There are many details to consider when planning a funeral, from arranging funeral transport to choosing music and readings for the service.
Planning a funeral is a vital part of the funeral process to create a bespoke and unique send-off.
There is a range of details to consider, from arranging funeral transport to choosing a coffin, music, and readings for the service.
This article will guide you through the process of planning a funeral service. Here at Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals, we provide religious and traditional funeral services.
Planning a Service
Planning a funeral or memorial service is a highly personal process.
Your life experiences will shape your decisions, relationship to the deceased, what the dead wanted, what you desire for yourself after you die, what you can afford, and other factors.
Funerals and memorial services provide an opportunity for family members, friends, and others who cared about the deceased to honour and remember the person who died while offering comfort and support to those closest to them and each other.
Whether it's planned after death occurs (an "at-need" situation) or beforehand (a "preneed" problem), arranging a funeral or memorial service is often an emotional and sometimes exhausting process.
Many people mistakenly assume that a funeral and cemetery burial are the same things or that choosing cremation means you can't also hold a funeral service with the deceased's embalmed body present beforehand.
Therefore, it's essential to understand that a "funeral" as we generally think of it involves two basic functions:
- What to do with the deceased's physical remains (the form of final disposition)
- How to honour, remember, even celebrate the life and memory of the person who died (the state of the funeral or memorial service)
Transportation of Body
The first thing that needs to be taken care of is the body's transportation to a funeral home or morgue.
If a loved one dies in a nursing home or hospital, transportation is very straightforward.
These kinds of healthcare facilities will almost always have set procedures in place to handle a body.
The facility will most commonly call you to notify you of the death and ask you what funeral home to transport the body to.
Some nursing homes and hospitals even have their small mortuary for short-term preservation of the body, giving you even more time to organise the funeral.
If the loved one has passed away in their own home or outside a healthcare facility, your first order of business is calling a non-emergency number.
This will allow dispatchers to send a coroner instead of wasting the time of medical first responders.
Depending on the state you live in and the circumstances of death, an autopsy may be required by the coroner.
If an autopsy is to be performed, the state in which the person died may require a family member to sign an authorisation form.
Some states have funds available for autopsy and body transportation; others may charge for these services.
Filing Records and Getting Permits
Laws require the funeral provider, coroner, or in the case of a home funeral, whoever the person in charge is, of completing a Pronouncement of Death, commonly known as a Registration of Death, and also attaining a Burial Permit, which is frequently referred to as a Disposition Permit.
Both of these forms can be found at your local City Hall and are also frequently available online.
They must be submitted to the County Recorder in the county the person has died in. The name for this office varies from county to county.
Department of Health and the Department of Vital Statistics are two common names this office may go by.
Calling the town hall is an excellent idea if you need help locating the correct office to submit these forms.
If you are working with a funeral director, they will be a helpful resource for navigating local rules and regulations.
The body cannot be disposed of without having the Burial Permit and the Death Registration Form signed by the County Recorder.
Once the County Recorder has certified these two forms as complete and accurate, they will provide a Certified Death Abstract, also known as a Death Certificate.
This certified death abstract is the document most organisations require as proof of the death.
For instance, if the recently deceased had a life insurance policy, the company will not provide benefits without this document.
Credit cards and other bank-related financial accounts also require a Death Certificate as proof of death. The Death Certificate needs to be checked very carefully for any errors.
If the date of the death is entered incorrectly, the printed death certificate will show the wrong date of death, which could be a problem in closing out accounts, settling insurance claims, etc.
Notifying Family & Friends
You will want to contact all other immediate family members of the decedent first as they deserve to know about the death as soon as possible.
This is a difficult phone call to make, so take your time. You do not need to call every single family and friend immediately.
It is advisable to have another close family member help contact some of the family and friends along with you.
You will also want to notify other relevant parties.
This includes the recently deceased:
- employer if they had one
- fraternal or religious group
- health and life insurance companies
- credit card companies
- credit card reporting agencies—send a letter to each of the three major credit reporting agencies, letting them know that the person has passed away.
