Losing a parent is already a devastating experience, so many are overwhelmed by the prospect of planning a funeral while grieving this tremendous loss. However, they also feel responsible for preparing a special service that will honor their parent and allow mourners to remember and celebrate their life. Many are tasked with planning a parent’s funeral but don’t know where to begin.
Planning a funeral for a parent involves reading your parent’s will, finding funding, and choosing a type of funeral, and venue. You will also select the details of the burial, the service, and the funeral reception if you opt for one. Finally, you would need to inform others of the time and place.
If you have the task of planning a funeral for a parent, the following steps will help guide you along this challenging process.
1. Read Your Parent’s Will
Some people put funeral instructions in their will, so the first step of funeral planning is to read your parent’s will to see if they left any information regarding their wishes for their funeral. If they have, this will give you a better idea of what kind of funeral you should be planning and the type of venue you should book.
Alternatively, parents may have expressed their funeral instructions in a separate document, or they may have spoken to you while they were alive. One of the most healing parts of arranging a funeral is that you can ensure that your parent’s final wishes are honored. So it is essential to find everything you can about what your parent wanted for their funeral so you can plan accordingly.
2. Look Into Payment Options and Decide on a Budget
It’s no secret that funerals aren’t cheap; the average cost of a funeral is over $5,000, with some reaching $9,000 or more. You might not have this kind of money available immediately; if you don’t, there’s no reason to panic. You have options for how to find funding to pay for a funeral.
Here are some possibilities for funding you should look into:
- A prepaid funeral plan. If your parent purchased a prepaid funeral plan before they died, the task of organizing and paying for the funeral is already complete. You’ll just need to contact the funeral home they purchased from and work together moving forward.
- Life insurance. You may be able to get money from your parent’s life insurance plan to cover funeral costs.
- Allowable benefits. Some programs, such as the veteran’s benefits program and victims’ assistance, provide funding for funerals.
- Payable-on-death account. Check to see if your parent had a payable-on-death account. If they did, and you’re the account’s beneficiary, you’ll get access to all the money.
- Ask for help. Crowdfunding is becoming an increasingly common way to pay for a funeral. You can set up a cause on a crowdfunding website or ask friends and family for in-person help.
You can learn more from my article on how to pay for a funeral. Once you know how much you can spend, you can establish a realistic budget. For ideas on cutting costs down, read my article on budget tips to cut costs.
3. Decide on Burial or Cremation
Hopefully, your parent expressed their preference for how they’d like their body to be disposed of before they died. However, you’ll need to choose between burial and cremation if they don’t.
Many factors go into this difficult decision, including:
- Religious beliefs. Some religions, such as Catholicism, Judaism, Greek Orthodox, and Islam, prohibit or highly discourage cremation, which is essential to keep in mind.
- Environmental effects. Environmentally, neither practice is particularly green, but traditional cremation is less damaging than burial, as burial uses a lot of resources, releases toxic chemicals into the environment, and takes up a lot of space.
- Financial considerations. Cremation is less expensive than burial. If you have a tight budget and your parent didn’t express that they’d prefer to be buried, choosing cremation is one of the most effective ways to save money.
For a more in-depth discussion of burial vs. cremation, check out my article on deciding which method is best for you.
4. Choose a Funeral Home and Director
If your parent didn’t have a funeral plan identifying a particular funeral home, you’d need to select one. A funeral home isn’t required, but it is often a great option as a professional’s help will make the process easier. There are many things to consider before making your choice, including:
- Services provided
- Burial or cremation
If you have no idea where to start, ask your friends and neighbors if they’ve used a nearby funeral home and about their experience. You must select a home and a director that you feel comfortable with and that you feel you can trust.
For more information, you can read my article on the best practices for choosing the right funeral home.
5. Select the Type of Funeral Service You’d Like
Do you want a traditional funeral service? A celebration of life? A scattering ceremony? A woodland funeral? A non-religious funeral? A burial at sea?
When people think of funerals, they often picture a group of mourners dressed in black in a building, usually a church, with the coffin displayed at the front, usually adorned with flowers. While this is the traditional route, this is certainly not your only option!
You can have many different services and personalize the service to the departed to honor them truthfully and authentically.
6. Choose a Celebrant
If you have the funeral at a place of worship, you’ll likely want the minister, pastor, priest, or another religious leader to lead the service. A priest or minister will select hymns and readings for the service, or they will guide you while making these choices yourself.
You’ll need to select a celebrant if you don’t have a religious service. Some funeral directors can assign you a celebrant from their list, but you can choose to select your own if you’d prefer. There are two main types of celebrants:
- Humanist. Humanist celebrants typically don’t believe in the afterlife, so they conduct funerals focused on the deceased’s life rather than what comes next. They often personalize services.
