My Loved One Just Died…Now What?

Nathan Miller – May 17, 2017


Pop Quiz time. It’s 2:30 am. Your phone rings. You know that bad news is on the other end of that phone call because nothing good ever happens after 2:00 am. It’s the nursing supervisor from the local hospital. Someone very close to you has died and now you are responsible for planning a funeral. What do you do?

If you are like most people, you have no idea what the answer to that question may be. Thankfully, professionals are here to help 24/7.

First things first, you need to tell the hospital which funeral home you would like to use to make the arrangements. Once that call has been made, the hospital will then contact the funeral home, and someone from the funeral home will contact you to schedule a time to make funeral arrangements. They will also ask permission for embalming. The sooner your loved one is embalmed, the better result. One thing to remember is that embalming is not required by law; however, under certain circumstances, it is necessary. Each situation is different. Let’s assume that you want embalming, so you agree for the funeral home to proceed with the procedure. After this brief conversation, you try to go back to sleep to prepare for the emotionally and mentally exhausting day you are about to have.

It’s the next morning. Before meeting with the funeral director, there are some items you need to consider bringing with you to the funeral home: clothing (if you have already had a chance to pick them out), a photo of your loved one for the obituary or cosmetics and hairdresser, any life insurance policies that the funeral home can help you file whether or not you are planning on using them to pay for the service, and any additional documents that you may have (i.e. military discharge papers, preplanning guide, etc.). It’s now 9:30 am, and you are at the funeral home to meet with a funeral director to initiate the funeral arrangements for your loved one.

The entire arrangement process could take anywhere between 1 to 4 hours depending on exactly what you want to do for the funeral. The director is going to ask you a lot of questions about your loved one. Some questions may include: birthplace, date of birth, social security number, occupation information, education, father’s name, mother’s name with her maiden name, etc. The director will also get information for the obituary. After all of this information has been collected, the director will then begin discussing the service information (where will it take place, when will it take place, who is officiating, music choices, pallbearers, etc.). Once everything has been decided, the director (or other funeral home staff members) will compile all the information to create a meaningful obituary for you to proof read. While you are reviewing the rough draft obituary, the director will make some phone calls to everyone involved with the service (officiant/celebrant, musicians, cemetery, etc.). After all of that paperwork is completed comes the hard part…the selection room.

The selection room is usually the most difficult part of the arrangement process. Once a family member sees the caskets for the first time, the loss of their loved one truly hits hard. In the selection room, you will need to make 3 major decisions. The first decision is the most obvious – the casket. The director will guide you around the room, educating you on all the many options to choose from. Not just casket options, but personalization options, too. After choosing the casket, you now need to choose a vault because the public cemetery that you will be using requires one. The last selection you need to make is the memorial book. The director shows you all the different types of books and memorabilia from which to choose. A cemetery marker can also be purchased from the funeral home, but is not an essential item needed by the time of the funeral, so it can be purchased later. You have now completed the merchandise selections; let’s go back to the arrangement office.

After you get back into the arrangement office, it is time to discuss the finances. The director then makes up the “Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected” form stating exactly the items that you chose for the funeral and each of their charges. Once you have agreed on everything, you will handle the charges with the method that works best for you (i.e. cash, check, credit card, life insurance, etc.). At this time, everything is finalized and now comes the wait until the day of the service. The arrangement process is lengthy but quick. Steve Hawley, Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes’ Downtown Location Manager, stated “when a wedding is planned you have months, but when planning a funeral you normally have 2 – 3 days.”

Fast forward to 3 days later. It is the day of the visitation and funeral. You arrive early at the funeral home for the private, first viewing of your loved one. As visitors arrive, funeral home staff members direct them to the visitation room. About 15 minutes before the funeral service, the funeral director and other staff members begin directing non-family members to the chapel. Once everyone except family and pallbearers has left the visitation room, the family will be given time for one last view before the casket is closed. As the casket, pallbearers, and your family enter the chapel, the officiant on the service will ask everyone to stand. After the casket is placed and the family and pallbearers are seated, the funeral home staff will exit the chapel, and the service will be underway. After about 30 minutes, the service has come to a close, and the funeral home staff reenters the chapel and escorts the officiant, pallbearers, family members, and your deceased loved one out of the chapel. Once everyone is in their vehicles, the trek to the cemetery begins.

Upon arrival at the cemetery, the pallbearers line up at the back of the hearse. The funeral director inspects the committal site to make sure everything is placed properly. After everything is approved, the director motions for the other staff members to proceed with gathering the family members. The funeral director and officiant lead the casket to the gravesite, followed by you and the rest of your family. The committal usually lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. After the committal is finished, the entire service is complete.

This is only a brief explanation of what a funeral director does to make sure your loved one gets the honorable service he or she deserves. If I was to truly write a detailed explanation of everything a funeral director does for each family, this blog would be far too large to post. Each family is different and we make sure each family is treated with the utmost respect and courtesy. John Kelly, Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes’ Northwest Location Manager, said “we take a very painful time in a person’s life and hopefully turn it into a time that is peaceful and has wonderful memories. Taking time to listen to the stories from the family helps us understand how important the deceased was to everyone.”


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