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Where to Start When Planning a Funeral

Posted on March 25, 2021

Funerals require a lot of coordination - especially when nothing is pre-planned. Pair this with the emotional weight of grief, and you’re faced with shouldering a heavy burden.

But, it doesn’t have to feel this way.

There are tactics and strategies you can employ to make funeral planning as smooth - and easy - as possible, while still properly honoring your loved one.

Evaluate the will, estate and official documents

Before you dive into funeral planning, ensure you have all of the paperwork and official documentation you need.

Often, people will outline their wishes for a funeral in their will. Even if you haven’t accessed this document before, you may unearth some information you didn’t have previously.

If you’re the executor, you will most likely have access to these documents. If you’re not, working with the executor to find information about funeral planning is a natural first step.

With these documents, also come details of their estate. Here are some things to look out for before you can initiate any funeral plans:

  • Did they have insurance for a funeral?
  • Did they have a life insurance policy from which funds for a funeral could be taken?
  • Did they have an account set aside for funeral planning?
  • After fees, taxes and payments, how much is left to organize and enact a funeral?

Budget before planning

When it comes to funeral planning, your budget really defines the event.

The average funeral, both in the United States and Canada, can range from anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000, depending on the location and cost of each item.

Some of the largest costs are incurred from the funeral event itself, as well as the casket and burial.

If your loved one didn’t have insurance to cover funeral costs, or remaining funds in their estate for funeral planning, the costs will likely be shared among family and friends. How much you choose to spend and which resources you’re able to pool together vary widely by family.

The important thing to remember, is that it really is the thought and sentiment behind the celebration of life that counts. If your budget doesn’t allow for a casket or ceremony, you can opt for a more cost-efficient option, like a cremation or a more budget-friendly funeral home and casket.

Seeking an alternative celebration

In the event you’re unable to hold the funeral you would have wanted for your loved one, that doesn’t mean you’re unable to celebrate your loved one’s life.

If your budget does constrain your ability to hold a more formal gathering, opt for something like a lunch reception at a local church or community hall. Host friends, family and colleagues at home for a potluck or barbecue. Make your loved one’s favorite foods and play their favorite music. You can still organize speeches, readings and share stories - even without a typical venue.

Appoint some helpers

Funeral planning is stressful, especially when you’re already faced with grief.

Don’t go into this alone.

Appoint close friends and family members to help you with the process. Make a list of tasks and assign them to the right, responsible people to see them through.

You can also seek professional assistance.

Funeral homes and those who plan funerals build their businesses based on compassion. They’ve seen every manner of grief and have seen through the planning of thousands of funerals. Work closely with the funeral director and their team, delegating tasks to them where you’re able.

Put yourself in their shoes

Think of what your loved one would really want.

Were they outgoing and a hit at parties? Chances are, they have a wider circle and would want a bigger celebration. Quiet and reserved? They’d probably want quite the opposite of a large, loud gathering.

Think of how they would react if you were sharing your plans with them.

Take some time to go through their home, old photographs and favorite books and movies. All of these can act as inspiration.

Did they have a favorite outfit? A hairstyle they were fond of? A cherished pair of shoes? Those are the kinds of personal touches to look for when deciding what they should be buried in.

Did they have a song that they loved? Or quote? Or biblical verse? Work these into the songs and speeches for the ceremony.

There are so many ways to incorporate your loved one into their celebration, even if they didn’t let you know exactly what they want.

Connect with family and friends

Hold a family meeting or connect with a group of your loved one’s closest friends. Go through their address book or list of social media contacts to define a list of important people from all areas of their life.

A group message or dividing a list of phone numbers among family members to make calls may help some of the workload of finding and talking with the deceased’s friends and connections.

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?
  • Have they ever mentioned funeral planning with you?
  • What is your favourite memory with them?
  • Was there another funeral or occasion you attended with them where they mentioned something they liked, or mentioned something that stood out?

Compile a few notes as you go. These will be the foundation for your planning process. Plus, connecting with people from across your loved one’s history gives you a more complete picture of them - with the opportunity to connect with others who share in your feelings of loss.

Examining their online presence or opening their address book will also give you insight into how big the event should be. This can also help you decide if you want to opt for something like a wake, to give potential out-of-town guests an opportunity to pay their respects.

Keep it close to home

If you live in a place larger than a small town, chances are there are numerous options for church services, funeral homes and burial plots.

Your best bet, after weighing costs and ease of planning, is to keep the funeral and burial as close to home as possible. This ensures the maximum number of friends and relatives will be able to attend. It also helps reduce the costs of travelling and planning.

Gravestones, in particular, become a place to visit and reflect on memories with the deceased. It’s a lot easier to visit and maintain when the burial site is nearby.

Don’t forget about timing

Burials aren’t possible in every climate year-round. That can impact your plans.

You may also need to account for welcoming out-of-town guests who are unable to travel immediately for the funeral. Take stock of the most important people in your loved one’s life and evaluate the best schedule.

Typically, funerals happen within three to seven days of someone passing. The preservation of the body is best within this timeframe. However, it can be done later depending on the intention to have an open or closed casket, or with what the funeral home can accommodate.

Do what feels right

No matter where the budgeting, research and outreach takes you, as the person who is tasked with funeral planning, chances are you know your loved one best.

You have insight into what they really would have wanted and how their memory can best be celebrated. As long as you can stay true to them and within the budget, you should follow your instincts.

Author(s): My Coda's Editorial Team

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