The details that must be handled when a loved one passes away can be overwhelming. Making funeral arrangements is a tedious and emotional responsibility. While no one is ever completely prepared for the loss of a loved one, it is possible to be aware of the details that must be managed to plan a funeral and burial. Understanding the process before it becomes immediate can make the difficult time of grief less stressful. When examined in advance, mourners can be prepared in order to have a meaningful memorial service.

Early Preparations

Waiting until a death to consider and plan some of the preparations for the funeral adds stress, pressure and activity on the shoulders of the immediate family. Several items can be considered and decided ahead of time, easing the burden upon those who are grieving.

Thought first can be given about those who will be dealing with the preparations of the body. Several critical decisions are tied to the selection of the funeral home. Funeral ceremonies, funeral products, and arrangements for the various transportations of the body can be worked through with the help of the folks at a funeral home. This is a critical decision that involves the facilities of the funeral home, the cost of the services, and the relationship that you build with the staff. Speaking to them ahead of time will not only answer questions pertaining to procedures, but will give peace of mind that all of the important details regarding the death and burial are in the hands of professionals who are there to help you.

Choices can also be made for the selection of a cemetery. Property will need to be purchased, as well as grave markers. Consideration should be given to a cemetery where other family members have been buried. In some cases the funeral director can make suggestions for a location, and actually help make the arrangements for the family.

Another item that can be pre-planned is the choice of a casket. Most funeral homes and services provide several choices that take into account preferences and price. Planning these financial decisions ahead of time can make the loved ones’ time of mourning less stressful.

Another decision that can be made ahead of time involves people who wish to bring a gift to the service. Although flowers offer an attractive, meaningful expression of sorrow, many families are suggesting that in lieu of flowers, a donation should be made to a favorite cause or charity in the loved one’s memory. The family should come to a consensus regarding this important component of the funeral.

Finally some particulars about the funeral and burial can be determined ahead of time. Decisions can be made about the location of the services, who should officiate, whether family members and friends should be allowed to offer eulogies, if there are preferences for readings, music and songs, if the service with be religious or secular or a blend, and the particulars around the final resting service.

If these arrangements are made ahead of time, the survivors do not have to make these critical, yet painful, decisions during their time of shock and grief.

Before & Immediately Following the Death

If you are present when a friend or loved one dies, several vital steps must be handled in a timely fashion. If you are at the workplace when a death occurs, there may be people appointed to handle the details of the death. If someone passes away at work, call 911 immediately. Any death that occurs without medical personnel present must be reported to the police. It is probable that an investigation will be held by the coroner’s office. An autopsy upon the body may be required. The same would be true if the death occurs at home.

If the loved one passes away while under the care of a medical team, the primary care physician should be notified as soon as possible. The physician’s name can often be found on prescription bottles or medical statements. If their needs have required care in a hospital or other care facility, the staff of the facility will usually take care of contacting the mortuary. Often the mortuary has been designated upon admission.

If the loved one was an organ donor, instructions are often found on the driver’s license in the purse or wallet. If no instructions can be found, call the primary care physician or a local hospital for proper procedures.

Also among the first calls to be made, the director of the funeral home should be notified. If this has been selected ahead of time, less time and fewer decisions will need to be made during the immediate hours following the death. If no funeral service provider has been selected, that decision should be made immediately and a first call made to the funeral home of choice. They will handle all of the necessary details, including the transportation of the body.

Depending on the circumstances of the death, there may be other parties who need to be notified. A call should be made to the local police department if no one was present at the death or if the death occurred with unknown circumstances.

When these calls are made, you will need to provide the following information:

  • Name of the deceased
  • Residence of the deceased
  • Social Security Number of the deceased
  • Time of death
  • Current location of the body
  • Primary care or attending physician and phone number
  • Your name, address and phone numbers
  • Your relationship to the deceased

If the deceased had made arrangements ahead of time for the burial and for a funeral plan, find the necessary information. Do your best to see that the wishes are carried out exactly as planned.

Telling the Sad News to Others

Sharing information about the death of someone is never an easy task. There are a few guidelines that can assure that sensitivity and respect prevail. Inform the closest family members in person if at all possible. When breaking the news to out-of-town immediate family members, make sure that the person being called is not alone when you speak.

