Funeral Planning: When to Hold a Memorial or Funeral

Filed Under (Probate) on 10-16-2012

When a spouse dies, death of a spouse, death of a loved one Guidance for widowed people and their families immediately after the death of the loved one.

By Marilyn W. McWilliams, JD

Our culture does not encourage speaking of death, and you may now find yourself in a situation where you don’t know what to do, when to do it, or how to carry it out. While planning a funeral is like planning any other large ceremony or religious event, it is clouded with strong emotions and, sometimes, shock. If you feel too overwhelmed, ask for help from your children, friends and clergy.  Here are some general thoughts on the reason for funerals and the elements of them.

Why hold a funeral?

It is, in general, emotionally helpful for family and friends to have a funeral or ceremony to mark the death, say goodbye, support each other, and help create meaning around the loved one’s death. A funeral is a time to comfort each other and share memories.

When to hold a funeral?

Widowed people often feel they cannot bear to attend a funeral shortly after the loved one’s death. Sometimes, they want to delay it for several weeks or months. But waiting does not make the process easier, and friends and family feel they are marking time until the funeral. I strongly believe the funeral should be held within a week or so of the loved one’s death. As for out-of-town relatives, most airlines have discounted funeral fares and employers allow time off work to accommodate memorials and funerals.

What disposition?

You will need to choose among the following:

•    Cremation: this is an increasingly popular choice. Many churches offer columbariums, places where ashes can be permanently deposited after cremation, so that family members have a place to visit after the loved one’s death. You may also wish to scatter the cremains in one of Colorado’s scenic destinations; laws and regulations vary by park. National Forest Service lands allow the spreading of ashes, but ask that you check with state authorities. At Rocky Mountain National Park, spreading ashes simply requires a no fee permit.

•    Burial: In this case, you will need to select a cemetery and plot. If you live in an area with several choices, call around the compare costs and maintenance arrangements. Embalming before burial may or may not be required.
If your spouse was a veteran, you may be able to choose a burial site at a National Cemetery, including a memorial marker and flag to drape the coffin. Or, if you choose a private cemetery, you can apply for a burial allowance.  You will need to provide information about your spouse’s military service.

What type of funeral to hold?

Many people instinctively realize that the spouse’s funeral will be long remembered and will be the last public statement about his or her life.  Sometimes this knowledge can make funeral planning additionally stressful, as you worry about making the “right” choices for this event.

It might be helpful to consider the adage, “as in life, so in death.”  If your spouse enjoyed gardening and flowers, you might consider an outdoor funeral. If your spouse enjoyed hiking in Colorado’s beautiful mountains, you might choose an outdoor setting at a Colorado State Park, or an indoor ceremony with photos and readings that reflect your spouse’s passions.  Many people choose to have the funeral at a University, church or other reverential location.
If you choose to hold the funeral in a house of worship, consult with clergy prior to making plans. Many clergy have strong preferences as to the conduct of services and some religious groups have doctrinal rules governing certain aspects of the funeral, burial and cremation process.

How to inform family and friends

If there is a funeral or memorial service, be sure to send out invitations via phone and email. You may also wish to publish a notice in the local newspapers or other publications in time for people to learn of the service and attend it. Be prepared to include information such as: your deceased’s full name, name of current spouse; date of marriage; names and places of residence of children and grandchildren; names and places of residence of surviving parents, brothers and sisters; education; profession; honors and awards; military service; membership in organizations.

Do you want flowers or donations?

Some people believe that flowers are too fleeting a tribute to the deceased. If you feel that way, make your wishes known. Many people prefer that charitable donations be made in honor of the deceased. If your spouse had an organization he or she supported, that organization would be ideal to designate for gifts.

For more information, see Life After Death: a Legal and Practical Guide for Surviving Spouses , by Marilyn W. McWilliams, JD.

  • Brandon McBride

    Flowers vs. Donations is tough – I think it would depend on your financial situation. Donations if you need help covering the funeral, flowers if you don’t. Maybe a mix of both?

  • Larkin Mortuary

    We just found your blog and you offer great suggestions and information here! Thank you!