feel that you don't want it done to your loved one, so you can say that you do not want it to take place.
Is there a particular minister you would like to officiate at the service?
What music/ hymns/songs are to be played at the service?
Here in the UK people can have anything they want nowadays, and can provide their own CDs, as most crematoriums are set up for this purpose. I've had some strange requests in the past. One family had 'Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye', another had 'Always look on the bright side of Life'. We've also had Meatloaf's 'Bat out of Hell', so really, you can have whatever you like.
Are there to be flowers and/or donations?
Some people have family flowers only, but donations to a certain charity, others say anyone can send flowers, some say no flowers at all.
What is to be done with the ashes after the cremation?
They can be scattered in the crematorium's garden of rest, or you can collect them from the funeral directors and keep them until you have decided what to do with them. There is no rush to collect the ashes; however, we had cremated remains in our ashes store going back eight years and more, so it may be a good idea to collect them when you feel able to.
Will a limousine be required, if so, where does it need to go to pick up and drop people off?
Each limousine can usually hold around six mourners.
Is catering required?
If people are travelling long distances, you may wish to provide refreshments afterwards.
Do you want Order of Service sheets?
You will be asked to choose a coffin, either from a brochure, or if the funeral home has one, their coffin showroom. This is usually the thing that upsets people the most, so take your time; there is no rush to make a decision. You can go home and think about these things, then let the funeral arranger know when you've made a decision. It depends how you feel about it, but there is no need to purchase an expensive coffin, if it is to be cremated. Funerals are very expensive nowadays, so a simple coffin should suffice.
It may greatly help you and other relatives to say goodbye in your own special ways, so you can take in photos, letters and children's drawings to put in the coffin. Children may like to do a drawing for 'Grandpa', or you may want to put a favourite photo of yourself and your beloved husband/parent/sibling in the coffin with them. There is a limit on the type of materials that can be cremated, but photos, paper and cuddly toys are fine.
Perhaps write a letter to your loved one
It is sometimes nice to write the deceased a letter telling them how much you cared and will miss them, and this also helps in the grieving process. Really, whatever gives you comfort, you can do, within reason. I even remember somebody hiring a video crew to video their loved one in the coffin at our Chapel of Rest. Not something I would want to do, but if it helped ease the grief of that family, then it was right for them.
Funerals are not the dreary affairs they once used to be, and death isn't as taboo a subject. People are positively encouraged now to make their loved one's service as special as they can, with things such as a motorbike hearse, horse and carriage, balloon or dove release, and the deceased's favourite songs.
I sympathise with anyone in this sad situation, but I hope that reading this article and knowing what to expect will help ease the burden a little.