When someone we love dies it’s very satisfying when there’s a meaningful funeral or memorial.While the first thing that comes to mind about a funeral or a death is the emotions, it’s  a time when everyone also has to be hugely practical. Many people do it in a fairly panicky rush. As Emma Freud writes, ‘1000 decisions have to be made by the organiser during the worst five days of their life’.

As I have written in ‘Death, a Love Project, a guide to exploring the life in death and finding the way together’ there is no need to be tied to five days. Relationships are delicate at this time. The organising that has to be done after someone dies is quite a project. What matters is that there’s a meaningful funeral with creative input on the day.

In work contexts, as a matter of course, projects are tied to teams, planning and project management. Yet at the full-on emotional time of bereavement, the person who died may not have left a plan in place. The team or family may not be sure how to plan, because of not having been there before. It may be hard to get the team in a planning frame of mind, because of the emotional overwhelm. Anyway who’s in charge? Then there are the time constraints.

How to organise a meaningful funeral and manage this difficult time well? The funeral is one of the first tasks of grieving, and grieving well makes a big difference later.

Here are ten steps I’d suggest following.

  1. Slow it down. There’s no rush to hold a funeral. There’s every benefit for grieving and future health and well-being in taking your time.
  2. Review the person’s wishes. The person may have made them explicit, either in writing or in talking with the family. Great! Respect these wishes. If the person hasn’t left any, it’s a little more difficult.
  3. Get together and plan. Basic and familiar planning procedures help: agreed goal (a great funeral); timeline; who, when, where, what? The what includes budget. How much can you spend?
  4. Contact a celebrant. Funeral directors generally recommend celebrants. The funeral director’s model places a high value on the celebrant getting the ceremony together quickly. Kinship Ritual’s model is facilitative. I am alongside you and take on necessary liaison through the process as required.
  5. Respect the person’s wishes, work within their values. Specific choices such as burial or cremation may be clear. There may be other clear choices as well, such as donating the body to science. What tone do you want to set? There are many options, on a spectrum from religious through reflective to honouring the person’s contribution to outright celebration of life. Consider the values of the deceased.
  6. Take care of yourself, respect each other. They say that each sibling has a different father, a different mother, and siblings. In preparing for a funeral these differences are bound to come to light. As you work out a plan together, respect others as you’d like to be respected.
  7. Making the ceremony. Every person is different. The program you devise is up to you. Try for balance. You’ll want a different mix of elements in the ceremony, depending on the tone you’re working towards. A eulogy, a photo presentation or board, speakers, music, ritual and so on.
  8. Organise a venue, invite everyone
  9. Work out who’s doing what. Check out the venue … you get the picture. You’re doing an event that’s as big as a wedding without the three to six month lead time. Take up offers to help. Arrive ahead of time on the day. Know that shedding a few tears while speaking or delivering a eulogy is absolutely natural and helps others experience the reality of loss.
  10. Funeral or memorial? You might have noticed it’s less common today to have the coffin present at end of life ceremonies. Families have different reasons for making this choice. Do bear in mind that accepting the reality of loss is key to successful grieving. A coffin speaks of the unfailing reality of death for all of us. In different cultures and communities, viewing the body is a natural part of this process and so are open coffin funerals. Similarly filling in a grave with a shovel or viewing a cremation is part of living with the new reality. Our beloved is not with us any more in physical form.
Coffin or not?

Coffin or not?

Kinship and ritual make for a successful funeral, and facilitation enables a family or community to reach consensus. Today there’s a massive trend towards ‘celebration of life’ at a funeral (Australian Funeral Directors’ Association, 2014). I have a hunch that this may be driven in part by cost efficiency in the industry itself.

It is easier and less costly to run a funeral without a coffin, with a powerpoint presentation telling the story. It wastes less effort and expense to keep it short, to forget the delicate difference between appreciation and celebration, to fill in a grave with a machine.

If you need someone to work with you, to plan ahead, or to lessen the stress in the difficult circumstances of bereavement, Kinship Ritual can help.