Death and dying: The Funeral Process

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You cannot have been involved in caregiving as long as I have been without having to plan a funeral or two…okay, seven.  Increasingly I am asked by newbies, “What’s the first thing I need to do for my (fill in the blank) _____________’s funeral?”

You are probably aware that when an elderly person passes away, the responsibility for doing what needs to be done afterward often falls to the primary caregiver, too. The purpose of this short article is to explain issues relating to the funeral process that you might have thought of but never asked, or those things that you do not realize you need to know.

We believe it is helpful to make some decisions ahead of time. Our consistent philosophy is that you can make nearly everything easier if you do some advance work. Doing this does not mean that you are wishing for your elders death or doing anything wrong or being disrespectful. You are merely being prepared for the inevitable.

Deciding on a funeral director prior to death is extremely helpful. If circumstances permit you can comparison shop. You will want to consider creating a list of names and phone numbers of people who will need to be notified of the elders death right away. When an elder dies at home, you don’t need to call immediately. You can sit with the loved one for a while. But if you’re older person has died in a nursing home or hospital, you’ll be asked almost immediately for the name of the funeral home that should be called.

It’s smart to ask for the location of the elders telephone book well ahead of time. Ask your elder for the names of any people outside of the family who they might like to have contacted, for example, childhood friends or perhaps a hairdresser or barber, or someone else who has provided care for them over the years. When the time comes to make these calls, ask those you’re speaking with whether they know of anyone else who should be called. Ask people to help you make some of the calls and call sooner rather than later.

If your client has not been under hospice care, call 911.  Emergency personnel will be dispatched along with the police officer. If your loved one or client has been under hospice care, then notify the hospice nurse.  Notify other family members or friends who will act as your support system. Either the hospice nurse or a family member should contact the funeral home.

When the emergency personnel arrived for the hospital staff arrives to remove the body He will be asked to sign a hospital release form if you have been authorized to do so.  If not, another family member will be asked to sign the hospital release form.  After the funeral home has been contacted, delivery service will be dispatched to pick up the deceased from the home, hospital or corners office. At a later time, someone from the funeral home will contact the family to set an appointment time to make the funeral arrangements.

If the death occurs out-of-state and you, as the family member, want to have your loved one brought back to your area, you will need to contact your funeral home of choice. After consultation with the family representative, the funeral home will make the necessary arrangements to have the deceased transported to the location you desire.

It usually takes at least one and a half to two hours to finalize funeral arrangements so plan accordingly.

When making funeral arrangements you will need to take with you to the funeral home vital statistical information, such as, the deceased person’s full legal name, date of birth, place of birth, parents names including mother’s maiden name, last grade completed in school, usual occupation, and Social Security number. If the grave has already been purchased you should bring the cemetery deed also.  If the deceased was a veteran you will need to bring a copy of the discharge papers (DD 214). Honorably discharged veterans are entitled to some federal burial benefits.

Consider how you expect to pay the bill most funeral homes accept cash checks credit cards are insurance payments. If you pay by insurance, you should bring the insurance policy with you. Many funeral homes have insurance specialists on-site who will verify if the policy offers a funeral benefits and will confirm the identity of the beneficiary. An insurance assignment for the amount owing on the funeral bill will be printed and ready for the beneficiary to sign prior to the funeral service.

If you are planning on having the service at a formal place of worship, you should contact your congregations leader as soon as possible regarding service time and whether the facility will host a repast after the service.

Take a photograph with you of the deceased if you have a picture that you can share with the embalmer it makes their job much easier.

You will need to order at least one certified death certificate (and we recommend ordering three). You will need to order one for any official business that she might need to conduct, for example: insurance companies, banks, Social Security, The Probate Court, Bureau of motor vehicles, etc. Generally, certified death certificates can be obtained within a week to 10 days after the death depending on how long it takes for the attending physician to sign the certificate. If the deceased has been transferred to the corners office, it will take a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks before yours certified death certificate will be ready.

