Preparing For a Funeral Service
Could there be anything more difficult than preparing for a funeral? Certainly, such an end-of-life event is hard to look forward to with any great enthusiasm. And it doesn't matter if you're a member of the bereaved inner circle of close family, a co-worker, neighbor or family friend; preparing for a funeral service takes time and forethought.
If you're preparing to attend a funeral, memorial service, or celebration-of-life; the following tips and suggestions can certainly help in your funeral preparations. Naturally, if you have any questions about preparing for a funeral, you should call us at (951) 658-3161. We would be pleased to serve you in any way we can.
What Does "Get Prepared" Really Mean?
There's a line in William Shakespeare's play Henry V, which cuts to the heart of preparedness: "All things are ready, if our mind be so." Readying your mind means strengthening it for what's ahead: all the people, sights, sounds and strong emotions of the day.
In other words, getting ready to attend an end-of-life service is not just a matter of picking out the right clothes to wear; it's also essential to prepare physically, mentally and emotionally for the occasion. After all, you are going to be there to support the bereaved family, as well as the others who attend; and that takes inner strength and emotional fortitude. Never underestimate the importance of your presence there—to everyone in attendance.
To make it simple for you to find the information you need, we've grouped those details together under two headings: Dressing for the Occasion and Getting Physically, Mentally and Emotionally Prepared.
Dressing for the Occasion
What is expected of us when attending a funeral service today is far different from the expectations of those living in the Victorian era. According to Alison Petch, a researcher Oxford University, "in those years, black clothing was worn for the funeral and for a year following the death...by close relatives, gradually being replaced by other dark colors."
As we moved into the twentieth century, the Roman and Victorian demands became less strict; "people attending a funeral wore semi-formal clothing, which for adult men would usually mean a suit and tie in dark colors".
Without a doubt, these strict special dress requirements have fallen by the wayside, at least to some degree. Although many websites proclaim that black is the right color to wear for a funeral today, wearing a color other than black isn't seen as disrespectful; but you want to avoid wearing brightly colored or wildly patterned fabrics (unless actually requested to do so by the family). And for women or girls, a modest appearance is preferred.
Certainly, if you've got additional questions about what to wear to a funeral, call us at (951) 658-3161.
Get Physically, Mentally and Emotionally Prepared
The death of a loved one is among the most stressful experiences we will ever endure. The early days of bereavement, are a time of frayed nerves, when emotions run high and hours of restful sleep are hard to find. These difficult days are then followed by the funeral service (where, even though you're grief stricken, you're expected to perform with some social grace). How can you possibly survive; or better yet thrive, during such trials as these? Here are some suggestions we believe you'll find valuable:
- Maintain a state of "mindful awareness". The tendency when something bad happens to us, like the death of a loved one, is to detach from our physical, emotional and social selves. To "get numb, and stay that way" - but this effort to separate ourselves from what's happening isn't always in our best interest. Instead, you should seek to be "mindful": to keep your awareness on the present moment (not the past, and certainly not the future); all the while acknowledging (and accepting) your feelings, thoughts, and bodily reactions to your loss. Only then can you, in the words of Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer, accept the things that cannot be changed, have the courage to change the things which can (and should) be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Certainly, you cannot change the fact your loved one has died; but you can change (at least to some degree) the way you react to the loss–and that takes a certain sense of mindful self-awareness.
- Do everything you can to stay physically healthy. The list of physical symptoms of grief is long: fatigue, body aches and pains, loss or change of appetite, shortness of breath, digestive issues, feelings of heaviness, and tightness in your throat or chest. When faced with an onslaught of physical symptoms like these, it's hard to know exactly how to deal with them. The first step is to recognize and name what your body is experiencing. Only then can you do something to change the way you're reacting to the loss. During these days before the funeral:
- Stay hydrated: drink eight (8 ounce) glasses of water.
- Eat regularly: small meals and snacks are often better-accepted than large, calorically-laden one.
- Rest regularly: you may find nights are long and sleepless, so don't be adverse to taking short cat-naps throughout the day.
- Move your body: take a walk or hike, go to the gym, or enjoy a leisurely swim.
- Nurture your senses: listen to music or the sounds which abound in nature.
- Engage in prayer or meditation: tap into, or get reacquainted with, your spiritual side.
- Reduce your list of necessary activities and chores: now is the time to delegate tasks to others, so you can devote your time to self-care.
