Planning a funeral often happens during a time of great stress, such as a health crisis or the sudden passing of a loved one. This stress makes it difficult to remember all the things you might want to include. We’ve made a list of possibilities here, so you make your own checklist and refer back to it as needed.
If a person has expressed their wishes for how they wish their funeral to be conducted – perhaps in a will, an Enduring Power of Attorney, or another document – then those wishes should be followed if possible. Where it is not possible to follow out the wishes, you are not legally obliged to follow them.
Time and date
Choosing a time to hold the funeral or memorial service is a personal choice. When a person’s body is prepared for burial or cremation, the service does not need to happen immediately unless the person held cultural or faith beliefs regarding the timing.
If you would like more time to grieve before the service or need time to prepare plans for the service, you can consider having the burial or cremation occur immediately, followed by a memorial service at a later date.
When choosing a date and a time of day for the funeral or memorial service, be sure to allow time to consider the following things:
- Timing of other events such as direct family members’ birthdays or anniversaries
- Preparing a eulogy if one is not already written
- Relatives who need to travel to attend the service
- Preparing an order of service
- Gathering photographs and music for an audio-visual slideshow presentation
- Preparing any memory displays of photographs and personal items
Method of interment
Ask yourself a few simple questions:
- Will your loved one be donating any of their organs to those who need a transplant, or donating their body to scientific medical studies?
- Will your loved one’s body be buried or cremated?
- If their body is to be buried, will it be embalmed?
- What will your loved one be wearing when they are buried? Did they have a favourite outfit?
- Coffins, also known as caskets, come in many different sizes, shapes, and colours. Will you or your loved one choose a casket, or assign a price range and let the funeral home choose one for you?
- If their body is to be cremated, will their ashes be buried, kept by the family, or scattered?
Type of service
What happens in a funeral or memorial service will largely depend on the tone you would like to set for the service. For example, your service could feel like:
- A celebration of a life well-lived
- An expression of sorrow and compassion for a life that ended early
- A peaceful contemplation of the life to come
You can also decide whether or not you would like the service to be attended by people other than immediate family members. Whether you choose a small ceremony for family only or a large ceremony with everyone they loved, both are valid options to celebrate their life and grieve their loss.
Order of service
Next, what things would you like to happen during the service? Some common traditions that people often use in services include:
- Eulogy: People who were especially close to the deceased person during their life read a brief speech about the person and their life. Speeches can focus on life achievements or on the person’s values. More than one eulogy may be given, such as a representative from the family and a representative from an association the person was involved in.
- Slideshow: An audio-visual slideshow presentation of photos from the person’s life, usually accompanied by a recording of their favourite song.
- Songs or hymns: Those gathered may sing one of the person’s favourite songs or hymns together. Music can be played by musicians or from a recording.
- Readings: Poems or other readings may be read out to those gathered, perhaps from the person’s favourite book or scriptures.
- Message of faith: Depending on what faith the deceased person held, it might be appropriate to ask the person conducting the service to give a brief message about that person’s faith or about their beliefs regarding life after death.
- Ethnic customs: Many ethnicities of the world have different customs and traditions that are performed to say goodbye to a loved one.
- Military service: If the deceased person was a veteran, you should notify their branch of the army, navy, or air force. The military can then arrange a guard of honour at the graveside, performance of a military song such as ‘The Last Post’, recitation of ‘The Ode to the Fallen’, and an Australian flag to be placed over the coffin. The National RSL of Australia has a helpful guide you can follow on their website.
- Viewing: Many traditional funeral services include a closed or open casket viewing, where the mourners line up to say one last goodbye to the deceased person.
- Prayer, vigil, candle: Many different faiths have a tradition of ending the service with a prayer for the deceased person’s legacy and their family, or a vigil (a time of silent meditation) or lighting a candle in the memory of the deceased person.
- Transportation to the resting place: If the service is held somewhere other than the graveside or crematorium, then the casket is usually carried out of the service by pallbearers. The casket is then transported by the funeral home to the graveside, and the family and mourners travel there separately for a short burial ceremony.
- Burial: Many faiths have a tradition of ending a graveside or crematorium service by having the family begin the burial themselves, to help them grieve. At the graveside, this is done by throwing a handful or a shovelful of dirt onto the coffin after it has been lowered. At the crematorium, this can be done by interment (burying the ashes) or scattering the ashes, either at the crematorium or in a place that the deceased person loved to spend their time.
- Reception or wake: This is usually a short, casual time held at the home of the deceased person’s family or another venue. Food may be prepared by those outside the family, or it may be catered professionally.
Services can usually be recorded on video and taken home afterwards as a keepsake on DVD or USB. You will need to arrange this with your funeral home if you wish it to happen.
Items for decoration
You do not need to include any or all of the following decorations in the service, but these are decorative items commonly included in a service:
- Order of service booklet, so that those gathered know what will happen during the service.
- Photograph of the deceased person.
- Flowers to be placed in the foyer and other doorways, and on either side of the coffin or other centrepiece.
- Music to be played in the background as people are arriving.
- Personal effects that represent the person’s passions in life, e.g. footy team flag, artist’s paintbrushes and canvas, etc.
- Guest book for mourners to sign.
- Donation box for the charity most important to the deceased person.
Things you’ll need to pay for
Payment to the funeral home conducting the ceremony can be made in advance before the service, or if can be made immediately following the service. This is where funeral insurance comes in handy.
The typical items that need to be paid for in a funeral include:
- Funeral director fees
- Celebrant fees/honorarium
- Venue fees for funeral hall or church hall
- Transport (hearse for casket, cars for family)
- Death certificate
- Permits for burial or cremation
- Cost of burial or cremation
- Cemetery plot
- Interment or scattering of ashes
- Headstone marker
- Catering for the wake
- Other expenses, such as a newspaper fee for a written obituary notice announcing the person’s passing
You can pay a lot for a funeral – anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 – but the important thing to remember is that you don’t have to add financial stress to an already stressful time. Your loved one knew that you loved them, and spending more or less money on the service won’t change that.
Funeral insurance is a good way to make sure you will be able to pay for a funeral when it comes up. You pay a premium during your lifetime so that when you die, the insurance provider pays a lump sum to your nominated beneficiary, to help cover the cost of your funeral preparations and service. CANSTAR?s research has found that funeral insurance is more suited to those aged 60 or over.
Asking for help
This is a difficult time, and getting extra help or counselling during this difficult grieving time may be necessary. Asking for help to cope doesn’t mean you are weaker than any other grieving person.
Here are some of the people who can help:
- Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement: National centre for grief and bereavement education – find out what to expect when you’re grieving.
- Australian Psychological Society’s directory of psychologists: Book some counselling with a psychologist near you.
- Lifeline: National charity providing 24/7 crisis support. Phone the Crisis Support Chat 24/7 hotline on 13 11 14 for emergency mental health help.
- BeyondBlue: National organisation to reduce anxiety and depression in Australia. Phone 1300 224 636 for 24/7 mental health help, hop onto their afternoon online webchat, or get in touch via email.
- Black Dog Institute: World leader in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of depression.
- e-couch: An online, self-help program that helps you deal with loss and grief, as well as other forms of depression and anxiety.
- Australian Loss & Grief Network for Child & Adolescent Trauma: National network to help children and adolescents deal with grief after the loss of a loved one, or another traumatic event.
- Phoenix Australia Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health: Not-for-profit organisation to help Australians recover after traumatic events.