How to Plan a Funeral: The Complete Guide

First of all, please allow us to offer our condolences. Losing a loved one is one of the hardest times, if not the hardest, of life and although we would like to believe we are prepared for the inevitable, we never truly are.

We lose more than 2.8 million Americans every year to mortality, yet many of us have never planned a funeral. In this post, we offer some advice about how to plan a funeral and how to overcome the often paralyzing grief that comes with losing a loved one. Read on for some support towards making it through this tough time.

Overcoming Grief

There is very little, in the way of words, that can take away your grief. Love is the most wonderful experience of life, but unfortunately, in order for us to have love in our lives, we must risk losing it. As they say, “It is better to have loved and lost then to never have loved at all.”

Everyone handles losing a loved one differently. There is no secret way to take the pain away, but it helps to know what to expect.

The Five Stages of Grief

Losing a loved one is a very personal experience and you may experience the stages of grief in your own unique way, but one thing is for sure – it will be an emotional time for you. The five stages of grief are:

  1. Shock and denial
  2. Guilt and pain
  3. Anger and bargaining
  4. Depression, loneliness, and reflection
  5. Recovery and acceptance

The main thing here is to allow yourself time to process your emotions. There is no set period of time someone needs for grieving the loss of a loved one. It may take months or even years to fully transverse the five stages.

Talk About It

No matter if you have a tendency to be shy and avoid conversations about yourself and your feelings, talking about your loss with family, friends, or even a mental health professional can be a very powerful tool for overcoming grief. Remember that as a human being, the connections you have with others are important to you and to them. Your loved ones want so desperately to help you through this hard time – let them.

Losing a Parent

There is a unique bond that parents and their children share that, when broken, is almost always devastating. It would not be an overstatement to say losing a parent may very well be the most difficult time of your life.

Take the time to be kind to yourself and seek out help for how to cope with your loss. Please try to see the big picture. A funeral for a parent is a time for grieving your loss, but it is also a time for celebrating their life and the special bond you had with them.

How to Plan a Funeral

Responsibility is the reality of life. If the burden of planning the funeral falls on you, it can be an overwhelming experience considering the emotional toll you are already dealing with. The whole process comes down to making the choices that honor the deceased in the way you and they want them to be remembered.

Form of Disposition

Your loved one has passed on. It is sometimes difficult for us to fully accept that their body is no longer them, especially at first. Perhaps the first decision that needs to be made is how to dispose of the body. The options are:

  • Traditional burial by casket underground and headstone or marker/mausoleum (above ground)
  • Natural of “green burial”
  • Traditional cremation
  • Alkaline hydrolysis (flameless cremation)

This choice is most often made by the deceased themselves in a living will or by conversations with them when they were alive. If the deceased has left no instructions, this decision should be discussed among the family and an agreement reached.

The Paperwork

Society runs on the red tape of laws, permits, and permissions. Unfortunately, the death of your loved one will have some paperwork to attend to. State laws require:

  • Pronouncement of death
  • Registration of death
  • Burial permit/disposition permit

As most funerals are normally conducted by funeral homes, the funeral director takes on this burden, though you may need to sign some of the forms. In the case of home funerals or non-traditional funerals, you will need to acquire these documents, fill them out, and submit them to the County Recorder in the county that your loved one died.

The Funeral Service or Memorial

When planning a funeral service or memorial, always keep in the forefront of your mind two things. A funeral service is conducted to honor the life of the deceased and their wishes are a big part of that. But also remember that the funeral service is largely about the living and their need to process their loss.

Much like weddings, funerals take many forms. The common thread is the celebration of the relationships we had with the deceased. Regardless of how the form, funerals will normally include some or all of the following:

  • Officiant (to lead the service) member of the clergy, celebrant, or funeral director
  • Reading (poem, religious passages, etc.)
  • Eulogy(s) (Usually by family members and/or close friends)
  • Music (Religious and/or favorites of the deceased)
  • Food/beverages
  • Pallbearers (for graveside service)
  • Webcasting or recording (for those who can’t attend)
  • Personal additions (memory board/book, memorial video, displays of personal memorability, etc.)
  • Flowers and donations to the family

Please remember, you need not be alone in your planning of the funeral. Funeral homes are not only a place for the service, but funeral directors are excellent sources of information and advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other family members and family friends, as well.

Sorry For Your Loss

Losing someone that has become so meaningful to our lives can be nothing short of an earth-shattering experience but at the same time a beautiful testimony of how important these relationships are. The details of how to plan a funeral may seem alien and frustratingly unimportant as you grieve and that’s normal.

All that anyone can say is “sorry for your loss” and all anyone can do is help you through the process of saying goodbye. For more advice on gracefully traversing the ups and downs of life keep reading our blog.