Making Funeral Arrangements

Posted at 18:18pm on 1st November 2008

It’s a paradox, but there is a sense in which planning a funeral is a positive and constructive experience. Although not intentionally so, making funeral arrangements – whether for burial or cremation – is a welcome distraction from grief and loss. As long as those who are bereaved are actively contacting funeral planning services and finding a funeral celebrant, they are less likely to dwell on their own distress.

This post is part of a series, each of which links to the previous one which, in this case, was: Dealing With Denial, Grief & Anger Following Bereavement. Today's post deals more with the practicalities than emotions.


The Age Concern website has an excellent fact sheet which covers such topics as:

  • Pre-paid funeral plans
  • Arranging a funeral without a funeral director
  • Donating organs for transplantation
  • Procedure at the Registrar’s office
  • Funeral payments from the Social Fund and who can get them
  • Bereavement Support organisation

The Arranging A Funeral website covers similar subjects, plus an explanation of probate, and a section on planning for the future.


When my adult daughter died, very suddenly, in suspicious circumstances, I was too shocked to consider whether burial or cremation would be the better option. It was only when I spoke with a friend who had recently lost her mother that I was persuaded of the merit of cremation. When you love someone, it’s hard to see their body ravaged by disease or the self-destructive elements of drug-addiction. In that case the fires of cremation may be seen as having a purifying affect. For those of a Christian faith, the spirit of a person is released and the body is but an empty shell. Ridding it of its imperfections may, therefore, be seen as an act of cleansing. Conversely, there are those who find the thought of burial and slow decay of the body repugnant.


For others, burial is perceived as demonstrating greater respect for the body of their loved one. It may be that environmental issues are important, and that cremation is seen as a pollutant, releasing carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen chloride and other gases into the atmosphere. Or it may simply be emotionally unacceptable to some mourners, to contemplate burning the body of someone they have known and loved.


In Western civilisations, black or purple have traditionally been the colours of mourning. Again, this is a matter of personal choice. Many services now take the form of a celebration of life, rather than a funeral for the deceased. Increasingly – especially in Christian circles – this means that bright clothing is often worn in recognition of the joy of having known the deceased. It’s probably best to check with the family.


This, of course, is a matter of personal choice. I know of people who have planned their own funeral right down to the last hymn and prayer. But whatever rites of passage are chosen, this is an opportunity for friends and family to gather to pay their last respects. It is usual to have a short address on aspects of the deceased’s life - which may not be known to all - by someone who knew them well.

Secular or sacred poems may be read, or songs sung by a soloist. It is worth noting that copyright issues must be observed when such material is used, but a good funeral director should advise on these matters. The bereavement poem contained within my book, A Painful Post Mortem, may be freely used by anyone purchasing the book. As all profits are for charity, I hope this will be seen as a way of giving back to society.

Cremation or burial will usually follow the service, and it should be noted that frequently these will be a family-only affairs. In that case friends who have attended the funeral service may be asked to wait for the return of family members. Refreshments will usually be served, and the mourners will then have a chance to catch up with each other, and to reminisce about the person who has died.


For many, having a place to go to visit the departed is crucial, and a grave may be seen as the best means of achieving this. It is worth checking with the local council, however, to find out what the duration of tenure is on a grave. I was shocked, a few years ago, to discover that my grandmother’s grave (which for geographical reasons the family had been unable to attend for some time) had been buried beneath another layer of graves. On enquiry, we were told that twenty-five years was the length of time an untended grave might be retained.

A plaque in a garden of remembrance may be a better – and often less expensive – option. I wanted to be sure that my daughter’s child – a baby at the time of her death – would have somewhere to visit if required at a later date, so this was my choice. My daughter’s ashes were scattered among the rose gardens beneath.


They may make you weep when they arrive, but knowing that others cared about your loved one is part of the healing process. You will learn things about the person you have lost which you may never, previously, have known. In time, these remembrances will become incredibly precious to you.

Etiquette demands that you reply to each card and letter you receive. A simple ‘thanks’ will suffice but, like the planning of the funeral, the fuller the response you make, the greater the benefit to you.

Believe me, you will need all the assistance you can get in the grieving process. You think this was tough? Wait until the funeral’s over and the depth of your loss really sets in!

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