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As you and your family begin the funeral planning process, a number of questions will surface that you will need further insight on in order to make informed decisions. Below please find some frequently asked questions and clarifications on misconceptions about funerals that may help you as you plan a meaningful funeral to honor the unique life of your loved one.

One of the most important reasons for planning a meaningful funeral is that it helps you and your family focus your thoughts and feelings on something positive. The funeral encourages you to think about the person who died and explore the meaning of their life and how they touched the lives of others. 

The remembering, reflecting, and choices that take place in the planning and conducting of the funeral service are often an important part of the process of grief and mourning. And ultimately, this process of contemplation and discovery creates a memorable and moving funeral experience for all who attend.

Meaningful funerals are made up of different parts (music, readings, visitation/reception, eulogy/remembrance memories, symbols, procession, committal service, and gathering) that, when combined, make for an incredibly meaningful experience for you, your family, and friends. Even among different faiths and cultures, funeral ceremonies throughout North America often include many of the same elements. Your faith or culture may have its own variations on these elements, and you should be encouraged to follow them as you see fit.

The funeral home and its staff play a critical role in the planning and conducting of a meaningful funeral. They are the people with the training and expertise you will rely on in the days leading up to the funeral. Their advice, compassion, attention to detail, and willingness to personalize the ceremony will greatly influence your funeral experience.

You can choose from a variety of funeral service types and formats. Some people think that funerals must conform to traditional ways, but there is no one right way to have a funeral. Just as grief has many dimensions and is experienced differently by different people, funerals are also unique. A funeral should simply be fitting for the person who died and the family and friends who survive. This is an opportunity to be creative and to share an honest expression of your most heartfelt values. There are no rigid rules that need to be followed, but there are guidelines that can help you if you are unsure how you might proceed. 

The funeral service you plan should be as special as the life you will be remembering. Here are a few ideas:

  • Write a personalized obituary.
  • Create a column in the guest book for people to jot down a memory after signing their name. 
  • Display personal items and hobby items on a table at the visitation. 
  • Show a slide show of a person’s life during the funeral. 
  • Select flowers that were meaningful to the person who died. 
  • Use a lot of music, especially if the music was meaningful to the person who died or means something to your family. 
  • At the funeral, invite people to write down a memory of the person who died. Appoint someone to gather and read the memories aloud. 
  • Create a personalized grave marker.

Your family must choose not only the type of funeral service to hold but also what will happen to the body and where it will be laid to rest. 

Embalming is how the funeral home temporarily preserves the body of the person who died so it can be viewed by the family. Embalming also allows a number of days to elapse before burial and cremation, thus giving family and friends time to prepare and gather for the funeral, especially those who do not live locally. 

The body of the person who died is the most important symbol to include in the funeral service. Whether present in an open or unopened casket, the body serves as the emotional focus for mourners and helps them acknowledge and embrace their pain. When a body or cremated remains are buried or scattered, there is a place for families to go when they want to feel close to their loved ones. 

Families who have spent time with the body have said it has helped them come to terms with the death and begin to transition from life before the death to life after the death. Although it can be emotionally painful, time spent with the body is often helpful to many people.

Cremation is another form of disposition or handling a body after death. However, many people don’t know what happens during cremation. 

Cremation takes place in a carefully maintained facility known as a crematory or crematorium. The funeral home may or may not have its own crematory on-site, but your funeral director can take care of all arrangements either way. 

Within the crematory is a special cremation chamber. The body is placed in a cremation container or casket and positioned inside the cremation chamber. Once the container or casket is in the cremation chamber, the door is tightly sealed. The operator then turns on gas jets, creating intense heat that reduces the body to bone fragments. This process takes approximately 2-3 hours.

After the cremation, the remains are collected and processed to the consistency of sand or finer ash. The white or grayish remains, often called cremated remains at this stage, are then sealed in a transparent plastic bag along with an identification tag. The bag weighs about 5 lbs. and will often be returned to the family in a selected urn, which can then be buried, placed in a niche inside a columbarium, taken home, or transported for scattering. Additionally, the cremated remains can be separated and placed into multiple urns, keepsakes, or even jewelry specifically designed as a final resting place. 

Cremation is a respectful, dignified process chosen by many families. However, some faiths discourage or prohibit cremation. If you plan to hold a religious funeral ceremony or have the remains buried in a church cemetery, check in advance to ensure no issues.

Most of the rituals in our society focus on children. Unfortunately, the funeral ritual, whose purpose is to help mourners begin to heal, is often not seen as a ritual for kids. Too often, children are not included in the funeral because adults want to protect them.

Funerals are painful, but children have the same rights and privileges to participate in them as adults do.

Help explain the funeral to them – Tell children what will happen before, during, and after the ceremony. Give as many specifics as they seem interested in hearing.

If the body will be viewed either at a visitation or at the funeral itself, let the child know this in advance. Explain what the casket and body will look like. If the body is to be cremated, explain what cremation means and what will happen to the cremated remains.

Find age-appropriate ways for children to participate in the funeral – grieving children feel included when they can share a favorite memory or read a special poem as part of the funeral. Shy children can participate by lighting a candle or placing something special in the casket (a memento, a drawing, a letter, or a photo).

Understand that children often need to accept their grief in doses and that outward signs of grief may come and go. It is not unusual, for example, for children to want to roughhouse with their cousins during the visitation or play video games right after the funeral. Respect the child’s need to be a child during this extraordinarily difficult time.