Making Funeral Decisions
The Right Funeral Choices are hard to Make
When a loved one dies, there are plenty of decisions that will have to be made by his or her family. A potentially overwhelming number, in fact. It is a sad fact of the nursing profession that one of the most dreaded duties that a caretaker will have to perform is to ask the following question: “Which funeral home would you like us to call to make arrangements for the body?” That question carries with it a ton (actually several tons) of stress and grief that can come pouring upon a family member who has lost his or her beloved. And it just the first of a string of important decisions that must be made – often within a half hour or less. This article aims to help families be ready for that question and all the others that will follow it over the course of the next few days (or even weeks).
The easy way to make Funeral Decisions:
The best and easiest way to make funeral decisions is to take the time to plan things well in advance. Experts in a variety of fields — from psychology to financial planning to, of course, funeral planning — will all tell you that elders in a family owe it to their own piece of mind (as well of that of their loved ones) to make sure their final arrangements are planned, down to the very last detail and very last dollar, well before the time of need. And the experts all go on to say that it’s never too early to make these arrangements. Though people in their 20s rarely can be found to consider, and communicate, what should happen to their remains in the event of an untimely death, doing so can be a healthy experience. It is a practice of good stewardship to write one’s wishes and plans in detail and store the document in a very secure place known to several in the family. The very first sentence of this document would do well to answer the question that no nurse will ask out of eagerness: which funeral home should we call.
How to Decide who should make the Funeral Decisions:
But, even in the case in which a funeral has been planned in advance of need, there will still be at least a few details left uncovered. The deceased may have thoroughly explained his or her desire to be cremated or burried, or what to do with the cremation ashes, to scattering the ashes across various part of the state in which he lived or to have a water or ocean ash scattering. But, at the same time, she might have likely neglected to say which exactly which relatives should be mentioned by name in the obituary, or who should be asked to be a pall bearer at the open casket service he requested.
The questions, nevertheless, must be answered by someone.
The best way to do this is to organize an emergency family meeting (via telephone or video conference call, if need be) within 12-24 hours after a death. Whoever takes the lead in arranging the meeting should be prepared to also be selected the family’s spokesperson in dealing with the professionals who will be helping plan the funeral. But this person should not presume this selection in advance of the meeting. The most important item of business in this meeting would be to achieve a consensus about just who has the authority to speak for the family. In most cases, this authority need not necessarily be in writing, but, in the event a family has a history of litigiousness or even just a history of fairly routine strife, it might not be a bad idea to ask all present to sign a statement of some sort. A simple one or two sentence page will probably suffice in all but the most contentious of cases.
Establishing a Consensus:
Once a spokesperson has been selected, it then becomes his or her responsibility to be a democratic leader, taking all opinions and ideas into consideration before making any final decision. It is important for this leader to remember that his or her selection is not necessarily a license to plan things his way. Such an attitude could be detrimental to the long term healing of grief for many family members who have entrusted him or her to speak for them.
Consensus must always be the goal.
What to do in the event of Major Disagreements:
In the event of major disagreements over how to make funeral decisions for a loved one, the leader who has been selected as spokesperson for the family should consider adopting a humble spirit for the sake of harmony and consensus. That’s what any good leader would do, in fact.
A case in point:
One woman in Texas was selected as the family spokesperson after the death of her husband who had left conflicting instructions regarding his choice of burial versus cremation. Being a frugal woman, the wife’s first inclination was to simply have her husband quickly cremated and ask various family members to scatter portions of them over various parts of the United States in the coming months. This had been the wish of her recently departed brother-in-law, and her husband had always seemed glad for the opportunity to participate in that type of memorial. And besides, this decision was going to save thousands of dollars off the cost of her husband’s memorial service, a ceremony that, it was clear, she would be paying for almost entirely.
When the woman mentioned these plans to family members, she immediately began to sense that several were uncomfortable with it. For emotional reasons, these family members gradually expressed to her over the next day or so that they preferred to have their beloved relative buried in a traditional grave marked with a headstone that they could come and visit many times over the course of the rest of their lives.
The woman knew that honoring these desires would add thousands of dollars to her expenses, and it went against her spirit of economy and frugality.
But she conceded anyway.
Allowing this emotional blessing to her fellow family members who loved her husband as much as she did was simply the right thing to do, she decided.
Consensus, in the end, was worth much more than frugality. And that is often the case, families find, when they get down to the business of making funeral decisions.
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Ashley McCaskill Zellars