How to organise a funeral

How to organise a funeral

Last updated on 13th December, 2017 at 10:05 am

The death of a loved one is difficult to even contemplate, but it is a life event that touches us all at some point. Besides the grief involved, there are the practicalities of the funeral to deal with.

When a loved one dies, the process of disposing of their mortal remains starts almost immediately. If the person died of natural causes, the funeral can take place within a few days. When setting the date you should bear in mind that people may need to make travel arrangements to attend the service. In the case of an unnatural death – suicide, an accident or a crime – the law requires a post-mortem before the body is released to the family. This takes about a week, but be prepared for a longer wait. The first step is to contact a funeral home to collect the body. In some instances, the medical attendants may have already arranged collection, but it’s perfectly acceptable for you to choose your own funeral home. They will arrange to collect the body from the first facility at no extra cost. If there is a funeral policy, check to see if it stipulates which funeral home may be used.

Burial vs cremation

Your loved one may have expressed a preference or included their wishes in their Will. If not, don’t make the decision on your own (even if you’re the surviving spouse), consult the immediate family and come to a consensus.

Funeral vs memorial service

The difference between the two is whether the body is present at the ceremony. If the person is buried or cremated before the actual service, it is considered a memorial.

What does a funeral home do?

A good funeral home will help you with all the details, starting with an appointment at their facilities to complete the formalities and to discuss the funeral arrangements. You’ll need to take:

  • The deceased’s ID document
  • The spouse’s or next-of-kin’s ID document
  • The funeral policy – if there is one
  • Marriage certificate – if there’s a life insurance policy
  • A photo of the deceased for the order of service and newspaper announcements
  • Clothes – if you’re planning a viewing/open casket

Generally the funeral home will take care of the paperwork on your behalf. This includes:

  • Obtaining the death notice from the medical practitioner
  • Getting the death certificate from Home Affairs. They will supply the original and certified copies so the executor can start winding up the estate.
  • Placing death notices in the newspapers

They will also:

  • Offer a selection of coffins. The average cost is between R6 000 and R10 000, but the more elaborate, the higher the cost. Some funeral homes will only show their more expensive models, so ask to see their full range.
  • If your loved one is going to be buried, they’ll also order the tombstone. Again the cost will depend on the design and materials.
  • Prepare and dress the body for viewing
  • Transport the coffin locally
  • Do embalming (if necessary)
  • Organise the repatriation of the remains across borders (if necessary)

Preparing for the service

Besides taking care of your loved one, you will also need a checklist for the day of the funeral:

  • Ask clergy to officiate the service – depending on your beliefs
  • Choose a venue – traditionally at a place of worship or you may wish to hold the service at home
  • Ask the person you want to deliver the eulogy or tributes
  • Ask people to be pallbearers
  • Design and print the order of service
  • Flowers and candles
  • Music
  • Catering
  • Sound/video system
  • Special touches – petals, helium balloons, white doves

Losing a loved one is overwhelming, but remember a funeral is a celebration of their life. By knowing their wishes beforehand, using a reputable funeral home and with the support of friends and family, you can limit the trauma and give them the send-off they deserve. By Nicci Botha

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