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How to Honor a Loved One Who Didn’t Plan Their Funeral

Posted on February 18, 2021

Dealing with the death of a loved one is hard. Planning a funeral when there was no plan in place is even harder.

Before you read any further, take a moment to consider your funeral plans.

It may sound morbid, but it’s the most useful thing you can do for both your family and your memory.

Do you have any funeral plans outlined on paper or in a saved document? Do you know if you’d like to be buried or cremated? Do you know if you’d like your funeral to be held in a church?

These are just a fraction of the things to consider when looking at end-of-life planning. When someone has laid this kind of groundwork, it relieves their family from the burden of planning to instead refocus on their grieving process.

So, how do you properly plan for someone who didn’t do any preplanning? Here are some of the best ways to ensure your loved one is best reflected in their funeral, while making the planning process easier for you.

Survey close family and friends

We’re not suggesting creating an actual survey. An informal one will do.

Start by holding a family meeting or calling your loved one’s closest friends to ask questions.

Here are some questions you can ask to help understand what your loved one may have wanted from their funeral:

  • Did they mention how they wanted to be remembered?
  • Do you know if they had a favourite quote or song?
  • Have they ever mentioned funeral planning with you?
  • Was there another funeral or occasion you attended with them where they mentioned something they liked, or mentioned something that stood out?
  • How do you believe they would want to be honored?

Take detailed notes as you go and start compiling a plan based on the feedback you get. Getting a mosaic of information will help build a foundation for planning and give you a better idea of what your loved one might have wanted.

Exploring their network of family and friends will also help inform you on how large the event should be. If they kept a smaller circle of friends or were more introverted, it may be more fitting to plan for a smaller celebration.

Where to remember them

Selecting a funeral home and final burial place are among the bigger aspects of funeral planning. These are also some of the bigger line items in the funeral planning budget.

If your loved one didn’t specify a particular funeral home or location, there are a few things to consider when looking.

  • Proximity to home. Is there a place in their neighborhood, accessible to friends, family and colleagues?
  • Cost. How does it compare to other, similar options?
  • Approach. How do you think your loved one would identify with the team and their approach at this particular location?

Selecting a burial place, especially where a headstone or grave marker will be erected, is even more personal. It becomes a permanent memorial spot, where family and friends can gather to remember.

Think of where your loved one enjoyed spending their time. You may find a place near water, or in a wooded area. Maybe there is a graveyard in proximity to their home or childhood neighborhood. Weigh these against costs and availability of plots.

Look to their history

You know your loved one best, especially if you’re tasked with planning their funeral.

You likely already have a strong idea of who they were, what they loved and how they’d like to be remembered - even if they didn’t put it down on paper.

If you have access to their home, use it as inspiration. Draw from family photographs, art and favourite books. These will help you envision elements of a funeral, like how family-focused it should be or if there are themes to consider.

Take a walk through their closet and select the right burial attire. Choose an outfit they loved or felt their best in.

If they were on social media, mine their social media profiles for information and elements for their memorial. It’s common at funerals to have a scrapbook wall of images that represent all areas of the deceased’s life. Social media sites are a great repository of those images.

Depending on the frequency of their posts, you may even be able to find some favourite quotes or song lyrics to include in the funeral program or speeches. Choosing words that really meant something to your loved one can go a long way in remembering them.

What about work?

Often, our work lives and the people intertwined in them are separate from our personal lives. But the work we do reflects who we are and what we’re passionate about. This is especially true when a loved one has had a long-standing career.

Be sure to connect with colleagues who worked with your loved one and hear their stories.

If they were close to their colleagues, ensuring those people are informed and invited to the funeral helps make sure the event is more inclusive.

Working within financial constraints

Funerals, burials and cremations aren’t cheap. They all come with a set of line items that can add up. Financial constraints can be a determining factor when it comes to planning. The average funeral in the United States and Canada may range from $8,000 to $12,000, once all of the expenses are tallied.

First and foremost, honor the budget. Your loved one may have funeral insurance or have set aside funds for their funeral. If there are no funds available and you or other family members are going out-of-pocket, this will likely impact the type of funeral you plan.

Whatever the budget, you have options when it comes to planning.

Cremation with a simple urn is one of the most cost-effective options. You can save money by planning a memorial celebration for a small group at home, rather than at a venue.

If you’re planning a funeral and burial, you can always adjust your budget based on things like:

  • Casket
  • Flowers
  • Funeral home
  • Grave marker or headstone
  • Etc…

Be kind to yourself

Dealing with grief while unexpectedly planning a funeral from scratch is emotionally exhausting. Above all, remember to think of your mental health. Avoid putting pressure on yourself to make the event “perfect” or be exactly the funeral your loved one would have wanted. Accept help when others offer it. The thought truly does count. Make reasonable efforts to have the funeral represent your loved one and your work is complete.

Author(s): My Coda's Editorial Team

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