- notify Family Responsibility Office if they paid child support
- notify any gyms, clubs, or organisations they participated in
You should find out if the recently deceased had any dependents or pets that they take care of.
If they do have a dependent or a pet, then a plan should be discussed with the family on how to handle the situation.
If they lived alone, someone would need to keep an eye on their home and secure it.
Collecting the mail will also provide valuable information about bills, account numbers, organisations, and other loose ends that need to be tied up.
It will be easiest to have someone who lives nearest to the home of the recently deceased take care of these matters.
This can be another family member, friend, or neighbour of the decedent.
Throw out all the food in the refrigerator if the house is unoccupied unless you enjoy cleaning up a very stinky mess.
Planning the Funeral
This step is about as difficult as you make it and depends on how elaborate you want the funeral service.
The process of organising the actual funeral service mainly consists of:
- Choosing a venue and date/time for the funeral
- Sending out invitations
- If the venue allows, consider providing food and refreshments
You might want to specifically ask sure guests if they would like to prepare a eulogy for the funeral service.
You should not worry as much about trying to plan a memorable funeral with all the bells and whistles.
What is more important is making sure the people close to the deceased are made aware of the death.
The silver lining of a tragedy is that it can bring together a bereaved family and helps form stronger bonds.
While it is tempting to try and plan a unique funeral with special decorations and hiring some musicians, ultimately, all of that comes second to the actual people who attend the funeral and the memories they bring with them.
While you are planning the funeral, it helps to be informed about the specific regulations that have been created to prevent funeral homes from taking advantage of grieving families. Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals will always find creative ways to pull costs in line with your budget.
Elements of a Service
In the past few decades, funeral services have grown increasingly personalised, although many people still think of the "traditional funeral" norm.
A personalised funeral or memorial service reflects the unique life and personality of the deceased individual, as viewed by the dead and/or his or her surviving loved ones, and regardless of the form such services take.
Many families these days prefer to plan a funeral or memorial service focused on remembering the deceased as he or she was in life, a service focused on the dead's body/remains, or a combination of both.
Therefore, you should imagine and plan the funeral or memorial service that you and the person who died consider the most meaningful way to say goodbye—something that:
- Captures the unique qualities of the deceased
- Reflects their and your religious or spiritual beliefs
- Provides a memorable, meaningful opportunity for mourners to express their grief while comforting and supporting each other
Some families prefer funeral services in worship or a funeral home chapel, incorporating religious readings and music.
Others prefer secular (non-religious) services in a public or private location. Still, others opt for a private funeral and interment for immediate family, then a memorial service later for others.
To personalise the service, you should also consider the following, as applicable:
- Officiant(s) will lead the service, such as a clergy member, celebrant, funeral director, etc.
- Readings, such as poems, prayers, religious or secular passages, etc., and who will deliver them
- Eulogist(s), who will write and deliver a eulogy about the deceased
- Music, whether contemporary, religious hymns, or both, and whether they're live or recorded
- Food/beverages, whether professionally catered, provided "potluck" by attendees, or arranged by the funeral home or provider.
- Pallbearers, if the final disposition involves a graveside service.
- Webcasting the funeral or making a recording of the service available later
- Personal touches, such as a memory board, memorial video, personal memorabilia, etc.
Choosing the Form of Disposition
When planning a funeral or memorial service, it might prove easier first to select the form of final body disposition you desire.
Whether below ground in a cemetery plot/gravesite or above ground in a mausoleum or tomb (sometimes referred to as "entombment"), traditional burial generally involves purchasing:
- A casket
- A cemetery plot or mausoleum space
- A grave liner or a burial vault
- A headstone, grave marker, monument or plaque
Natural or "Green" Burial
A growing number of traditional-burial cemeteries and sites specifically created for this form of final disposition now offer natural or "green burial" opportunities.
In general, people who select natural burial seek to minimise their impact on the environment after death.
The cremation process uses heat/flame to reduce a body to bone fragments or "ashes."
These cremated remains offer survivors various options afterwards, such as keeping or scattering the remains, burial below ground in an urn, placing the inurned cremated remains in a columbarium, etc.
This form of final disposition is relatively new and might not yet be available in your area.
