Monday, November 19, 2007
How to plan a funeral.............let me show a few of the steps
This is a little long so you might want to grab a snack!
The first thing that occurs with any funeral is of course "the first call". This can come at any time of the day or night, on any day of the week and will get my immediate attention no matter what I am doing at the time...use your imagination. It will most likely be from a hospital, hospice nurse, EMT, Police or sometimes a family member. When the family calls they have usually bypassed someone who can give authority to release the body to a funeral director so one of those people need to be contacted.
Next, someone, sometimes two are off to the place of death to retrieve the deceased person and bring them into our care. This is called "the removal" and is done by trained personnel who know the importance of this step and use great caution when doing so. Occasionally, some vague information is gotten at this point to assist us in the next step we are to take.
Depending on the time, either that day or the next the family is contacted by a funeral director to set an appointment for them all to meet at an arrangement conference. It is also at this time that the director attempts to get verbal authorization to embalm and explain what they will need to bring with them; i.e., clothing, photos, necessary information. All of these things may have been done by the removal personnel and if so this step is obviously skipped. If the family is opting for cremation it may change from this point on but this is assuming a burial.
The next step is to notify the preparation room staff if they will be embalming this person. If all things necessary to begin the embalming are in hand (such as dentures if applicable) we can begin, if not we wait until we have them. There are also times when we have to wait for tissue harvesting within the first hours of death or the completion of an autopsy which can sometimes take days.
At the arrangement conference, which can last for hours, information is gathered about the deceased for use on a death certificate as well as information that will be needed to write an obituary. Full name, dates, parents names, location of birth, addresses, education, doctors name, phone numbers, cemetery, grave location, SSN, military history, occupation, industry and maiden names are most of what's needed for us to complete our portion of the death certificate. I then need to know where and when the service is wanted, who the minister will be, songs that will be played, names of pallbearers, family members names, which of these are living or deceased, names of schools, degrees if any, branch of military and rank, organizations that the person belonged to or was involved with, hobbies, pets, likes, dislikes, accomplishments; as much information that is willing to be shared. Once this is all gathered it's time to move on to merchandise and prices are discussed. The family needs to select a casket; usually a vault, memorial folders, register book, flowers, acknowledgement cards, pallbearer cards, door spray, sometimes clothing. This is just the tip of the iceberg. When everything is finally discussed and all is selected it's time to move on to paperwork and signatures. By this time a family is usually exhausted and is understandably looking to bolt. Before they leave I let them know the next step for them and once again ask if they have any questions.
It's now time for me to take all that I've learned and put it to use. The first thing that I'll do is to prepare an obituary since we always have deadlines to meet. I always like to have a family member proof what I've written before I either fax or email it with an attached photo to the paper(s) to avoid any errors prior to press but this proof isn't always possible. This is why I recap everything with the family before we move on to merchandise.
Next I'll contact the minister and church to be sure that the dates wanted are in fact available; I also check with the cemetery to be sure there is a plot available for the burial. Once these things are verified I can move on to ordering the casket and the vault and begin preparing the memorial materials.
I'll now contact the military if needed, get the clothing to our preparation room staff if I have it, order a hair dresser if necessary, order a door spray and get the chairs and register stand loaded to bring to the families home.
Once the door spray is ready I can head over to pick it up on my way to the house; now is the time to pick up any information or items that may have been unavailable or forgotten at the arrangement conference.
After I've been to the cemetery to view the grave and to be sure it is properly marked I can now call our grave digger and alert him of the burial giving him dates, times and dimensions. By the time I've gotten all of this done I'm often into day two, the visitation is usually tonight and the funeral tomorrow.
Today I have to be sure that the casket arrives and the person is dressed, casketed and cosmetized for early this afternoon when the family is to be by for a first viewing. Somewhere in between here I need to get to the doctors office to try to have him/her sign the death certificate so that I can file it with the county and order the families certified copies. We also have to touch up the funeral home to be sure it's ready for tonight. When the flowers start arriving they have to be properly tagged so that they end up with the right family. Oops! I almost forgot to order the police escort for tomorrow.
People usually start arriving for the visitation around 5:30 or so and can often still be in the funeral home at 10. This is a time of socializing with the crowd and being sure that the family has everything that they want. It also allows me time to meet the extended family, meet with the minister to discuss his order of service for tomorrow, make any last minute changes the family requests and estimate the size of the crowd at tomorrows 9AM funeral.
The day of the funeral: We all get in at 6AM to prepare for the day, we remove all of the flower cards, jewelry that the family wants back, wash the vehicles, load the flowers, get the casket in the hearse, gather any paraphernalia we are to take with us and head to the church to be ready by 8. At the church we reverse what we've loaded, set it all up, be sure that the church is ready and head out to the parking lot to await the attendees and be sure that they are parked correctly for the procession to the cemetery. We are also off to the home to pick up the family and get them to the church all the while hoping the escort will be waiting for us. When the pallbearers start to arrive we instruct each of them what they will be doing and seat them all in tandem. When the family arrives it should be just a couple of minutes before the scheduled time of the funeral so that they do not have to wait around for the service to begin.
Once the service is over, we once again load the flowers and send the truck ahead of everyone so that the flowers are set up in the cemetery upon our arrival. The pallbearers place the casket in the hearse, lights on, I take one last look around to be sure that all is done and we're off to the cemetery.
At the cemetery the pallbearers now place the casket on the grave, we seat the family under the tent, the minister steps in and the committal service begins. Once this service is completed the military if in attendance does their part and upon completion of the flag presentation the director steps in to speak to the family. It's at this point that any announcements are made to the crowd and for the most part the funeral is over. Most times the family will stay at the cemetery and speak with all of those that were there before they are ready to leave. It is now time to have the casket lowered, the vault sealed and the grave refilled.
It's not entirely over yet because this afternoon or tomorrow or at the families convenience we are back out at the home delivering plants, picking up chairs and the register stand, removing the door spray if they so choose and answering any questions they may still have. I usually leave them alone for a few days before I call to check to see if there is anything that I can do for them and to be sure that all went as they expected.
All of the above happens in what seems like a whirlwind and is quite a lot to handle in just a couple of days. I have left out many details and just gone over what I feel are the most important steps although every detail is as important as the next. A "good" funeral is really like a well oiled machine; just seemingly smooth no matter what is actually going on. There are times when several funerals are taking place simultaneously and you very quickly learn how to adeptly juggle. No family should suffer in the least because I have too much going on at once and I hope they don't. I'm not the only one with my hands full at this time because the families themselves also have a lot to do and this I realize and try to help them with as much as I can. Then all I want to do is go to sleep before it starts again.