Families of honorably discharged veterans receive a United States flag and in some instances cash assistance with burial costs. The government also provides a single grave headstone, but the family must pay the cemetery’s headstone setting fee. Veterans can also be buried in the veterans cemetery at no cost. Check the Internet or the Veterans Administration for the location of the closest Veterans Cemetery. Additional benefits might be available depending on the circumstances of the death (active duty or war related) and place of death (Veterans Hospital).

Clothing should be brought and as soon as possible. The longer it takes for the family to provide clothing the longer it will take to prepare your loved one for public viewing. The deceased were sustained clothing and death that he or she wore in life: underwear (bra, slips, panties, underpants, undershirt), stockings, socks, etc. The wearing of eyeglasses and jewelry is determined by the family. If expensive jewelry is to be placed on the deceased, it is suggested that the family give it to the funeral director at the time of the funeral service and not before because funeral homes will not want to be responsible for jewelry or other precious items while the person is lying in state.

Writing the obituary in gathering the information for the program whether the funeral home is taking care of it, you are writing it, or family friends. If the funeral home is handling your program material, that material must be in 48 hours prior to the service said that the vendor will have sufficient time to reproduce the finished product. It is strongly suggested that any writing provided be typed or clearly written. Program material that is dropped off in a shorter timeframe might incur a “rush” fee.

We suggest of floral pieces not be delivered until the day of the wake or service so that they will remain fresh for the entire program. Casket spray size is determined by the type of casket: whether half lid open or the full lid is open. A floral arrangement designed to sit on top of the casket, or casket spray, is available in two types. A lid spray, also called a full-couch casket spray, extends the length of the casket, while a foot spray, or half-couch casket spray, is shorter and is intended to be used for a half-open casket service. The style of casket spray and the flowers you choose to include is entirely up to you. Some feel most comfortable with a classic, traditional look, while others might opt for a highly personalized tribute based on a particular theme. For example, a rustic, natural spray for the outdoorsman or an abundance of bright flowers for the avid gardener.

If it is not already been done, someone will need to select a cemetery and purchase a grave space.  This is a good time to decide if more than one person will eventually be buried alongside the deceased.

Notify family and friends of the service time and location.

In some instances, family members need to provide their employers with proof that they attended the funeral service. The funeral home will produce upon request ” back to work slips” for any family member who needs one.  A list of names along with their relationship to the deceased must be given to the funeral director at least 24 hours prior to the service.

Pallbearers are required for services that include a burial. Generally, a minimum of six able-bodied persons will be needed. Some families like to formally invite people to participate as far pallbearers, others leave it open and allow random members from those who attend the service to participate.

If your loved one was a member of a fraternity, sorority or Masonic organization you will need to contact that organization directly to make arrangements for their participation in the service if that is what is desired.

After the activities related to the funeral are over even the most devoted caregivers often long for the old days when they weren’t so burdened with elder care so when their elder dies they feel guilty.  That is normal. Often caregivers will feel depressed and aimless once their caregiving responsibilities are over.  You might have trouble filling the day with meaningful activities for awhile. This reaction is also, and normal. Expect that when your elder dies you will grieve and feel sad,… you might even feel some relief. Sometimes the feelings that emerge are guilt or a sense of emptiness.  Grief groups, or Bereavement groups as they are sometimes called, can help you through this processc- so take advantage of them.

For more information please consider taking the family caregiver certification course offered online at


About Elder Care Advice blog

Get professional elder care giving advice, advocacy, education and tips for those who care for and about the frail elderly at the ElderCareAdvice blog. We are generously sponsored by Most posts are written by Cathleen V. Carr, unless attributed otherwise. We welcome relevant submissions. Submit your article and by-line for publishing consideration (no promises!) to Havi at, our own editor who will ensure submissions are given the best possible treatment and polish before publication, ensuring a professional level of publication. There is a nominal service fee involved ($45). Allow up to 30 days for publishing.
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