The alkaline hydrolysis process, sometimes called "flameless cremation," uses pressure and relatively low heat (versus cremation) to reduce a body to an inert liquid and skeletal bone fragments.
Having the Body Present
Another important decision you will need to make concerns the physical presence of the deceased.
As noted above, burial and cremation are merely forms of final body disposition and neither requires nor precludes funeral services with the body present.
For example, you can arrange a "traditional" funeral service that includes a wake/visitation beforehand with the embalmed body in an open casket even if you desire burial of the deceased as the form of final disposition.
Likewise, some families choose to cremate the unembalmed deceased without a service beforehand but hold a memorial service afterwards with or without the inurn remains present.
Flowers, Donations, or Both?
Traditionally, people send funeral flowers or sympathy flowers as a sign of support and to express their condolences.
For the past several decades, however, families have also used the phrase "Instead of flowers..." in death notices and obituaries to suggest their preference for funeral memorial donations instead of, or in addition to, flowers.
Thus, you should decide if attendees may send flowers, if you'd rather they donate to a chosen charitable organisation or cause in memory of the deceased, or if either form of expression is appropriate.
Other Ways to Say "Instead of Flowers"
Whether requested in the death notice or obituary, social media or by word of mouth, you should communicate how/where to send donations.
Examples of worthy causes or organisations you might select include:
- The hospice that cared for your loved one
- A cause seeks to find a cure for the illness or disease that caused your loved one's death, such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, etc.
- A charity, organisation or business representing a cause or purpose reflecting a personal passion or belief of the deceased, or one which he or she supported
Contact and Research Service Provider(s)
The next step is to research your service and provider options.
If a death has already occurred, you can contact a local funeral home, cremation provider, or cemetery. Your chosen provider can help you:
- Arrange the funeral, memorial, and internment service you desire
- Provide information about various products and services
- Explain the costs involved for merchandise, services, and other professional fees
- Help you create an obituary or death notice.
- Obtain official death certificates
It would help if you also discussed any religious or cultural preferences that you would like honoured with your provider.
For example, if you desire a secular funeral or memorial service, you might want to have a funeral celebrant, which some funeral homes now have on staff.
Many funeral homes also have experience serving families from diverse cultural backgrounds with their funeral rites and customs.
If you're planning a funeral or memorial service, you should research your product and service options of various funeral homes, cremation providers, and cemeteries in your area.
Most businesses provide convenient product and service information, prices and even post their general price list online.
This makes it easier to compare prices and service/merchandise options available locally.
The Federal Trade Commission requires providers to give customers accurate and itemised price information and disclosures about other services, whether the customer asks in person or over the phone.
Finally, whether you plan a funeral before or after a death has occurred, you have several fundamental rights under the FTC "Funeral Rule" that you should also review and understand.
Consider Your Payment Options
The costs will vary depending upon the form of final disposition and the type of funeral or memorial service you desire, but you should consider how you will pay for these services.
There are many payment options available today, such as:
- Personal savings
- Financing, often through your funeral provider
- Credit cards
Totten trust/Payable-on-Death (POD) account at a financial institution sets explicitly aside funds for final expenses that pass to a designated beneficiary and avoid probate.
In addition, it is possible to arrange your services in advance with a provider formally and then pay in advance, whether all at once or through instalments.
People enter into these "preneed" arrangements for many reasons, including removing the burden of making difficult decisions once death occurs, preventing financial hardship on survivors, or spending down their assets to qualify for certain federal benefits.
Make Your Wishes Known
Finally, if you're planning your funeral or memorial service, you should inform your family about your end-of-life wishes to make sure they know what you want.
Ideally, you should provide a written record rather than relying upon a family member's memory or keeping your plans on your computer, but even a single verbal conversation with your spouse or partner, child, sibling, or parent can prove better than nothing. Visit Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals to know more about our prepaid funeral service and find the best funeral option for your unique situation.
Suppose you've formally prearranged your funeral or memorial service with a provider. In that case, you should keep those documents with your other important papers at home—and let your loved ones know of their existence and their location—so they have timely access to them when necessary.