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Planning a Funeral
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The average person may find themselves planning a funeral only once or twice in their entire lifetime. It is perfectly normal to feel a sense of apprehension, uncertainly or even outright fear of this process. Complicating these feelings is the fact that you are probably completing this task at time of great sadness; someone you love has died.

Your IFDA funeral director understands your concerns. He or she is an expert at planning a funeral and is your resource for all information you may need regarding funeral services and related merchandise and are committed to providing compassionate assistance during this difficult time.

Your funeral director will give you complete information and education regarding all of your options so you can make an informed decision as to which arrangements will best suit your needs, your budget and the life of your loved one.

 
     
   Where to Begin  
 
 
  It can be hard to know where to begin when planning a funeral. Many questions may run through your mind. Who should I contact first? Who contacts the clergy? Who contacts the cemetery? What are my options for funeral services? How much does a funeral cost?

Know that you are not alone.

Whether a death has already occurred, you are planning a funeral in advance or you are looking for answers to your questions, we sincerely hope that you find the information contained in this section of our website helpful. You will find an overview of the arrangement process, veteran’s information, your consumer rights and personalization ideas.

We have also included information regarding earth burial, cremation, alkaline hydrolysis and green burial so that you may begin to have an understanding of the options available. All of this information is designed to help you begin visualizing a meaningful funeral that honors a life lived.

When you need to make funeral arrangements, know that your IFDA funeral director is prepared to help you with all of the important details. He or she will outline the entire funeral arrangement process for you, explain your options, contact all of the parties involved in the arrangements on your behalf and will make sure that everything is coordinated to your specifications.

We want you to focus on spending as much time as possible with your family and friends at this difficult time. Make your first call to your IFDA funeral director; they will handle all of the details for you.

 
     
   Your Rights as a Consumer  
     
 

Funeral service is regulated at both the national and state levels. At the federal level, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides for price disclosure and consumer protection through the “Funeral Rule.” Some of the primary consumer rights that the Funeral Rule ensures are:

  • Upon request, you will be provided funeral price information over the telephone.
  • You will receive a copy of the funeral home’s General Price List, for your retention, when making an in-person inquiry about funeral products and/or funeral services.
  • You will receive an itemized “Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected” once all of your selections have been completed at the conclusion of the funeral arrangement conference.

Bill of Rights for Funeral Preplanning

Laws regulating funeral service are state-specific. There is usually a state-level agency that regulates the activities of funeral establishments and funeral directors. Questions regarding the practice of funeral service in your state or a particular state law may be directed to your funeral director or to the appropriate state agency. In Illinois, this is the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).

 
     
   Making Arrangements  
     
 

There are many services that your IFDA funeral director can provide for you. First and foremost, they want to make this time as easy as possible. The following is a partial list of the items your IFDA funeral director can assist you with:

  • Creating a personalized and meaningful funeral honoring your loved one's life
  • Explaining your full range of service and merchandise options
  • Coordinating a newspaper or online obituary
  • Preparing and filing the death certificate
  • Coordinating with the clergy and/or your church
  • Arranging for a funeral celebrant or clergy if you do not have one
  • Coordinating cemetery arrangements
  • Coordinating crematory arrangements
  • Securing musicians
  • Securing flowers
  • Coordinating memorial contributions to your favorite charity
  • Notifying the Social Security Administration of your loved one's death
  • Providing information on Veterans benefits and military honors
  • Arranging or assisting with meals and receptions

Prior to your making any decisions regarding funeral services or merchandise, your IFDA funeral director will provide you with a copy of the funeral home's General Price List. This document will help you understand all of your options with regard to funeral services and related merchandise. He or she will provide guidance and assist you in making decisions that are most appropriate for you and your family.

 
     
   Burial Options  
     
 

Why a cemetery?

The idea of honoring our loved ones at their permanent resting place is a time-honored tradition. Whether it was the ancient Egyptians constructing the pyramids, the erection of a grand private mausoleum, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery, or a simple burial space with a marker, the idea of a dignified burial and remembering our deceased loved ones is an important tradition. We care for these places and visit them to remember and feel connected to this special person in our lives. A cemetery provides a peaceful environment for our loved ones to rest and for us to honor their memory.

