This is the second in a series of posts about how you can help your loved ones handle the "business side" of death, should the unfortunate occur.
It is amazing how time seems to stand still in the middle of a tragedy. When Barry passed away, I stayed in his hospital room while the doctor ran some tests to see if Barry's organs could be harvested. My strong, sweet daddy went in to the waiting room to tell our friends and family that Barry had died. After about 45 minutes, I decided it was time to "face the crowd" and leave Barry's room. As I stepped out of the room, our ICU nurse stopped me and told me she needed to know what funeral home we would be using. What? WHAT!?!
He had been gone less than an hour. Did we really have to have that conversation right then?
Please understand, the nurse was amazing. She was extremely helpful over the next 3 hours, compassionate and patient. She wasn't trying to rush me. She was just doing her job. What I would come to learn is that when someone dies, TONS of decisions have to be made within the first 24 hours. Those decisions are hard to make anyways, but when you add grief and shock to the process, you really just want to run away and hide. But that's not an option..
So, here are some things that are helpful to discuss before tragedy comes.
The hospital will immediately need to know what funeral home you would like to use. They contact the funeral home for you and coordinate the transfer of the body from the hospital to the home.
Unless you have lived in one city for a long amount of time or have a funeral home that your family uses when a member of the family passes away, this decision will be a hard one. Most people don't go shopping for a funeral home. And I am not suggesting you do so either. But a few things might help the process.
If you are participating in organ or tissue donation, the coordinator might be able to help you with some suggestions. Our coordinator provided a list of funeral homes in the area that provided services at a discount rate to the families of donators. From that list, she told us of the homes that she had worked with that provided excellent service in the past.
The hospital will also provide a list of funeral homes to you that are near by. I would suggest doing the following:
If a minister is at the hospital with you, ask them what funeral homes the church has worked with in the past and if they have any recommendations.
Take the list the hospital provides and pick 3-5 homes. Have someone who is at the hospital with you call each funeral home and ask them for their basic pricing for services. Have that person write down the prices next to the name of the funeral home for you to review and pick from. (You will be amazed at how varied pricing can be for basic services. Remember - this is a business and unfortunately, some funeral homes take advantage of grief to make a higher profit.)
Once you have picked a funeral home, let the nurse know which home you would like to use and they will take care of coordinating the transfer of the body. Remember to write down the contact information of the home, because you will need it within the next 24 hours.
The day after your loved one has passed away, you will need to go to the funeral home. I would suggest calling them to set an appointment so that you don't have to wait once you get there. At the funeral home, you will then need to make decisions on how you want the body handled. The funeral home can explain all the processes to you and answer questions, but the main decision that has to be made next is if you want a burial or cremation. This is a very personal decision that each family needs to make for themselves. It is extremely helpful to make your wishes known before hand so that your loved ones don't have to carry the weight of this decision alone.
To be honest, cremation requires the least amount of decisions to be made. Once you have decided to cremate, the only other decisions you need to make are what to do with the ashes after the cremation. You will need to pick a box/urn for the ashes. These can range in price and style. Also, you will need to decide what you would like to do with the ashes. Some people choose to have the ashes taken to a cemetery. Some people choose to keep the ashes at home. Some people choose to scatter the ashes at a place that has significance to the family and the deceased.
When you cremate, funeral arrangements are relatively simple. Instead of a casket at the front of the room, some families choose to have pictures of the deceased placed at the front of the room with flowers. You can also choose to have the ashes at the front of the room.
Finally, cremation can be significantly less expensive than a burial.
When you choose to bury the deceased, several decisions have to be made. The funeral home can walk you though this process step-by-step. You will need to decide what type of casket you would like. Caskets vary greatly in price. It can be helpful for the family if they know how simple or elaborate you want your casket to be. The family will have to decide what to dress the deceased in. If there is something specific you would like, let your loved ones know.
The major decision that has to be made is what cemetery you want to be buried in. If members of your family are buried in a specific cemetery and you would also like to be buried there, you need to let your loved ones know. Once the cemetery is chosen, they can help you pick a plot, based on what is available. Some families have also already purchased plots to use when the time comes. Then, you will need to chose a headstone. This is another thing that varies greatly in price and style. If you have a specific wish, it is helpful to let your loved ones know before hand.
When you chose a burial, funeral arrangements are slightly more complex. Do you want to have a viewing at the funeral home before the service? Do you want an open or closed casket for the funeral? Some families chose to have the casket open before and after the service so that people can see the deceased one last time, and close the casket during the service.
Once the funeral is completed, the funeral home then takes the body in the casket to the cemetery where a graveside service is usually held.
A burial can be significantly more expensive than a cremation.
Like I previously stated, whether to bury or cremate a loved one is an extremely personal decision. There is no right or wrong decision. I personally believe it is best to let the deceased make that decision for themsleves, but that requires that they have a conversation with their loved ones prior to death to let them know what they desire. The wishes and beliefs of the family should be taken into consideration.
If you don't have a strong opinion on the matter, I would suggest thinking about the following. When you bury someone, there is a place that friends and family can go to "visit" the deceased. For some people, this can be helpful and a part of the grieving process. For others, this can be extremely painful. Those left behind may feel an obligation to visit or keep flowers at the graveside. They may feel guilty for not visiting often or moving away. Each family will be different.
The last thing I will say about making this decision prior to your passing is this: this is a decision that members of the family and loved ones will have different opinions about. Some people also have very strong opinions about this topic. To protect your spouse or loved ones from the pressure of upsetting others during an already tragic time, make this decision for yourself and make your wishes known. Then, those left behind won't have to deal with fighting and upset feelings of others in the midst of grieving.