Making Funeral Arrangements in Advance
By Tom McGrath
After an uncle’s funeral, I strode along a ridge among the graves of my ancestors. Many of my great aunts and uncles, my grandparents, and close friends of the family are buried in the same section of a cemetery outside Chicago.
I’d been thinking that burial plots were a waste of good ground and that I didn’t really care what happened to me when I died—the less fuss the better. But as I walked among my people, I felt something I’ve never felt so strongly before—my connection to them, and their connection to the future through me.
I came to appreciate the rituals and traditions that surround the funerals in our family, and I began to think of how I might want my passing to be marked. I realized these “last rites” could matter greatly to me and they were worth my time and thought. Yet, many of us are not sure quite how to proceed.
Working your way through.
Making funeral arrangements has a lot in common with preparing for a baptism, bar mitzvah, wedding, or significant anniversary. Like these other milestones, a person’s passing is a major event in the lives of loved ones. But because the details surrounding a death occur at a time of tremendous stress, it makes sense to make as many arrangements in advance as you can.
The better you plan, the less likely the stress of the moment and the crush of details—not to mention the shock of your loss—will overwhelm you, and the occasion will turn out as you hope. Many people would rather not think about death and funeral arrangements. But there are strong emotional, social, and financial reasons to make funeral arrangements in advance. Here are a few suggestions.
Explore all your options.
By acting in advance, you can think through the available choices to find the options that are right for you. Will you choose interment, cremation, or entombment in a mausoleum? Are there special visitation arrangements that need to be accommodated?
If you act in advance, you can have many of your questions answered. You can read and research, inquire with friends as well as funeral professionals, and challenge assumptions you may have. Many people carry around erroneous notions about what is and isn’t allowed at funerals. When making advance funeral arrangements—for yourself or a loved one for whom you’re responsible—you’ll be called upon to make many significant decisions. By acting in advance of need, you’re in the best position to examine questions in depth, give them significant thought, consult with others whose feelings you need to consider, and come to decisions with which you can be satisfied.
Have it your way.
Funerals are not for the edification of the preacher, the exclusive domain of the funeral director, or to fulfill someone else’s idea of decorum and appropriateness. If you want a specific thing to happen at your funeral, the only way to be sure it will happen is to make your wishes clear in advance—best of all, in writing. Arrange it now. You can always change it later.
Keep costs reasonable and clear.
It’s important to find the right balance between providing the appropriate kind of sendoff and keeping costs within the limits you can afford. Set up a fact-finding appointment with a funeral director, cemetery director, or other service provider. Ask to have a cost sheet sent in advance so you can prepare your questions. Funeral professionals provide a service and should be paid for that service. But those paying for that service should know in advance what services are being provided, what the full costs are, and what other options are available.
Feel free to ask for additional options on caskets, embalming, and other services. Question charges you don’t understand. If after the explanation you remain uncertain, call another funeral director or your state’s funeral directors’ association to verify that the charge is appropriate. Practically speaking, attending to a loved one’s funeral arrangements in advance may find you in a better situation to handle the finances. This is especially true if the loved one may be heading to a nursing home where the cost of care may totally deplete family savings, leaving little or nothing with which to pay for the funeral.
Save your survivors added burdens.
My father worked for Catholic cemeteries in Chicago or 42 years. He began his career in sales. He was responsible for setting up a pre-need sales program in the early 1950s. Often, when he would arrive at a home to discuss advance funeral arrangements, people would be reluctant to even think about the day such arrangements would be needed.
Through the years, however, countless family members have come up to my father, thanking him for the time and effort he took with their family years before. In their time of mourning, details were already in place and decisions already made. They were grateful that when the hour had arrived, they were found prepared.
Anyone who has suddenly been responsible for handling the details of a death where no pre-arrangements have been made knows the overwhelming number of decisions that are involved. At a time of loss, confusion reigns. We can feel pulled in many directions at once, especially if we’re uncertain what the deceased would have wanted. Making your funeral arrangements in advance is one last wonderful gift you can give the loved ones who will be left behind.
Abbey Caskets offers an easy prepay option that allows you to select from our beautifully handcrafted wooden caskets and lock in your price.
For those wishing to plan beyond the casket purchase, we offer a Funeral Expense Trust option that allows you to set aside and protect funds necessary to help your family pay for funeral goods and services and other memorial-related expenses.