- Reach out to your support network. Neighbors, friends and family members can be your lifeline right now - and some of them may even be coming to you right now to see how they can help. Don't turn them away; instead, give them the opportunity to give the gift of service. Allow them to walk this path with you for as long as, and in whatever ways, they can. The same goes for the network of professional caregivers: don't neglect to turn to clergy, your family physician, therapist, or grief counselor if you feel your bereavement to be more than you can handle (now, or at any time in the future).
- Prepare to speak less and listen more. End-of-life ceremonies (whether a "traditional" funeral, memorial service or celebration-of-life) offer those gathered the chance to share their feelings, tell stories and take comfort from one another. Don't spend too much time talking, unless it's to share something truly meaningful (about the deceased and your relationship to him or her) with others; instead, be ready to listen with a whole heart. This is a time for respectful interactions with other mourners; a time for focusing on the life of the deceased, and also a time for renewing the ties which brought you all together in the first place.
Beyond the planning process there are a number of items that need to be considered for those either planning or attending a funeral or memorial service. The pages below help detail what you should expect from the meetings with the funeral home, what sort of documentation you should prepare for these meetings, and also a task list of items to be sure you take care of after the funeral.
What to Expect Before the Funeral
It's a common enough experience; a loved one dies and now you've got to face something you've never ever done before. You've got to go to a funeral home to make their funeral arrangements. Now, not only are you emotionally affected by their death, you're anxious and really need to know what to expect when you arrive. So, let's talk about that for a bit.
You should know that we've taken great pains to make your experience with us as easy as possible. Here's how:
- We've put a lot of work into making our funeral home a pleasant place to spend time. That means our interior design is easy-on-the-eye, the rooms are spacious yet cozy, and the furniture is comfortable.
- Our staff is both professional yet personable. We believe that when you leave, you'll consider us more than funeral directors; we'll be well-on-our-way to being friends. Friends you can really trust to compassionately care for your loved one...and for your family.
- We've streamlined the funeral arrangement process. Since we've been making funeral arrangements with families for a very long time, we've had ample opportunity to learn the easiest, most efficient way to get through the process. Believe us when we say; it won't take as long as you think.
- Our team is trained to handle all the details. And we do mean all of them. From filing insurance, social security or veterans administration paperwork; to greeting and bidding farewell to your guests—and everything in between.
Exactly What Happens at the Funeral Home?
While we can't speak to every situation, we can tell you the bare basics of what to expect on your first visit to our funeral home.
When you come through the front door, you will be greeted warmly by a staff member. Names will be exchanged, and hands shaken in cordiality. Some words of comfort will be offered.
Once informed of the reason for your visit, you will be directed to the funeral director's office or arrangement office.
Before the funeral arrangement conversation goes very far, you will be given a copy of our General Price List, Casket Price List, and any other appropriate price-related documents. This is done to ensure compliance with the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule.
The funeral director will then ask you a number of questions. Think about it this way: your conversation is intended to do two things: 1.) Share accurate biographical details of the deceased to assist the funeral director in completing relevant paperwork, and 2.) come to an agreement about the plans for the funeral, memorial service, or celebration-of-life.
Clearly State the Facts
When it comes to properly completing death paperwork, and writing a detailed obituary, accuracy is everything. So, when it comes to the first task, that of sharing your loved one's biographical details, you'll want to bring as much documentation of the following as possible:
- The deceased's full name
- Their Social Security number
- Parent's names
- Spouse and children's names
- Maiden name of mother
- Marital status
- Educational history
- History of military service
- Work history
- Hobbies and interests
- Church affiliation
- A list of organizational and club memberships
- A recent photograph
Naturally, if you're unable to bring any of this information, you can always call us later to share whatever is missing.
Planning for the Funeral Event
The second step in the funeral arrangement conference, that of planning a meaningful ceremony to pay tribute and celebrate the life of your loved one is really at the heart of what you'll be doing that day. In order to facilitate things, we ask that you bring:
- Pre-arrangement papers, if applicable
- Clothes in which to bury or cremate your loved one
- Cemetery property information, if applicable
- A list of preferred charities for memorial donations, if applicable
- A list of pallbearers, if applicable
- Desired musical and readings selections
There are really two more things to bring: your memories, and your heart-driven creative thinking. After all, we will be guided in planning your loved one's funeral, memorial service, or celebration-of-life by your stories, personal perceptions, and insights into their character and lifestyle.
