Let’s face it – funerals are the parties no one wants to plan. And most people only interact with funeral directors at funerals when they are appropriately solicitous, supportive and somber.
Because so many people avoid discussing death, few realize funeral directors are some of the kindest, funniest people you will ever meet.
If you were simply chatting with a funeral director over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, what would he or she want you to know? A few of my friends in the funeral profession offer you these words of wisdom.
Amy Cunningham, Funeral Director at Fitting Tribute Funeral Services in Brooklyn, NY says, “You and the funeral director can actually speak together about what constitutes a ‘good’ funeral. This will bond you. You will get a better connection and a better service by having this talk. Describe the deceased… what colors they liked, what hobbies, what foods and more. Let the deceased be known. Spill the beans please.”
She adds, “Ask the funeral director what his/her favorite service has been. What funerals has the firm supervised that the team feels super proud of? What made those services great? By the way, the best services aren’t necessarily the funerals that cost a lot of money. Be sure you’re talking about the great services, not just the fancy ones.”
Joe Pray, Funeral Director at Pray Funeral Home in Charlotte, MI, known for its innovations in memorial personalization and pursuit of excellence, says, “Most of the things I wish people knew was that we are here to tell the life story, not just dispose of the deceased. I always hope we can educate the public on the importance of telling the individual’s story. When we develop a meaningful service that brings forth waves of laughter and gentle tears, we receive the most enthusiastic reviews.”
With the growing use of cremation, you may not think about the importance of a ceremony to say goodbye.
Jamie Sarche, Director of Pre-Arranged Funeral Planning at Feldman Mortuary in Denver, CO, says, “‘Easier’ isn’t necessarily better. When it comes to grieving, the path of least resistance – just getting rid of the body – might seem like the best path. However, without a communal event to mourn the person, people often feel incomplete. People don’t really know what they need until they don’t have it.”
Amy Cunningham adds, “You really should consider coming to the crematory for a short farewell to the closed cremation casket. It’s worth it. You’ll be more or less delighted, even at such a sad time, that you went the extra mile to accompany your loved one. You don’t need to witness the casket’s entry into the retort, but you may.”
Jodi Clock, Director of Advance Funeral Planning and Transitional Care at Clock Funeral Home based in Muskegon, MI, cautions people to shop around, particularly if you are making at-need arrangements. “Not all funeral homes are equally ethical,” she says. “Buyer beware. Whichever funeral home you go with, do your research.”
Syd Waldman, Certified Funeral Service Practitioner and Owner of Waldman Funeral Care in Houston, TX says, “I tell my families to be sure there is at least one financial account that is titled with both spouses’ names and rights of survivorship, and it has money in it. If this is a pre-need arrangement, with both spouses still alive, I try to get all the documents in my hand ahead of time, such as the DD214 (proof of veterans’ service), Power of Attorney, Agent for Disposition, Hebrew names, photo for obituary and service folder, parents’ names, places of birth and other information that might become ‘lost’ at time of death.”
Jamie Sarche advises, “Why wait to make plans until there is a crisis? Planning ahead, while death still seems theoretical, can make a huge emotional and financial difference.”
Just as when you go to an important doctor’s appointment, a friend can provide an additional pair of eyes and ears – and a rational perspective – when you’re in the funeral home’s arrangement room.
Amy Cunningham says, “If you’re an emotional basket case, bring a friend with you. In fact, it’s always good to bring a friend with you to meet with a funeral director, especially when a death is imminent or has just occurred. You need someone to dine with after your first funeral home meeting to process what has occurred and to identify where you’re going to need the most help in the coming days.”
If the idea of having a son, daughter or spouse arrange your funeral gives you pause, you can appoint a competent friend to handle the details.
Syd Waldman says, “I use the State of Texas’ ‘Agent for Disposition’ form to give people the opportunity to appoint someone other than traditional next-of-kin if they are worried that their wishes might not be carried out. This can also be used for partners who are not married, where adult children might interfere.”
Specifics vary by state and country, so check into your local options.
Pet loss hurts. A growing number of funeral homes now offer cremation services for pets and supportive care for the humans who love them.
Jodi Clock, who is also President of Clock Timeless Pets, says, “When the kids are gone, for many seniors, pets are the joy in their lives. A loss is a loss. It doesn’t matter if it has two legs or four legs.”
Amy Cunningham notes, “The funeral director wants to hear what you like about the funeral home you’ve just entered. Be honest. Find something you like about the place and then report back on how that thing – the grandfather clock in the parlor, the green burial mention on the website, even when that’s not what you want – say something nice and the funeral director will work harder for you. Don’t go with a firm where you can’t get beyond your hesitance to trust. You are sad, a death has occurred, but you can still give compliments and be just a little charming!”
“The funeral director is your friend and prospective comrade. Tell him/her your spiritual journey,” suggests Amy Cunningham. “When planning an event, let the funeral director know what faith you were born into, how you’ve evolved, how the deceased evolved, and where the family’s at. It’s perfectly normal and fine to enter as a family with a mixed spiritual constellation. No faith? No God talk? Totally cool, but the funeral director needs to know all that.”
Don’t let fear of discussing death keep you from talking to a funeral director and learning what you need to know before you go!
Have you had a conversation with a funeral director about the options they offer? Do you feel that a proper ceremony is a necessary part of saying goodbye to a loved one? Have you shared how you would like your life to be celebrated at your funeral? Please join the conversation in the comments.