Funeral Arrangements: The Last Minute Details

Few people plan ahead for their own funeral or that of a loved one.  Some of us are stopped by superstitious fears that by making funeral arrangements while someone is still living is just asking for trouble.

However, there are practical and considerate reasons for choosing to make funeral arrangements before it is absolutely necessary.  When death greets us, we are rarely prepared – emotionally or from a practical standpoint.  Making funeral arrangements now will help those you leave behind be better prepared and feel more at ease with the funeral arranging process.

Much of the confusion and, frankly, spending that comes with funeral arranging for someone recently deceased occurs because loved ones are often too overwhelmed with grief to feel confident in their decision making abilities. Rather than taking the time and careful consideration that they want to be able to take, they feel pressured to prepare the “prefect” final farewell for the deceased.  This can lead to overspending and elaborate, unnecessary demonstrations of love for the recently passed.

The last minute details can be especially difficult.  Who will speak at the funeral?  Is there anything special or significant that the deceased would like to be buried with?  If it’s an open casket, is there an outfit picked out?  These and other small details are the ones that can become particularly confusing for someone overcome with grief.

By make your own funeral arrangements ahead of time, you can help limit the confusion for your loved ones.  It can also be a very therapeutic exercise to envision and plan your own funeral.

Beyond the basic funeral arrangements of preferred method of burial (don’t feel obligated to pre-pay for burial space, though), location of funeral services, religious officiate and type of service, etc.  you should also leave directions for the smaller details as well.

Here are some examples of other funeral arrangements that need to be addressed as well:

Music

Is there particular music you would like played prior to the service, after the service, or even hymns sung during the service?  Create a song list with specific instructions for when you would like the music played.

Speakers

Are there people you would like to have speak at your funeral?  Keep in mind that asking someone to speak at your funeral may be difficult for some, primarily because of their fear of speaking in front of large groups.  If this is the case, you may decide to pick out a poem or passage from a religious text that means a lot to you.  You should discuss your wishes with the person when you are pre-planning your funeral arrangements so that they are not taken off guard during their time of grief.

Ambiance

Some people don’t want their funerals to be sad or morose affairs.  Instead they hope to have celebrate their time here with an upbeat and positive memorial service.  If this is the case for you, then try to think of things that will help create that ambiance for your loved ones.  Perhaps you can ask that everyone wear clothing supporting your favorite sports team, or everyone wears your favorite color.  Or perhaps you choose a location for the services that is not typically associated with death and dying – like a local park.

A Message From You

A wonderful demonstration of your love for those you will leave behind is to leave a note or letter with your funeral arrangements to be read by someone during your funeral services, or included in the funeral program so that everyone can keep a copy of it.  This should be a warm and compassionate memento, letting each person know how much they meant to you, and also providing an uplifting message that helps them come to terms with your loss.

It’s the small funeral arrangement details that are often the most difficult for loved ones to plan.  Pre-planning your own funeral is a demonstration of your love and care for them, even after you’ve passed on.

Written By: C. Denise Stewart is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Fl.  She is a regular contributor to “Funeral Services Advice” and writes frequently on the topic of the planning of funeral arrangements.

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The Funeral Planning Guide: Feeling Compelled to Speak

The funeral of a loved one often comes as a complete surprise.  Rarely do we plan for the untimely passing of family and friends.  And even when someone close to us has been ill for some time and warnings have been given to prepare for their passing, death can still come as a shock to most of us.

When planning to attend the funeral of your friend or family member, you may want to prepare a few words to say.  For some people the thought of standing in front of room of people and speaking in any circumstance is nothing short of terrifying.  Considering doing so in the midst of grief can seem impossible.  However, many people are surprised to discover that during the funeral services they in fact sometimes feel compelled to speak.  If this happens to you, it’s best to be prepared ahead of time.

What do I say?

Perhaps you feel like you should share something – anything – but you feel at a loss for knowing what to say.  Preparing a few words before you go to the funeral, even if you have no intention at all of speaking, will help give you the confidence you need to face your fears so that you can honor your lost loved one or friend.  Here are a few ideas of things to say:

Tell a story – If you have known the deceased for many, many years and have dozens of stories to choose from, this is a good option for you.  Family and friends enjoy hearing funny stories, or heartwarming stories about the departed.  Just be sure that the humor is appropriate for all in attendance, and that the humor is meant in a loving way – gentle teasing about personality traits, or adventure tales from younger days are usually good options.

