Funeral advice for bereaved parents
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Planning your child’s funeral may involve the hardest decisions you will ever be asked to make. It may put you at odds with other family members and loved ones. It may even make you question things you’ve always taken for granted, like your faith or love for others.
There are both emotional and “to do” things you may not think of because you don’t know the basics (who does?) about funerals.
You don’t have to buy the coffin from the funeral home, where a markup may be 500%. Depending on your sensibilities, there are biodegradable “green” caskets available, as well as online options. The FTC makes it illegal for a funeral home to insist you purchase it there, and you can’t be charged more for the funeral service by using a different vendor. There is no real difference in how long the body is preserved; the difference is the quality and cost of the finish put on the coffin. Be advised you’ll likely be shown the most expensive model first, and then you’ll have a hard time moving back. Ask to view the last expensive to the most expensive, and don't waver if price is a concern.
State law dictates whether an autopsy is required. While families usually have the option (if not transporting a body over state lines) as to whether or not to have a body embalmed, funeral directors may refuse an open casket for a body that is not embalmed. (Their business reputation could be made or destroyed based upon by how “natural” your child looks to the viewing public.)
Cremations are another alternative and much less costly. Mausoleum vaults are more costly than in-ground burials.
The funeral home charges for every service they provide. What is the actual cost to place an obituary in a newspaper? Ask a friend to check before you check off boxes on a “package” form. Those little funeral cards can be ordered online or made by a friend. Flowers will be very expensive ordered through the funeral home. Be wary of funeral packages with built-in extras you don’t need (cemeteries determine if a vault liner is required, for example).
Here is a typical order for Christian funeral services: Musical prelude, processional music, opening prayer, music (hymn), Scripture reading, obituary summary, eulogy, sermon, final viewing, benediction and recessional music, followed often by graveyard services. However, you are under no obligation to do any or all of it this way. Discuss it with your faith leader or with the most involved family members or friends. Or decide yourself. Take as much or little help as you need.
You can plan a service with children in mind. The readings can be simple – the message of God’s love of the sparrow – and the service kept short. If you want an open casket, you can also request a viewing screen, so that people are directed behind it for those who want to view your child, but it screens those who cannot handle the trauma. You might include a song like "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" so smaller children can join in.
Do you want to eulogize your child in your own words? If so, consider appointing people to stand up and deliver them if needed as a backup. We didn’t select our closest friends, but rather professional friends who were not that emotionally tied to Daniel, so they wouldn't feel so overwhelmed while reading).
If you absolutely cannot afford to do anything, and cannot make financial arrangements between family, friends or a bank, a funeral director may be able to give you a contact for a charity that may be able to help. Sometimes there are benefactors or charities that will step forward for a child’s funeral.
Because the decisions you are making (or are helping someone else make) are so important, don’t feel rushed to move forward, and don’t feel “talked into” a decision. Take an advocate with you, one who will listen to you and INSIST on what you want if you become too overwhelmed or emotional to continue on your own behalf.
Often parents wade through these options with older family members or friends who have more experience with burials or cremations. A good funeral director will not turn all of his or her attention to the intermediary, but will also continue to include and listen to the parent — to give you the option to re-engage or disagree. Then they will quietly coordinate the collection of information and line up the appropriate contracts and payment arrangements for the individual or package of services desired.
The funeral director will remind you that this will be the last act on earth you likely will be able to do for your child. Emotions are unavoidable and hard to keep in check; the best funeral director will respect that and not take advantage of it.
Ultimately, do what feels right to you.
Thanks for joining me at the Bereaved Parents Watering Hole.