When a loved one dies, planning a funeral service that honors their memory is one of the most important tasks family members must face — all while managing their grief.
As this process can evoke much emotion, it can be all the more challenging to plan in all its details. It can be particularly difficult to determine the best way to remember your loved one if you never had a conversation with them about how they'd like their services to be arranged, or if they didn't have a chance to leave their final wishes behind.
There are many common ways to put together a personalized service that honors your loved one, whether it involves a traditional funeral, a memorial, a graveside service or a Veteran's service. These are by no means the only type of meaningful funeral services available — but learning about them can help guide you and your family's thinking about end-of-life arrangements, as well as the possible logistics and costs involved.
Deciding on the Type of Service
A traditional funeral service is typically held in a funeral home, chapel or place of worship and can center around either an open or closed casket. A wake or viewing can take place either days before the service, or immediately before. This may include pallbearers, a special selection of readings, music and a eulogy. You may also choose to incorporate religious traditions specific to your family, such as a vigil before a Catholic service or reading a special Psalm at a Jewish service. A burial usually follows the service, but even if your loved one will be cremated, you can hold a funeral service before the cremation.
Memorial services typically take place after a cremation or burial and don't have to be held at a funeral home, chapel or place of worship. While a memorial service will feature many of the same elements as a funeral service, it can take place anywhere your loved one or family holds dear. Some people have a memorial service in a public park, by the ocean, at a banquet hall or even at their loved one's favorite campsite. With a memorial service, it's all about deciding the best place to celebrate your loved one's life.
A graveside service at the actual burial site, crypt or mausoleum is another possibility. Your loved one's entire service can take place graveside, though these services can also take place before a memorial service or after a funeral.
You can have a graveside service whether your loved one is buried or cremated, but these services tend to be shorter and don't include many of the things that are typical at funeral or memorial services, such as multiple readings, ornate flower arrangements or music.
If your loved one was a veteran, your family may want to incorporate several military traditions into the service, such as the playing of the taps and the folding and presentation of the flag. You can call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office to request a burial and find out whether your loved one qualifies to be buried in a Veteran Affairs (VA) cemetery. Even if their service takes place elsewhere, they could receive burial or memorial benefits that include free services such as opening and closing the grave, a government-provided headstone, a burial liner, honors and memorials such as a burial flag to place with the urn or over the casket.
The Benefits of Pre-Arranging a Funeral
A loved one's passing often allows us to reflect on our own lives. In the process of planning their funeral, you may realize the benefits of making arrangements in advance for your own funeral, memorial or graveside service. Pre-planning funeral arrangements can in fact help make planning the actual service less challenging for family members.
Funeral pre-planning involves outlining what type of service you want, who you'd like to serve as pallbearers, who you want to deliver your eulogy, whether you want a cremation, whether you want a wake or a viewing before the service and what music and reading selections you'd like. It may even involve choosing your own casket or urn. Since funeral costs can also add stress, some people opt to purchase a life insurance policy, which can allow their family to use the benefits paid out after their death to cover the funeral and other associated costs.
If a loved one hasn't made arrangements prior to their death or communicated their wishes, however, your family must make those decisions — such as which type of service to hold. But regardless of what you choose, it's important to personalize it. Think about your loved one's personality, their faith and what was important to them in order to arrange a service that celebrates who they were in life — and your memories of them.