Read a Poem or Religious Passage – If you can’t think of a story to tell, you may want to select a poem or religious passage to read.  The selection to reflect the personality of or your affections for the deceased.  A nice added touch is to make a nice copy – perhaps laminated or framed – as a gift for the family.

When do I say something?

If the funeral has a religious ceremony as part of the services, generally the time for volunteers to come to the front of the group will be saved for after the ceremonies are completed.

It is usually polite to wait to allow all family members to speak first.  If you are a family member, you may want to arrange with your other family members ahead of time in which order you will be speaking.  If you are a friend or acquaintance of the deceased, then it is best to wait for a pause that seems of some minimal length before volunteering to speak.

How do I start?  How do I finish?

When you first approach the front of the group, it is polite to introduce yourself and your relationship to the deceased.  You can include the length of time that you knew him or her, as well as any brief words relating to the person’s character.  For example:

“Hello, my name is Dan and I have worked with Steven for the last fifteen years at Harper and Harper.  Dan was such a warm and generous person, and he is truly missed by all of us at work.”

The best way to finish your time in front of the group is to express your sympathies to the family before taking your seat.  For example:

“Linda, Debbie, I am so sorry for your loss.  Steven was a good man and a great friend, and I feel truly blessed to have known him.”

Being prepared to speak at the funeral of a family member or friend will help you cope with your grief.  Speaking at a funeral is one way many people find closure and acceptance of their loss.  It is also a wonderful way to honor the memory of your loved one.

Written By: C. Denise Stewart is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Fl.  She is a regular contributor to “Funeral Services Advice” and writes frequently on the topic of funeral planning.

Memorial Day: Honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice

Memorial Day is a U.S. federal holiday established with the intent of honoring those military men and women who have died in service to our nation.  Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day did not become an officially observed federal holiday until 1967.  Decoration Day was first observed just after the Civil War in 1866 as a way to honor fallen Union soldiers.  Though several cities and towns were known to celebrate the day, most historians credit Waterloo, New York’s May 5, 1866 celebration as the first observance.

In 1868,General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed May 30 as Memorial Day.   Flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  By 1890 all of the northern states officially recognized the holiday, however most of the southern states refused, still harboring resentment for the events of the Civil War.  To this day many southern states still celebrate an additional day for honoring those who died in the Confederate war.

In 1968 the U.S. Congress changed Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May as part of the Uniform Holidays Bill.  This created a three-day weekend for Memorial Day and several other national holidays.  By doing so this national day of remembrance has become for many a day to spend time with friends and family, and is sometimes viewed as kick-off for the summer holidays.  There are some supporters of returning the holiday to May 30 so that the emphasis can be refocused on the day’s original intent of paying respect to our fallen soldiers.

For those who observe the day’s focus, there are several traditions and activities associated with Memorial Day.  The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) has traditionally accepted donations for red poppies, a custom first introduced in 1915 by Moina Michael who was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields.”  Donations for the red poppies go to support service men and women.

The American flag plays an important role in our observation of Memorial Day.  Friends and family traditionally will place small American flags on the gravesites of military loved ones.  In some areas local service organizations will also be sure that military graves are properly adorned with flowers and flags.  It is also customary to fly the flag at half-staff from dawn until noon on this day.

There is also a national moment of remembrance that takes place at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.  This custom was established in 2000 as a response to concerns that the true meaning of the holiday as a time to collectively mourn and pay respect to those who gave their life for our freedom had been lost amidst the excitement of the three-day weekend.

Local communities often will host parades or community picnics as a means of coming together to celebrate the lives and sacrifices of our service men and women.  Many families have their own traditions and observances for honoring their own loved ones who have served in the military. Many local service organizations and community groups provide opportunities for individuals to donate their time to helping plan and assisting in various Memorial Day events.

This year be sure to remember the true meaning behind our Memorial Day celebrations.  Take some time to reflect on the sacrifices our military personnel have made to protect each of our individual rights and freedoms.  Visit a local cemetery as a way to honor and pay respect to our fallen service men and women.