In the End
Our time together will take only as long as you need it to take. Not only that, while the time you spend with us in your first visit can be very intense and emotionally-draining; you'll be among people who really care about your welfare. We'll support you throughout the funeral arrangement process, in any way you need us to; and we believe you'll find that when you leave, you've really had very little to be anxious about. But if you still have any questions or concerns, call us today at to learn more about what to expect when you come to our funeral home.
What to Expect During the Funeral
Much like any other social event, a funeral service can present us with unique challenges–especially if we don't know what to expect. Here's a short list of things you can expect during a funeral:
- We do our best to provide adequate parking facilities. Yet, parking may be hard to find, so do your best to arrive 10-15 minutes early.
- Depending on the location of the funeral, your entrance may be governed by protocol. Often, guests are asked to remain unseated until the family has taken their seats. Sometimes ushers are provided to escort you to your seat. If you're unclear as to what's expected, just watch others for your cues--or ask the funeral attendant.
- Again, depending on the location, the ceremony may be officiated by a pastor, minister, celebrant or funeral director.
- Remember that the front seats are intended for immediate family members, so choose a seat near the middle; or if you didn't know the deceased well, sit near the back of the room.
- You may receive a copy of the funeral order-of-service, which details what will happen during the ceremony. It will tell you exactly which hymns will be sung, and specifically names the prayers to be read. It's like a program at a theater or symphony performance: the funeral order-of-service is a very handy thing to have. If you're given one, hang on to it.
- Depending on what's in the order-of-service, you will have the opportunity to participate in various activities. You may be asked to stand to sing a hymn or kneel in prayer; only participate to the degree you feel comfortable.
- If the service is less traditional and more a celebration-of-life, you may be asked to close the service with a release of a balloon. Or you may find yourself requested to place a flower in the casket. Some families ask their guests to write a note to the deceased and place it in the casket. We suggest doing only as much as you feel comfortable doing.
Will People Cry?
Even at weddings and baptisms, people cry. Just like at a funeral, these pivotal life moments are very emotionally-charged. That means you can certainly expect to find people crying at a funeral. It's always helpful to remember to bring a travel pack of tissues with you; however, the funeral home staff will also have access to tissues if you—or the person seated next to you—has a need to wipe their eyes.
But, here's something you should also know: people laugh at funerals too. A funeral is a rich bittersweet mixture of sorrow and joy. In fact, when we're at a funeral (which is fairly often) the behaviors of guests remind us of the well-known remark from Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss: “Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.”
You'll see tears, and you may hear some laughter. Without doubt, emotions run high at funerals; sometimes there's even a demonstration of anger by one or more of the survivors. Expect people to be on their best behavior, but also know that anything can happen.
How to Leave the Funeral
The funeral officiant will make it very clear that the funeral service is over. They will invite the the immediate family and close friends to leave the building first. Unlike at the end of a theater performance, people don't simply stand up and walk out. Instead, they wait for the rows in front of them to empty before stepping out into the aisle.
Guests and family may collect outside the location for some quiet conversation. If you are now ready to leave, do your best to say a sincere good-bye to the bereaved family.
If you choose to follow the hearse and casket to the cemetery or crematory, you'll be given clear directions by members of the funeral home staff.
If you choose to leave at this point in the funeral, make a quiet, discreet exit. Make a note to yourself to contact the bereaved family by phone in the next week or so. Offer them some time to for them to talk about their loss; and if you're willing, make a few suggestions about chores and other things you could do for them. Know that even if they decline your offer, they'll be delighted to know you're thinking of them enough to call.
What to Expect After the Funeral
After a funeral, grieving family members often ask us, "What happens next? Here's what happens after a funeral.
The Early Days after Loss
The funeral or memorial service is over. Things have begun to grow quiet; maybe the phone isn't ringing as much as it was, or fewer people are stopping by to check in on you. Your loved one's death continues to become more of a reality. And the very thought of facing your life over the next few weeks and months fills you both with loneliness and a sense of dread. It all feels like way too much to deal with, and we'd like you to know that right now it's okay to take care of yourself first.
You've got two important things to do in the coming weeks and months. As much as possible, you need to practice exquisite self-care. You also need to spend some time focused on completing the paperwork which will officially change the status of your loved one with banks and creditors; employers, insurance companies, and mortgage holders. This can be a slow process; so be prepared for the 'long haul'.
What is Your Relationship Status?