 
 

Cemetery Property Options

Like funeral homes, cemeteries can provide many dignified options for a family, depending on their personal taste and budget. You can select individual burial spaces for a casket or urn (if selecting cremation) or a group of spaces for multiple family members. The options are varied and will depend on the individual cemetery’s offerings and available inventory.

When selecting a cemetery, you may want to seek personal recommendations from friends, business associates, your clergy or a funeral director. Be sure to inquire with the cemetery representative as to their maintenance practices, whether it is a “perpetual care” cemetery (a portion of the purchase price is placed into a fund for the upkeep of the cemetery) and any other pertinent rules or regulations regarding: flower placement, allowing upright monument and/or flat markers, special seasonal decorations on graves, etc.

Depending on the individual cemetery's design and availability, some of your property options may include:

  • Single-Depth Burial Space - Utilized for one person. The cemetery will have a policy regarding the type of grave marker (flat, or upright) that can be placed to identify the grave.
  • Double-Depth Burial Space - Utilized for two persons. The space appears to be the same size as a single burial space, but the grave is deeper than normal. The first person is placed at a deeper than normal depth and the second person is buried at a normal depth on top of the first.
  • Family Lot - An area designated for multiple family members. The cemetery can provide options as to the number of burial spaces contained with the family lot.
  • Lawn Crypt - This is similar to a typical burial space and may be single or double depth. There is a concrete grave liner (crypt) already placed in the ground where the casket will rest.
  • Mausoleum - A building designed for above-ground placement of the casket. The casket is placed into a crypt that may be designed for one or two persons. The mausoleum may be outdoors or inside a climate-controlled building.
  • Available in a wide variety of offerings, depending on the cemetery. This would typically be a private mausoleum building or a private grouping of burial spaces contained within a designated area. Some cemeteries offer custom-designed family estates built to your specifications.
 
 

Casket Options

Caskets are typically crafted of either wood or metal. The cost of a casket is most influenced by the type of material used in construction and the grade of interior fabric. There are many dignified options available in a broad price spectrum to suit your individual needs.

The selection of casket is a very personal one and will be determined based on the deceased’s wishes, economic considerations and personal taste. There are many options because each family’s needs are different.

Interior fabric used in casket construction can range from simple crepe fabric to a more luxurious look using plush velvet. In addition, some caskets are designed to be “protective,” meaning they are designed to withstand the entrance of outside elements and other gravesite substances.

Your IFDA funeral director is committed to ensuring you understand your choices and helping you select the casket that best suits your family's needs.

 
 

Outer Burial Container Options

Many cemeteries have a requirement that an outer burial container be placed around the casket in the ground. The primary reason for this is that the casket is not designed to withstand the weight of the grave and the heavy equipment used in routine maintenance of the cemetery. An outer burial container helps support the weight of the grave, helps protect the integrity of the casket and can aid in keeping the grave level, which contributes to the overall positive appearance of the cemetery.

Like caskets, there are options in outer burial containers from which you can choose based on your personal needs, taste and budget. Some of the materials that are commonly utilized in manufacturing outer burial containers include concrete and various types of metal.

Your IFDA funeral director will advise you as to the outer burial container options that are available in your area and are most widely utilized in the cemetery of your choice.

 
     
   Cremation  
     
 

Understanding Cremation

Like burial, cremation is only one element of the funeral process and should be approached that way. When made part of a meaningful funeral service, cremation can play a vital role in the healing journey. Some may feel that by cremating a body, they are somehow eliminating the pain associated with their loss. Cremation is not a way of eliminating your grief, but a process of preparing your loved one for his or her final resting place. Cremation is just one step in the commemorative process – an important step in preparing the remains for memorialization.

 
 

Memorialization

Families that choose cremation have many options and much flexibility when determining how to best memorialize the life of their loved one. Some families choose to have a viewing or funeral service before the cremation. Others choose a memorial service at the time of cremation or afterward with the urn present, or even a committal service at the final disposition of cremated remains. Often, funeral or memorial services can be held in a place of worship, a funeral home, a crematory chapel or even at a place of special significance to your loved one.

