The loss of a loved one is never easy to handle, whether you could see it coming or not. Once it happens, though, it can be incredibly easy to find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of questions you’ll suddenly need to answer. Planning a funeral can be a very emotional and highly personal process, as there are several factors that can play into how you go about planning, such as your relationship to the deceased, what their wishes may have been, what you can afford, and so much more. All that said, there are certain parts of the process that will generally remain consistent, so whether you choose to start early or when you’re in need, here’s what you can expect when planning the funeral.
Disposition: What Should We Do with the Body?
When you go about planning the funeral, the first thing you’ll have to decide is how you’d like the body to be put to rest. Generally speaking, there are four main options: a traditional burial, a natural (or “green”) burial, cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis (more about that below). A traditional burial is what we’ve come to associate with funerals, where the body is stored either below-ground at a cemetery plot or above-ground in a mausoleum or similar. Traditional burials also tend to involve the most steps, as they require the purchase of a casket, a cemetery plot or mausoleum space, a burial vault, and some kind of headstone or monument for memorializinf the body’s site.
A natural burial is somewhat similar, but focusing on burying the body without embalming and in a natural casket — that is, a shroud or vault that is biodegradable. Typically, these burials occur in more “natural” settings, be that anywhere from a designated “green” area of a cemetery to the middle of a forest, and leave the grave to be marked by something natural such as plants, rocks, and more. The biggest advantage of a natural burial is the quick and safe decomposition of the body, allowing all of its nutrients to be returned to the soil. A natural burial can have most of its stipulations decided by the person planning it, and thus can end up being a fraction of the cost of a more traditional burial.
The Disappearing Tricks
On-par with cheaper, less-extravagant disposition options is cremation, or the process of heating the body to the point of decomposition into bone material and ashes. This option uses specific chambers built for processing bodies this way, and can also end up costing far less than all of the things that would otherwise be necessary for a more traditional funeral (in some cases, less than $2,000 vs. the $8,000 average for a traditional burial). This option also allows families a more personal choice in keeping the body’s remains close to them or having them spread elsewhere. Similar to cremation, alkaline hydrolysis is a relatively new form of disposition where the body is processed down to liquid and chemicals using pressure, heat, and lye. While not available in every state or funeral home just yet, this process also tends to run at a lower cost than your traditional burial and allows for flexibility in how to deal with the remains.
The Nitty Gritty
Once you’ve decided what to do with the body, a lot more minute details can start popping up surrounding the funeral service. In recent years, funeral services have become an ultra-personalized goodbye for the deceased, so it’s up to you to decide what your loved one would like their service to look and how they would have liked to part ways with the living. From music to eulogies, to readings and receptions, there are a lot of ways you can use detail to bring the funeral to more of a place of celebration. You can choose to have a viewing with an open or closed casket and/or a memorial tribute soon after the death of your loved one, and still have the opportunity to have their body cremated or processed afterwards. If you’d like physical condolences, you can have your attendees bring flowers, offer donations toward the memorial service, or countless other gifts to make your time of need less painful.
After you’ve decided most of the above, it’s time for you to start contacting local funeral homes, service providers, and cemeteries. Said providers will do everything in their power to ensure that the process of planning the service goes as smoothly as possible, outlining all necessities and costs along the way. This is also where you can consider religious or cultural undertones for the services, as most funeral service providers are now experienced and willing to provide alternatives to the more traditional types of funeral services.
Affording Your Ideal Funeral
Most funeral homes also aim to make the process as transparent as possible, and will even post general price lists for products and services associated with the funeral. A lot of them will have full payment options in place depending on need, with finance plans often available to those who have begun planning for their funeral ahead of time. The greatest value in pre-planning a funeral is the peace of mind and security in knowing that the decisions were made in advance, together.
So while it could be pretty easy to become overwhelmed by all of the details you’ll have to consider when planning a funeral service, there are general practices where you can begin your planning. If all else fails, contact your local funeral service provider to see what they can do for you.