1. When someone you love dies, there’s no real rush.
Whether they’ve passed at home or in the hospital, you still have time to be with them and say your goodbyes. If you’re at home and you’ve contacted a funeral provider, just tell them you’d like some time before they come. An extra hour—even two—is just fine, and it can really help to begin the healing process.
2. It’s okay to research funeral homes before you commit.
Maybe your family knows a funeral home they’ve used in the past. Maybe this is all new to you. The point is, you can take a bit of time to compare to make sure you have the right provider—one who will honor your traditions, your priorities and your wishes. This might involve calling or even visiting a few prior to making a final selection.
If you’re in the New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco area, you can use our searchable list of providers to narrow down your options. If you’d like to learn about Farewelling Bespoke Services, contact us here.
Guru Tip: Don’t be shy about asking for prices. This can be an expensive purchase, and it’s perfectly okay to want to know your options. While costs are generally not negotiable, they should be immediately transparent (by law), and you should have a chance to review the bill before paying.
3. In addition to the funeral home, there are multiple providers (and fees) involved in hosting a funeral (or as we like to call it, a “farewelling”).
When securing a priest, rabbi, imam or other spiritual leader, you may be required to pay a fee or give a donation. You have the option of printing a program or memorial card for the service. Transportation by limo (or horse-drawn carriage or motorcycle hearse) will add to your budget, and even things like opening and closing fees (as in, opening and closing the grave) may apply from your cemetery.
Unless you make your own direct arrangements with preferred vendors, many times these fees will appear on your funeral home’s invoice. If you choose to celebrate the life of your loved one at a luncheon, cocktail fête, all-day dance party, or multi-course dinner, you’ll want to allot a budget for that as well.
Guru Tip: For help with staying organized, check out the Farewelling Funeral Planning Checklist.
4. You’re not obligated to buy an urn or casket from the funeral home.
Although your funeral home will show you the options they have, and they may offer exclusive and lovely things that are perfect for you, you do have the right to order the items you prefer and have them shipped to the funeral home. In the case of cremation,think about what kind of vessel you’d like as a permanent home for your dear one’s ashes. While there are certain rules that govern what you can choose (must have a lid that can be sealed, etc.) for the most part, you can select whatever you’d like.
Guru Tip: While your loved one’s ashes will need to be picked up from the funeral home, the choice of permanent container can be made later. The ashes will be returned in a plastic bag inside another container. You can take your loved one home like this, and then think about where and in what type of vessel you want their “final” resting place to be. If you want the ashes moved to a new container later on, it’s a good idea to bring them back to the funeral home and a pro will transfer them for you!
5. You may need to choose clothing for the person who has died.
This will depend on whether you’ll have a viewing and what their—or your—preferences are. You’ll pack a bag for the provider, and they’ll take care of making sure things are fitted properly and looking neat.
It may seem difficult to make this kind of choice if they didn’t share their wishes, and some people find this step emotionally difficult, which is understandable. Our advice: just think of their style and use your best judgment.
But before you add in their favorite vintage watch, wedding band, or pearl bracelet for all eternity, consider whether they might’ve wanted family or friends to cherish those items as a way to remember them always. You can choose to feature a favorite piece of jewelry, for example, for the viewing and funeral service, then have it removed before burial or cremation if it will mean a lot to you (or to someone else) to keep it.
Guru Tip: You’d be surprised how many people forget to pack socks and underwear for the person who has passed.
6. Even if you’re very traditional, and even if your loved one will be cremated, the best way to honor them is to personalize a funeral service and/or celebration in their honor.
At Farewelling we believe in living beautifully, and in thoughtfully celebrating that beautiful life to honor the person who has died. As you’re planning, don’t forget all the lovely details that make for a great send-off (music, readings, mood and food, for example). Personalizing a funeral will of course vary according to religious and cultural preferences, but the idea is to remember the individual well and truly by honoring their spirit, their values, and even their style.
Guru Tip: Some organized people, like celebrity Chelsea Handler, have already set aside a significant budget for a great farewelling. In Handler’s case, it’s because she wants her friends and family to have an amazing party after she’s gone. But it’s not really about money at all. It’s about love, respect and beautiful memories. For more ideas on how to personalize a farewelling click here.
Oh, by the way, if after reading this you’ve realized you’d like to create a plan for your own farewelling so that all your wishes are clear and communicated, click here to get started.
Elizabeth Meyer Karansky is a licensed Funeral Director, Thanatology Fellow and Farewelling's Funeral Guru. She lives with her husband in New York City.