Take some time to consider how you’d like to memorialize your loved one. Will you have a service or gathering of family and friends prior to cremation? Will there be a public or private viewing? What kind of urn will you select? Will the cremated remains be interred? Like so many other events in your life, being an educated consumer is important.

 
 

Religious Views

Most religions accept cremation, with the exception of the Islamic, Orthodox Jewish, Eastern Orthodox and some fundamentalist Christian faiths. Though the Roman Catholic Church expresses a preference for burial, it now allows cremation for reasons compatible with church teachings. It does not sanction the scattering of remains, however, and prefers the presence of the body during the liturgy, prior to cremation.

 
 

Cremation Costs

Most religions accept cremation, with the exception of the Islamic, Orthodox Jewish, Eastern Orthodox and some fundamentalist Christian faiths. Though the Roman Catholic Church expresses a preference for burial, it now allows cremation for reasons compatible with church teachings. It does not sanction the scattering of remains, however, and prefers the presence of the body during the liturgy, prior to cremation.

 
 

Final Disposition

People selecting cremation for themselves or a loved one have the same options for services and merchandise as those who select casket burial. What many people do not realize is that cremation is a process and is not the final disposition of the human remains. A determination will need to be made as to the person’s final resting place. This important place will be used to memorialize the life lived and will serve as a place for family and friends to visit and honor the memory of their loved one.

 
 

A Final Resting Place

Some of the most commonly chosen options for the final resting place for cremated remains include:

  • Earth Burial – Some cemeteries have a designated area with burial spaces specifically designed for the placement of cremated remains. In addition, arrangements can sometimes be made to place an urn in the family lot where other persons in caskets may have their final resting place.
  • Indoor/Outdoor Columbarium – A columbarium is similar to a mausoleum for caskets. The smaller spaces or niches are used to place the urn and may have a glass or a granite front. Some niches may have additional room for personal items to be placed with the urn. Like a mausoleum, a columbarium may be outdoors or within a climate-controlled building.
  • Scattering – Some people choose to scatter all or a portion of their loved one’s cremated remains in a special location. It is important to check with your IFDA funeral director to ensure that this act is permitted in the location of your choosing. Caution should also be exercised when scattering as it is a final irrevocable act. Be certain that this is what you want to do before proceeding.
  • Other Options – Determining the final resting place of your loved one is a personal decision. Some people chose to keep the urn at their home for a period of time. This is ultimately your decision but it is recommended that you give consideration as to your long-term plans for the urn or multiple urns you have in your home. A trusted advisor or family member should have clear instructions as to what should happen to the urn or urns after your death.
 
 

Cremation Containers

The crematory that is utilized will usually have a requirement that the deceased be placed in a rigid container for the cremation process. Either a cremation casket or container will fulfill this requirement.

Cremation caskets and containers are both typically made of wood, fiberboard or a composite of materials. A cremation casket has a finished interior and closely resembles a casket used for earth burial. A cremation container is designed to fulfill the crematories’ minimum requirements and typically does not have an interior lining or has a minimally finished interior.

A person who chooses to have viewing, visitation and/or funeral services in their church or funeral home prior to cremation will typically select a cremation casket. Some funeral directors also have a ceremonial or rental cremation caskets available as an option.

Your IFDA funeral director can assist you in making a selection of a cremation casket or container that is appropriate for the arrangements you have chosen.

 
 

Urn Selection

There are many urn options available in a broad price spectrum. Metal, glass, wood, granite, marble and other materials are commonly utilized in urn construction. There are also specialty urns available that reflect a personal statement on a person's life, hobbies, etc.

 
 

Outer Burial Containers

Should you select earth burial for a final resting place for your loved one, the cemetery may require an outer burial container to surround the urn or container in the ground. This would be a smaller version of those utilized for caskets.

Your IFDA funeral director will inform you if this cemetery requirement exists and describe your options.

 
 

Alternatives to Cremation

Alkaline hydrolysis is a recently developed water-based dissolution process for human remains that uses alkaline chemicals, heat, and sometimes agitation and/or pressure to accelerate natural decomposition. Bone residue which remains is similar to the volume customarily obtained after cremation; it is pulverized, then made available to the family to retain in an urn or for disposition by interment, scattering or other means.

