Usually we discuss trends on Tuesday, but we thought while discussing funerals and memorial celebrations, we would take this opportunity to talk about ways to celebrate the life of your loved one.
I think one of the most important things to remember when planning a service is that it should represent your loved one in every way. I know that sounds really simple- but it's often difficult when you factor in grief, emotions, multiple opinions, the loved one's wishes, budget, feasibility, and religious preferences. I wanted to break down a funeral planning checklist and how you can incorporate special touches while keeping in mind the many pieces that go in to planning a funeral.
1) Obituary- Gather all information you wish to include. This is something your loved one may have already put together or they may have a person in mind they wish to write it. If there is not already a plan in place, it is often helpful to gather stories and information from several family members and close friends to include to make sure you don't forget an important piece of information. Items to include: Name, date of birth, location of birth, parents names. Brief description of life achievements- school, career, trade, hobbies, marriage information/partner information, child(ren) names and locations, grandchildren (names and location or number if too large to include names). Brief description of things that made them who they were- activities (IE. chairperson of Church Social Committee for 23 years, President of Golf Association, Raised over $80,000 for Autism awareness, etc). Funeral arrangements- location/time(s) of visitation(s), service location/time, burial/ash spreading location/time (if applicable). If you wish to have donations made in their honor, include the recipient information. In an obituary, it is important to capture their lives and what made them special. Writing an obituary is difficult and emotions can flare during the writing, so keep an unbiased way of writing (IE. list all children in order of age, list all partners/spouses or none at all, etc). A great resource for help with writing obituaries is Ever Plan.
2) Personal effects- Deciding what clothing your loved one should wear and what jewelry or personal items should be included are also difficult. While it is best your loved one make these decisions when possible, it isn't always applicable. Another decision that will need to be made is whether these personal items/jewelry will remain with your loved one or if they will be returned to you. For some families, it works out best to have a family conversation about this specific topic and ask that everyone contribute a personal item to remain with your loved one (a pin, a small token, a letter, etc). For help deciding what personal effects to include, discuss with your family what items come to mind when you think of your loved one and start there.
3) Choosing a Funeral Home- Choosing a funeral home, church, or other venue is also something that can be determined in advance, but if it is not, there are many ways to go about determining a location. Your loved one may have wished to use the same funeral home as their partner or perhaps, they had a favorite location where the services can take place. The important take away is to not be afraid to call around and to not accept the first place that is available. For some tips on budgeting for a funeral and questions to ask when selection a funeral home, refer to our Monday post linked here.
4) Finalizing Services- selecting a casket, deciding upon cremation or burial, selecting a burial plot or location to spread ashes, & viewing and visitation preferences may also be predetermined. If they are not, considering what would be most meaningful to your loved one is important. If they had expressed a wish to be cremated, it is more important to follow their directive than to choose burial based on family wishes. It can be difficult to follow-through on your loved one's wishes because often times you want to do more or feel you can honor them in a better way, but remember- these are their wishes. The funeral home of your choosing will offer many options for finalizing services, but remember, you can organize the arrangements however you wish and do not have to opt for a "package" just because it's available. The FTC has a Funeral Rule that makes it illegal for funeral homes to force you to purchase packages- you only need pay for the services you request.
5) Personal Touches- Photos to be displayed, personal items to be out for viewing, guest books, floral arrangements, religious or fraternal considerations, speakers, music, poems, and memorial cards are all personal touches that can be included to make the service special. You can choose to play music by their favorite artist/band, have all of the flowers be in their favorite color, ask various friends and family to speak about their favorite memories or most influential moment with them, utilize some of the items most recognizable from their home to make the funeral home/service location feel more like them, have bags of the loved one's favorite candy for everyone, create a pocket charm for everyone that is a favorite item or meaningful item to your loved one (ie. peony pin, mini replica of a favorite hobby, a mini bottle with a note containing a lyric from a favorite song, etc).
6) Participants- deciding who will be participating in a service can be difficult and cause a lot of tension in the family. I recommend sitting down with a designated person from each family and discussing how to involve at least one person from each group. You can include people not only as pallbearers, speakers, and ushers, but also as someone in charge of the memory book, someone in charge of greeting friends and family at a luncheon, someone in charge of organizing the special touches, etc. I've been in a situation where I was nearly left out of participating in my Grandfather's service, and we were very close. It was heartbreaking for me, but in the end, my family was able to include me which meant so much. It's hard to step back and consider everyone's feelings at a time like this, but it's important to do the very best you can.
7) Transportation- as Candace discussed on Monday, it's not necessary to have transportation, but it's often a service families are grateful to have. Nobody needs to worry about driving and everyone can focus on spending time together. If your loved one had a favorite car, it might be nice to hire one for transportation to the funeral for their spouse/partner. You could also have the drivers play their favorite music, have little picture books on the seats, or provide their favorite drinks and snacks in the cars.
8) Thank Yous- writing thank-yous after a funeral can actually be a very helpful method of working through your grief and memorializing your loved one. I know from experience that sitting down several days later and writing Thank You's with other family and friends brings up the best stories and memories- you spend time remembering the happy, the silly, the joyful, and every little detail. If you have the ability, including a picture of your loved one with the person you are thanking is a wonderful touch for the recipient. It's also a great time for you and your family to reminisce.
We are so sorry you find yourself in a time of need for planning a funeral, but we truly hope we can help you make this time in your life more simplified so you can focus on celebrating the memory of your loved one. Please make sure you are Subscribed to our blog for more ideas.