At some point in their lives, most of us will be faced with having to arrange a funeral after the loss of a loved one. It’s a difficult time, which often involves finding out what needs to be done and taking control of the funeral planning process while you’re still learning to cope emotionally with your loss.
For some people, focusing on practical tasks can be a helpful distraction from grief but for those with no previous experience of the arrangements required following the death of a loved one, working out what to do next can be stressful and upsetting. Here, we provide an outline of what to expect and how to ensure you plan a funeral that’s right for your loved one and the people they’ve left behind.
What happens immediately after the death of a loved one will depend on the circumstances of their death, including whether they died at home, in hospital or in a care setting, for example, and the cause of death. If your loved one dies at home, your GP will need to be notified as soon as possible and, in all cases, the death will need to be confirmed. A Medical Certificate, which requires two doctors’ signatures, will be provided as written confirmation of the death and your GP can arrange this if your loved one has died at home.
Once the Medical Certificate has been issued, you will need to register the death, which usually needs to be done within 5 days in England and 8 days in Scotland. Ideally, this should be done at the register office closest to the deceased’s home or last place or residence.
In some circumstances, such as suicide, accident or unexpected death, a coroner may also investigate the death, which will delay the funeral until the investigations have been concluded and an inquest has confirmed the cause of death. However, where this is the case, you can still begin the process of planning the funeral while you wait for these matters to be resolved.
Finding a Funeral Director
Once the death has been confirmed, you will need to contact a funeral director to help you make all the necessary arrangements. In many cases, particularly if the deceased was older or had been ill for some time, your loved one may have taken out a funeral plan.
It’s important to choose a funeral director that you feel you can work with to implement your wishes or the wishes your loved one expressed before they died. For practical reasons, it is advisable to choose a funeral director that’s located close to the place where the funeral will be held, which may not be local to you. It’s also a good idea to ask friends and family for recommendations because the most important factor is finding a funeral director that will provide a smooth and sensitive service tailored to your individual wishes.
Once you’ve decided on a funeral director, they will take some details from you over the phone. If your loved one died at home, they will arrange to collect the body along with any clothing you have picked out.
The funeral director will also talk you through the paperwork that’s required and ensure that everything is in place to allow the funeral to go ahead and any estate to be administered.
Taking Care of the Detail
Once you’ve chosen your funeral director, they will spend time with you understanding your wishes and any wishes your loved one expressed before they died. This can either be done face to face or over the phone. During the pandemic, many funeral directors have also been offering this briefing over video call as an alternative to a face to face meeting; the important factor is to choose what’s most comfortable for you.
The funeral director will start by establishing whether or not your loved one had a funeral plan in place and if they had expressed any wishes about their funeral. Where this is the case, the planning process for you is much simpler because key choices have already been made and the funeral has already been paid for.
If there is no plan in place, you will need to agree a budget that balances your wishes/the wishes of your loved one, with what you can afford. Usually you will be required to pay 50% of the funeral costs up front, along with any third-party costs such as the church organist or crematorium fees, for example. The remaining 50% will be due for payment after the funeral, so there is little time to save.
For scenarios where there is no plan in place and the family cannot afford a funeral, or there is no family, funeral directors can signpost you to the Government’s Funeral Expenses Payment scheme, which may be able to help with the cost and the NBS can also advise you if you find yourself in this situation.
Alongside the financial and practical elements of the funeral, the funeral director will also help you decide on what kind of event you want to the funeral to be and what elements you would like to include. Part of their role is to get to know your loved one as a person so that they can make suggestions and deliver a send-off that’s appropriate and memorable.
Making the right choices
Whether you prefer to go for something traditional or a more unique and personalised funeral, your funeral director should be able to arrange your loved one’s funeral around your wishes. This includes any religious or cultural requirements. They can explain to you the options available, such as whether you’d prefer a cremation or burial, the type of service, the choice of casket, transportation options for the family, arrangements for flowers or charitable donations and what’s required for the order of service.
If you would like to say your final farewells to your loved one, the funeral director will also arrange for viewings in the chapel of rest.
The funeral director can also arrange the wake if you would like them to and, again, this can be as formal or informal as you would like it to be.
Coping with Making Arrangements During Strange Times
During the COVID-19 pandemic, arranging funerals and grieving for lost loved ones has been more challenging due to social distancing measures. Regardless of these additional challenges, it’s still the funeral director’s role to help make the process as painless as possible.
Phone calls and video chats have replaced many face-to-face consultations but private viewings have still been going ahead. However, the number of mourners in attendance at any given time has been restricted, which has proved particularly difficult for cultures where it is usual for the whole family to gather to say goodbye.
Numbers have been limited at funerals too but restrictions have been governed by the size of the crematorium in many cases, so a funeral director can advise on the best location to suit your needs. Many crematoria have also installed video call facilities to enable mourners to join the service from a distance.
Wakes have also adjusted in response to social distancing measures, with picnics in the park providing an alternative to more traditional indoor buffets.
Advice is Available
Saying a last goodbye to a loved one is always painful but help is on hand to make it as stress-free as possible. Finding a funeral director that will support, advise and take you through the process step-by-step is fundamental to coping with the practicalities at this difficult time and NBS can also provide practical advice, trusted service providers and emotional support when you need it most.