Most funerals are planned by the family of the deceased. Most family members don't want to plan in advance because that seems as if they are hoping their loved one will die. Some people have already planned their own funeral and the family has very little to do. Yet, more than likely, you will be called upon to plan the closure of one of your loved ones some day.
What do you do?
First, you need to pick a funeral home. Call someone who has planned a funeral recently and ask about their experience. Try to get one close to where the friends of the deceased lived. It will be easier for them to make a visitation if they don't have to travel too far. Get one with a good reputation. Stay away from anyone who promises discounts.
The funeral home will pick up the body. You will need someone to declare the person is dead if death occurs at home. The hospice nurse can do so if you have hospice. I think it is easier to call 911 and have the emergency personnel come if death is totally unexpected. They will first try to revive the person if at all possible but they can call the coroner if it is not. It is common for an autopsy to be done when death comes unexpectedly. They are not accusing you of anything. They just need to alleviate all concerns of why death occurred.
The funeral director will walk with you to pick out a casket if you choose to bury the deceased. There are other options. The deceased can donate his or her body to science. The deceased can be cremated. Caskets come in a wide range of styles and costs. Most funeral homes do not carry the "pine box" which so many people say they want. I believe you should show your love to others when they are living so you won't feel guilty and buy the most expensive casket when they die. Both wood and metal caskets can be beautiful. Wood caskets are heavier.
Don't wear yourself out doing the visitation. Some families want to give people a whole day for visitation. I have found that a couple of hours will cause the largest number of people to get to the funeral home for visitation.
Typically, the casket is open for visitation. It may seem strange to welcome people with the body of your loved one in the room. It is strange but it is also normal. People want to see the body for the last time. The seeing of the body brings closure.
The casket will have to be place in a vault at burial unless the deceased is to be placed in a crypt. The vault can be made of metal or concrete. It is really your choice on which one you get.
Many things do not cost less though people think they do. For example, whether you have the funeral service at the funeral home or at a local church generally makes no difference. It is really easier to have it at the funeral home but many times the service in your church will be more meaningful. You have to choose which you would like.
The funeral home has many services which you may choose from. You may choose a limo to carry pick you up from your house and bring you back after the funeral. Some of the items are bundled together and you will not pay any less if you don't use them. Some will cost more. You have to carefully look over the charges. This is hard to do when you are grieving.
Most funeral homes are not trying to take advantage of you. Some people will say they do because they realize they paid for something they didn't need. The problem is that grieving people often make decisions they wouldn't have made after the grief has diminished. People tend to expediently handle the funeral arrangements. This means that things get overlooked.
You will need to choose how you want the deceased dressed. It is best to bring things from home which belonged to the deceased if possible. I have seen people dressed in suits, nice dresses to nightgowns and pajamas.
The funeral home will generally do an excellent job in making your loved one look as they did when alive. They may ask you for a picture so they can see how to fix the hair and apply the makeup. Your loved one may have been sick for a long time. Your memories of what they looked like when well may have escaped you. The funeral home can do amazing things to make them look good.
The service itself is another matter. Many people think that a graveside service alone is the best idea. It generally isn't. You cannot predict the weather and the funeral home will not provide chairs for everyone at the grave. Music, though not impossible, is very limited at the grave. Any message of comfort is very hard to hear.
I believe it is better to have a service in the chapel and a very short time at the grave. The environment is controlled in the chapel. Things are calmer in the chapel.
I personally don't like long funeral services. Mine are almost always thirty minutes long. This includes the music. It is nice to have a live singer but it is common for the funeral home to have a cd of the songs you would like. I would rather have a cd than a very bad singer. I would rather have a good singer than a cd. This again, is your choice.
I do not like opening up the floor to anyone who would like to say something about the deceased. I did that once and a lady presented a plague to the deceased. I didn't know what he was going to do with it. I also didn't know whether to put it inside the casket. It was very awkward. Also, people who speak at a funeral service without preparation tend to say some very dumb things. It is embarrassing for everyone. I tell the family that anyone who speaks should have their message written out. This way they have had to put some thought in their communication. This way I can read their sentiments if they get too emotional to continue. This way they know how they want to close so that they don't ramble on and on.
I have found that funerals carry different traditions depending on the part of the country you are in. For example, in Tennessee the pastor follows in a car behind the hearse. In Virginia, the pastor follows a lead car and the hearse follows him. Different traditions prevail at the grave too. In Tennessee the family tends to stay until the casket in placed in the ground and the grave is filled in. In Texas and Virginia, the family leaves right after the graveside service and allows the workers to close the grave without being watched.
Please note that the funeral home director is there to make your experience as smooth as possible. There is no dumb question. Ask him or her what you should do. He or she will always say this, "Most people . . . ." That's because they don't want to tell you how you should do things. However, you probably ought to do what "most people" do.
I hope this helps you in your time of grieving.