- Civil. Civil celebrants can lead services with or without a religious focus. They also personalize services and will include anything you ask them to.
You should choose a celebrant you think your parent would’ve liked or someone with similar beliefs to your parent. It is best to meet with the celebrant before you confirm them for the service to ensure they are the right fit.
7. Pick a Venue and Arrange Transport
Most funerals take place in houses of worship or a funeral home, but this isn’t required. You can have a funeral in a different local venue or anywhere else, as long as you have permission to use the space. A funeral director can help you decide on a venue if you struggle.
After you choose the venue, you’ll need to arrange transport for the body. Traditionally, coffins are taken to funeral services in a hearse, followed by the family in a limousine. You can opt for a different means of transportation if you’d like.
8. Select a Coffin or Urn
Traditionally, people bury their loved ones in coffins or caskets. There is a lot to consider when selecting the right casket for your parent, including:
You can also rent a casket just for the service and opt not to have your loved one buried in a coffin. There is no law prohibiting a direct or natural burial without a casket.
For more information on choosing the right casket, I have an article filled with tips on the size, material, and more.
If you decide to cremate your parent, you’ll need to pick a container to hold their ashes after the cremation. In most cases, this is an urn. For an adult, you’ll need an urn with at least one cubic inch per pound of body weight for the container to hold all the ashes. For example, if your parent were 200 pounds (91 kilograms) when they died, you’ll need an urn that is 200 cubic inches or bigger.
However, you don’t have to buy an urn if you don’t want to. You can use any container to hold your parent’s ashes as long as it’s large enough. This alternative is an excellent opportunity for personalization because you can choose a container that reflects who that person was or what they were interested in when they were alive. Here are a few ideas:
- Bourbon barrel
- Wine bottle
- Picture frame
- Watering can
- Cookie jar
- Paint bucket
- Memorial plaque.
You may not want to splurge on a fancy urn because you’re planning on scattering your parent’s ashes or because you want something more personal than a traditional urn. Either way, you have many options.
9. Create the Order of Service
The order of service is typically a booklet informing guests how the service will go. Many people choose to send the order of service to loved ones who cannot attend the funeral and keep a copy for themselves so they can remember the day.
Typically, an order of service includes the following:
- Front cover with a photo of the departed, their name, date of birth, and date of death
- List of speakers
- List of songs, hymns, and readings in the service
- Details of the burial and wake, if necessary
- List of charities or organizations the departed supported
- A thank you to attendees.
There are templates you can use online to arrange your order of service.
10. Select Flowers
Floral bouquets are often displayed at the front of the funeral service, usually next to the casket, so they are a central part of the visual aesthetic of the service.
Some funeral homes pick the flowers for you, but if you’d like the service to be more personalized, you can choose your parent’s favorite flower or a flower with a specific meaning that is important to you. Here are some popular flower choices:
- White lilies
- White orchids
11. Pick the Music and Any Readings
Selecting music to listen to and readings to commemorate your parent can be difficult, but the celebrant and the funeral director can help you if you’d like. The music should reflect your parent’s tastes, such as their favorite or traditional song from their religion.
For more guidance, check out my article on how to choose funeral music for the ceremony.
Selecting the readings should be a similar process. You should choose Bible verses, poems, hymns, book excerpts, or other readings that reflect who your parents were, their beliefs, and how they lived.
12. Prepare a Eulogy
You’ll likely want to give a eulogy to your parent. This expression of love for the departed is a great honor and an excellent healing opportunity, as you’ll be able to share with others how much they meant to you. However, it can also be overwhelming.
In your eulogy, you can share memories, discuss your parent’s beliefs and values, describe how they impacted their community, talk about their favorite things, or simply express how much you’ll miss them. It’s entirely up to you.
I have a complete guide on how to write a meaningful eulogy if you need help.
13. Inform the Community
Once everything is decided and organized, you’ll need to let people know. You can send personal invitations if you’d like, but funerals are generally public, and anyone who wants to come can. There are several ways to inform other people:
- You can rely on word of mouth to spread the word about the place and time for the service.
- You can place a funeral notice in the newspaper and any newsletter that goes out to your parent’s community.
- You can send email invitations and post on social media to spread the word digitally.
14. Decide if You’d Like To Host a Funeral Reception
A funeral reception isn’t mandatory, but traditionally, there is a more informal gathering after a funeral service to allow mourners to share memories and support one another. Often, the family of the departed will serve food and beverages.
Planning a funeral reception is daunting, especially after you’ve already planned a funeral. I can help you; you can read my ten steps to plan a memorable funeral reception.
Planning a funeral is not a small task, especially when grieving. However, following the above steps, you can organize a beautiful service that honors your parent and allows you and others to say goodbye.