Let's be honest here; the degree to which your grief disempowers you, as well as the amount of flotsam and jetsam (let's just call it "paperwork") you will have to deal with both depend on the relationship you shared with the deceased. If you are the surviving spouse, a daughter or son, or have been declared as the designated executor, the responsibilities you have over the death paperwork will be much more extensive than if you were merely a loving niece, nephew or friend.
Here is a checklist of the tasks you may be facing in the coming weeks:
Get organized. Locate and safeguard as many of the documents listed below (be sure to put each into in a designated set of file folders, and keep them within easy reach):
- Birth certificate
- Driver's License or State Identification Card
- Passport (if applicable)
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce papers (if applicable)
- Deeds and Titles to real and personal property
- Veteran's Administration Claim Number (or service discharge papers)
- Recent Income Tax Forms
- W-2 forms (if employed)
- Recent hospitalization records
- Insurance documents: Life, Health, Automobile (there may be more than one policy in each category)
17 Things To Do After the Funeral
1. Before you do anything, get a notebook. You'll want to record the date and time of every phone conversation, email or postal communication; if you did it, write it down. Be sure to include the full name of the person you spoke to, their job title; and their employer identification or extension number.
2. Request certified copies of the Death Certificate. Speak with one of our funeral professionals to determine just how many you will require.
3. Check to see if deceased had left a will. This may require contacting the family attorney, checking your safe deposit box or home safe or the state Will Registry.
4. Get the mail redirected, if applicable. Visit the United States Postal Service website to learn more about how to submit a Change of Address form. Or stop by your local post office.
5. Stop health insurance coverage. You may need to provide them with additional information, so keep your relevant paperwork handy.
6. Contact employer or union. Determine if there are any death-related benefits available, ask (and answer) questions, and change any relevant contact information.
7. Make sure to pay the bills. Some folks have their bills paid automatically, but if this isn't the case here, you'll need to take care of them before they become delinquent. If you fear delinquency, you may wish to speak with a representative to work out a payment plan.
8. Initiate probate. Even if you're not the executor, if you have an interest in the estate, it's possible for you initiate probate court proceedings (but only if the designated executor of the estate fails to do so in a timely way). You may want to find and hire an estate settlement attorney.
9. Notify utility departments. Depending on the situation, the accounts may be closed, or the account owner's name and contact details changed.
10. Transfer title of real and personal property. Whether it's an automobile, boat, motorcycle, RV, or plane; you'll need to inform your state department of motor vehicles of the change in ownership. At the very same time, notify any related vehicular or personal property insurance companies of the change in status.
11. Close or modify credit card accounts. You will probably need to provide each of them with a certified copy of the death certificate. Again, keep that set of file folders handy.
12. Contact life insurance companies. Not everyone has life insurance; but some people have more than one policy. No matter how many policies were in force, you will probably need to provide each of them with a certified copy of the death certificate for each claim made.
13. Notify other policy holders of the change in "Beneficiary" status. If your loved one was a designated beneficiary on the insurance policies; investment or banking accounts of other individuals, then you'll need to notify them of the death of a beneficiary.
14. Arrange to close or modify bank accounts. Depending on your relationship to the deceased, you may be entitled to convert into your name.
15. Change stocks and bonds into your name. Again, this depends on your relationship status to the deceased. To do this, you'll need to provide certified copy of the death certificate to all organizations involved.
16. Report the death to other agencies. Depending on the age or military status of the deceased, you may need to notify either the Social Security Administration or the Veterans Administration (or both). Other agencies of interest include membership organizations (professional or avocational associations, Masonic lodges, Rotary Clubs, gym and golf course memberships –just to name a few).
17. Tend to their digital estate. If they were active on social media, you'll need to inform the specific networking sites of the change in status. You will need to close email accounts as well as any online banking portal or investment accounts.
Let Us Help with Your Preparations
Who better to turn to for assistance in preparing for a funeral? We've got the experience and insights which could make this situation easier for you and those you love. If you have questions about preparing for a funeral service—either as a member of the family or as a guest—we're here to support you in any way we can. We can also help with personalized celebration of life services as well. We're standing at the ready; simply call us at (951) 658-3161. Check out our "Burial Services" page for information on how we can help with burial service planning.
Before coming to see us to help plan your funeral, read up on some of the basic funeral rites.
Shakespeare, William, "Henry V"
Petch, Alison, "Funeral and Mourning Clothing", England, the Other Within, accessed March, 2015