Put together a list of people and organizations that need to be contacted. People to include on the list are distant family members, friends, employers (of both the deceased and immediate family members), peers, organization members and neighbors. The organizations, religious institutions, and former employers that the deceased actively supported, and educational facilities such as the alma mater would be among the businesses to be contacted.

Delegate family members to make the phone calls. Avoid texts and emails if at all possible.

Planning the Funeral

In planning the funeral service, the first decision that must be made is who will conduct the proceedings. If the service will be a religious one, the church, synagogue or facility should be notified and an officiate to conduct the service secured. While this individual does not have to have known the deceased, most families prefer someone who has a strong connection with the family. For those who do not have a home religious affiliation, the funeral home will often have a list of people who can serve in the capacity of the officiate.

Usually the officiate will conduct the service, leading or introducing the prayers and songs and deliver the eulogy. The officiate will often meet with the family to collect stories about the deceased, in order to present a meaningful and accurate eulogy. Many times this individual will want to point out lessons to be learned from the life of the deceased. Family members will often make suggestions about the selection of Scripture readings.

Decisions should be made about the presence of flowers. While flowers are an accepted part of many services, some traditions do not use flowers as a component of the service. For example, the absence of flowers became a way to distinguish a Jewish ceremony. Even though tradition leans toward flowerless Jewish funerals, the Law certainly does not prohibit flowers at a funeral. Instead of sending flowers, it is more consistent with Jewish tradition and practice to send donations to a charity or educational facility that was special to the deceased. The family should indicate these wishes in the obituary notices.

If flowers are accepted, designate someone to take care of removing the flowers after the services. Some of the arrangements will be special to the family and will want to be saved. Others will need to be moved or disposed of. The funeral home may assist in some of these decisions.

While the services provided by the funeral home and cemetery are very thorough, other individuals or organizations may be contacted to provide additional desired services. Some funeral homes will make the arrangements for you and will include them in their billing under a section labeled “Third Party Services” or “Cash Advances.”

These services may include:

  • Services of clergy
  • Fees for the use of auditorium or sanctuaries for the service
  • Musicians and vocalists
  • Floral arrangements for the casket
  • Clothing for the deceased
  • Food and beverages for the visitation and other receptions
  • Newspaper obituaries
  • Internet memorials
  • Certified copies of the death certificates
  • Military presence and services

Often some close friends or members of the family will want to speak words at the funeral service. A decision should me made whether this should be allowed. Will this be an open time where anyone can speak, or will certain family members be designated to “speak on behalf” of a segment of the family. A brother or sister, the spouse or a grandchild may be asked to speak.

While the intentions are usually good, preparing and delivering such an emotional is a challenging, difficult task. Thought and consideration should be given regarding the selection of these speakers.


In addition to the funeral service itself, time is usually set aside for visitation. Family and friends can come and offer condolences to the immediate family. Decisions need to be made about the length and time of these visitations. Usually a few hours will be set aside the day before the funeral, as well as an hour or two preceding the funeral.

During the visitation, the casket may be left open for viewing or closed. While this is often a preference to the family, the circumstances of the death and the condition of the body may dictate this decision.

Burial and Graveside Service

A graveside service can follow the funeral services or it can be an event of itself. If the burial is in a cemetery far away, the graveside service is often a more detailed event, allowing friends and family from the other location to have a more meaningful memorial. The officiate from the funeral service often conducts this ceremony as well.


Cremation may serve as the post-funeral resting place. Cremation remains may be buried or interred at memorial sites, or they may be retained by the relatives in special urns or vases. The ashes may be given to several relatives. The remains do not pose a health risk. Decisions about cremation are very delicate and should be made by consulting the family members who would be touched by this decision. In many countries and traditions, cremation is the preferred method of the final resting state for the body.

Other Items

No checklist can be complete for every circumstance. A few other issues that often surface should be considered prior to the funeral. If the deceased was a veteran, the local VFW post should be contacted. A flag or military services may be a part of the funeral. Have the individual’s discharge papers available.

Place an obituary in the local newspaper. The funeral home usually takes care of placing this information in the local paper. If other papers are desired, the family often puts the information available.

Arrange for transportation and housing for family members who come from far away for the services.

Designate a charitable organization(s) for donations in honor of the loved one. This is a very delicate decision and should be made with the consensus of the immediate family.