Similar to cremation and casket burial, persons choosing the alkaline hydrolysis process have the same options for funeral services, viewing and merchandise. Similarly, one must also determine the final resting place for their loved ones remains after the process is complete.

 
     
   Service Options - Types of Tributes  
     
 

The Choice is Yours

Whether you select casket burial, placement in a mausoleum or cremation, your options for funeral services and merchandise selections are very similar. Ultimately, after receiving information regarding your options, you can determine the type of funeral arrangements that are most appropriate.

The most common elements of a funeral service are listed below:

 
 

Viewing or Visitation

A viewing or visitation typically at the funeral home, is a gathering with or without the casket present. Generally this event is less formal than a funeral service and is time for the family and friends to come together, express their grief and draw support from one another. There may or may not be viewing of the deceased, depending upon the circumstances or personal wishes. Viewing is encouraged by grief experts as it presents an opportunity to confront the reality of death and begin the healing process.

 
 

The Funeral or Memorial Service

While many persons may use these terms interchangeably, the term “funeral service” is usually used to indicate a gathering with the casket of the deceased present, conducted prior to burial or cremation. The casket will be open or closed depending on the venue for the services and/or the family’s wishes.

The term “memorial service” is typically used to describe a service where the casket is not present. As this service is “in memory” of the person, there may be a focal point such as an urn, a picture or a floral arrangement in place of the casket. A memorial service can take place at any time prior to or after the burial, cremation or other form of disposition.

There are considerations to be made when determining the type of funeral service that would be most appropriate to honor your loved one. For many people, their religious preference may be the most important factor. If this is the case, your priest, rabbi or minister will be a good source of information for how the ritual should be followed.

Some persons may desire a religious service but do not currently belong to a church. Your funeral director can assist you by helping you locate a clergy or lay person of your preferred denomination to officiate at the service.

Just because a person did not belong to an organized religion does not mean they should not have a funeral. The most important component of the funeral is to honor the life lived and for friends and family to have their opportunity to mourn and draw strength from one another.

A non-religious funeral service can be a very formal or informal event and can be held in a funeral home or other venue the family finds appropriate. A friend or close acquaintance who is familiar with the deceased and is comfortable functioning as the master of ceremonies can be chosen to lead the service.

In addition, many persons have received training as a funeral celebrant, including some members of funeral home staffs. Your funeral director may be familiar with someone in your community.

 
 

The Committal or Graveside Service

This type of funeral service is held at the final resting place. It typically follows the funeral service held at the church or funeral home. In some instances, a family may elect to have the entire funeral service at the place of committal.

 
     
   Service Options - Personalization  
     
 

Regardless of the type of service you select, it should be a reflection of your loved one’s life that makes an emotional connection with all those in attendance.

Contemporary thought as it relates to funerals incorporates not only a person’s religious tradition, if any, but also that which allows you to remember your loved one’s hobbies, interests, or a certain quality that made them like no other person.

If you have attended a funeral recently, you may have seen a collage of photographs, a memorial video, personal items of the deceased on display, special mementos, eulogies from close friends or family, special life tribute ceremonies, balloon releases or any other number of unique tributes. All of this is done to help make the funeral more personal, to illustrate that which was unique about the person’s life, and to help those who have lost someone special begin to heal.

If the funeral service you are planning will be following a prescribed religious ritual, your priest, rabbi or minister can advise as to when any personalized tributes can be incorporated into the events leading up to or during the funeral service, if appropriate.

To help you begin the process of planning a unique tribute, think of your answers to the following questions:

  • What could your loved one do better than anyone else?
  • When you think of your loved one, what do you think of?
  • What were your loved one's hobbies or special interests?
  • What were some of your fondest memories of your loved one?
  • What was your loved one passionate about?

The answers to these and similar questions will help you pinpoint those qualities and activities that are most identifiable with your loved one. Your IFDA funeral director can help guide you in this process and share ideas and make recommendations to help you plan a special and fitting tribute.

 
     
     
  Original article may be found at National Funeral Director's Association HERE.  
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