As little girls, we start thinking about our wedding day around the first time we hear the story of Cinderella. What should our dress look like? What colors should we would use? How will we would fix our hair and makeup? What types of flowers will we carry in our bouquet and have placed on church pews and trellises?
There are a ton of details that go into planning for this big event that usually lasts an hour or two at most. We consider the vision for our wedding day over twenty-something years! And when at last we receive a proposal from our prince charming, most of us spend the next 6-8 months putting specifics to the dreams we’ve envisioned for years.
Big life occasions come with big planning! So, why is it that the event of death and planning toward it is so very different?
The end of life on Earth is something we know is coming for everyone, especially as people get older or sick with disease. We’re reminded of this in Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 where we read: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die.” However, I don’t know of anyone who actually begins planning the many details surrounding a funeral until moments after death occurs. So, rather than having months or even years of planning time, we’re forced to cram many of the same details (as happens with weddings) into a few days or a week at most!
Let’s look at a couple aspects surrounding this mournful occasion when a family member dies. Perhaps there are ways we can begin formulating some of the particulars, at least in our thoughts, ahead of time that could alleviate part of the stress that naturally comes at the last moment of a loved ones’ life.
The first thing that needs to be decided is where the body will “rest,” whether cremated or buried. This part is usually decided or discussed with family ahead of time. Often, for those who have been happily married, they choose to be buried next to their spouse. Others may prefer burial near other family members—parents or siblings—who have preceded them in death.
If the resting place is out of state or the country, there are more specifics and time that will go into plans for the funeral service. For this kind of situation, the body will often be prepared by the funeral home near where the person died and later “shipped” by plane to the final city where the funeral service will be held the following week. This process could take between 7-10 days after the actual date of death.
My mom recently died after living under the care of my younger sister. As Mom’s body was retrieved from the home, my sister was given a packet of information from the mortuary with details related to a proper outfit that she would be dressed in for the funeral presentation. Suggestions described the best choice for funeral presentation and burial as having a higher neckline and long sleeves. The day after our mom’s death, I went with my sister to our mom’s home closet to find a suitable outfit. This can be an emotional experience, obviously, but it also makes the process more personal and caring toward the deceased for a few family members to do this.
Funerals cost big money! Unless one is extremely well off financially, it’s most helpful to have credit cards in hand when making plans for the service. While life insurance will eventually come in for those family members it’s intended to help, it will not happen immediately. Usually it takes 3-4 weeks before death certificates are obtained and insurance monies become available to start covering the credit used for funeral expenses.
This is among one of the first decisions to be made—where to have the service. There are several options that most people need to decide between for the memorial service: church, funeral home, or graveside only. Once that part is decided, other factors are either eliminated or added.
Regardless of the venue, there will be someone officiating the service. Most often this is a minister who is either on staff at the church venue or someone who has known the deceased for a while. In my mom’s case, we knew of a minister who had been close to both of our parents over the years.
For deaths, this is the obituary. Funeral homes often have templates or guidelines for family members to use in pulling together details related to the deceased person’s life such as birth date and early childhood residence, family members, academic or work-related accomplishments, or items of special interest to the loved one.
Details surrounding any big life event are stressful to handle. Those related to a death—whether “expected” or not—will be as well. Prepare before the end as best as possible with friends and family members sharing the load of responsibilities to make this an easier process for all.