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What to Do when Someone Dies Part I

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Funeral Guidelines

Funeral guidelines are a concern that comes to the forefront in many people's minds only at the very time that a loved one passes away. Planning their funeral is, often, the very last thing on a person's mind while he or she is in the midst of a healthy, productive life, so loved ones are often left with no funeral guidelines when a person dies suddenly and unexpectedly. A cardiologist in Indiana recently said in an interview that more than 350,000 people die unexpectedly each year in the United States to sudden cardiac arrest. When you then consider the number of people who die in accidents and by other health problems, the number is surely to swell to nearly a million or more. So, when one considers that, it can be a great relief – even to a perfectly healthy person – to have some personal funeral guidelines established and communicated well in the advance of death. It is hoped that this article will help you create such funeral guidelines in which to present to family members who will no doubt be asked to help coordinate your funeral at the appropriate time.

A few simple tips to consider when planning a funeralThe first thing to keep in mind when creating funeral guidelines for others to follow in the event of your death is a deeply personal experience and, while there are a few traditional elements to funerals, your guidelines do not have to include all or even any of those. Though we will list these elements in the next few paragraphs, it is perfectly acceptable and appropriate for your funeral guidelines to dictate that any or all of them be modified or even omitted. It is also quite appropriate for your funeral guidelines to suggest creative elements that are not listed here. (For example the famous writer Hunter Thompson included a famously eccentric element in his funeral guidelines: he required that his cremated ashes be shot high into the heavens by a powerful rocket cannon fired at sunset in the remote desert with all of his best friends and family present. Such requests can be quite comforting to both the living and deceased if they are, as they were in Thompson's case, arranged – and financed – well in advance of a person's death.) Perhaps one of the most important things to consider, if nothing else, is if one wishes to be interred or cremated, upon their passing. Often, families who are faced with the loss of their loved one who had not previously specified their disposition end up spending thousands on a funeral with burial, or worse, cremate the individual when they, in fact, preferred to be buried. Even burial wishes should be described, especially considering the large number of options for burials today. Many are not aware of the many burial options, which range from traditional internments with hardwood or metal caskets, to green burials complete with sustainable caskets, which are biodegradable. Here is our list of the basic traditional funeral elements that are typically included in a person's funeral guidelines.

The visitation (or wake as it is called in some religions and cultures) is probably the funeral element that is most often dispensed with in funeral guidelines. For anyone interested in economy, eliminating this element from the traditional funeral guidelines might be a good option. A typical funeral home will ask for at least $500 for the use of the home's facilities for a one or two hour viewing ceremony, plus there are the other expenses related to preparing the body for presentation that may be able to be avoided if a visitation ceremony is not part of the funeral elements. The visitation ceremony is often considered to be very important because it gives loved ones and friends a final chance to spend a few quiet moments with their departed friend or relative. Experts on grief say that this can be emotionally healthy for the survivors, but it is not a universal need, and some people, in fact, are quite uncomfortable with the thought of a visitation, preferring instead to spend a few quiet moments entirely alone with their thoughts of the deceased. Because of the varied opinions of the need for a visitation ceremony and, of course, the cost, it is important for your funeral guidelines to be very specific about your desires for a visitation ceremony. A mother in a Texas family, for example, recently made it very clear to all of her heirs that she views visitation (and, especially the corresponding body preparation) as a waste of time and money. So her funeral guidelines very clearly demand that the tradition of visitation be omitted in her funeral. Had she not been so specific with her instructions (as is the case with many people), it's possible that the relatives might have decided to proceed with a visitation upon her death.

Pre-planning a funeral can take care of several painful decisions for the surviving familyThe funeral ceremony itself is the element that is least likely to be neglected in most funeral guidelines. Most people when considering their own funeral will happily provide a list of people who should be invited to speak, songs that should be played, and even particular rituals that should be followed. A man who died recently in Colorado had made it very clear in his funeral guidelines that, though he was a passionately religious man with strong ties to the Methodist Church, he wanted his son-in-law, a Native American religious leader, to officiate his funeral. And he specifically requested that the son-in-law's family be present and that the ceremony include as many of their death rituals as was practically possible. So that's exactly what the survivors arranged upon his death. Had he not made these specific requests in his written funeral guidelines, the man's funeral would have likely been officiated in a traditionally Methodist manner and, while this would have, no doubt, been beautiful and meaningful to all in attendance, it would not have been in connection with what the man's spirit desired.

The burial ceremony is another funeral element to consider when establishing your own funeral guidelines. For many people who are to be cremated (and cremation is now being practiced in more than half of deaths world wide), this is an optional ceremony. And even for those who are to be buried in a traditional manner, it is still option. A public ceremony, involving funeral home personnel, limousines and police officers to escort attendees to the cemetery, can be an expensive endeavor that many frugal-minded spirits would rather avoid. So, it's important to remember in your funeral guidelines to be rather specific about your wishes. If you are intending to be cremated and would rather that your ashes be scattered over some special place instead of buried in a cemetery, it is important to make that very clear in your funeral guidelines. Likewise, you should be sure to note whether you want your burial to be attended by all who are interested, by just a few select family members, or by only the cemetery personnel. If your desire is for simpleness, saying so explicitly in your funeral guidelines could save your heirs thousands of dollars in funeral expenses.

The most important thing to consider about each of these traditional funeral elements is that, unless you specifically request a simple, only mildly ornate, approach to your funeral, you are likely to be treated to extravagance at your services. At the news of your death, your grieving family and friends will naturally want to honor your life and memory in as elaborate and kingly a manner as possible. And funeral home personnel can always be counted upon to be eager to provide nothing but the most comforting and luxurious accommodations for you “life” after death. But many people are quite uncomfortable with that idea. So, while the term “guideline” has connotations of vagueness, it may be important that your own funeral guidelines be very specific in order to assure that your funeral is as fitting as possible for your life.

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