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Arranging Funerals – advice on what to expect when visiting funeral directors.

a cross in the light of the sun 
richard fogarty


by Tina Burton**

Funeral arrangements and traditions do, of course, vary depending on
religion and the following only covers one small aspect of this vast
subject.  Unfortunately, I do not have the knowledge, expertise or
necessary contacts to cover other religions at this moment in time and
customs/practises/legal requirements differ from country to country.

I know from personal experience how daunting it can be having to visit
the Funeral Directors after a bereavement, especially when the death is
sudden and/or unexpected.  However compassionate and helpful they
are, with emotions running so high, it can be difficult to get your mind
around all the necessary details. 

The following information and advice has
been provided courtesy of Mrs Tina Burton, who worked in the funeral
profession for a number of years.

The whole concept of saying goodbye to our
dearly departed has changed tremendously over the past few years, as
tradition has given way to more modern approaches. Undertakers are no
longer dark dreary places where someone who looked like a character from
‘The Adams family’ would greet you as you walked through the door. The
premises are now often light and airy, decorated in calming colours to
make you feel at ease, and you are more likely to be greeted by an
attractive compassionate woman, who is every bit as kind and professional
as your traditional male Funeral Director.

These days we are less reluctant to discuss this subject, with some
people going so far as to plan their own funerals or to at least make
close relatives aware of their wishes.

There is advice around as to what needs to be done after a death but
this does not always specify what needs to be done prior to the visit to
the Funeral Directors.  It is with this in mind that we have put
together the following guidelines.

There is no need to visit the Funeral
Directors until you feel ready to do so
*, however, they can act on your
behalf with such things as ascertaining when the documents allowing the
funeral to proceed will be issued etc. so an early visit may be

don’t have to go to the funeral parlour, you can request that someone
visit you in your own home to go through the arrangements, if preferred.

People do not need to see funeral
directors immediately. The death has to be registered and the
registrar will issue a green form to take to the funeral director
(unless the coroner was involved), so you can wait until then to
make the arrangements.

Before making the appointment think about
what sort of service is wanted.  It can be very distressing to
be bombarded with unexpected questions which can lead to feeling
pressurised into making instant decisions which are later regretted.

They have to cover many aspects of the
funeral and in order to ascertain the client’s particular requirements
need to ask many questions.  In order to help prepare for your visit
we list below a few of the more common questions.

  • Burial or cremation?
  • Is the deceased to be dressed in one
    of the funeral home robes, or his/her own clothes?
  • Is the deceased wearing jewellery, and is it
    to stay on or be removed? You may want to pass it down to a member of
    the family in the deceased’s memory. 

  • Do you want to visit your loved one in the chapel of rest at the
    funeral directors?

If this is requested,
hygienic treatment – most commonly known as embalming – will probably be
carried out, and the funeral director/arranger, should ask the
permission of the next of kin/person arranging the funeral for this
to take place. Embalming is an invasive procedure, which involves
replacing the body fluids with a preserving fluid, ensuring that the
deceased is preserved and ready for people to visit him or her.

Not all funeral directors
carry out this procedure, but most do, and they should inform the next
of kin/person arranging the funeral that it will take place. There
are certain conditions which will mean the body cannot be embalmed and
the funeral director will discuss this with the relatives if this is the

  • Is there a
    particular minister who you would like to officiate at the service?
  • What music/
    hymns/songs are to be played at the service? Here in the UK people can have
    anything they want nowadays, even providing their own CDs, as most
    crematoriums are set up for this purpose now. 
  • Are there to be flowers and/or donations? 

Some people have family flowers only, but donations to a certain
charity, others say anyone can send flowers, some say no flowers at all. 

  • What is to be done with the ashes after the
  • Will a limousine* be required, if so, where it has to go to
    pick up and drop people off. 

*  Each limousine
can usually hold around six people.

  • Is catering required?

You will be asked to choose a coffin either
from a brochure, or if the funeral home has one, their coffin showroom.

There may be a
couple of forms to be signed – a
removal form, if the funeral director uses them – this gives them
permission to collect your loved one from hospital if that is where
they are
, the cremation form – called the ‘A’ form and a form from the funeral
directors which usually lists all their fees etc. It can take
anything from half an hour to over an hour to arrange the funeral, so to
be prepared in advance, can greatly ease matters.

Funerals are not the dreary affairs they
once used to be, and death isn’t as taboo a subject.

People are
positively encouraged now to make their loved one’s service as special as
they can, with things such as a motorbike hearse or horse and carriage,
balloon or dove release, the deceased’s favourite songs, and relatives
can put goodbye letters and photos in the coffin.

**Tina Burton is a freelance writer, who has
written a variety of fictional and non fiction articles for different
publications such as Modern Marriages, The Lady etc.,

You may also be interested in checking out a website dedicated to
helping people understand what is involved in planning a funeral and the
costs involved including concise, practical information on
to choose a funeral director
‘. Jan Andrews of FuneralCostsHelp.co.uk
has collated as much information on the subject as possible, and plans
to start a blog in order to add new bits over time.