11 Key Elements of Planning a Funeral

18 August 2017 • Funeral Planning

How to Organise a Memorable Funeral 

Organising a funeral for a loved one or a friend is one of the most painful yet poignant activities a person can ever do in his life.  Despite the pain and grief, many people choose to organise the funeral for their departed loved ones themselves as a final tribute to the departed. 

This article will walk you through the steps to organise a memorable funeral for a loved one. First, let's consider the purpose of a memorial service.

The Purpose of a Memorial Service

There are a number of reasons to hold a memorial service:

1. To honor and celebrate the life of the loved one that has passed.

2. To give ourselves the permission to grieve and experience the care of the community.

3. To think about our own mortality and the meaning of life as we remember them.

4. To “resolve or complete what has been left emotionally unfinished for us at the time of death,” suggests Russell Friedman, Executive Director of the Grief Recovery Institute

A memorial service is much more than just honoring those that have passed; it is also a time of reflecting upon one’s life and of expressing support to those whom the person has left behind.

Funeral Service Checklist

There are a number of things to consider when organising a funeral. These include:

  • Choosing a date - The memorial service doesn’t have to be within the week of the person’s death. You can schedule it weeks or months after. The key here is to pick a date where you can be given enough time to do preparations and enough time for relatives and friends to plan their own schedule and trips ahead.
  • Pick a theme - When you pick a theme, think of the life of the deceased. How would the person like to be remembered? What were the best qualities of the person? What were his passions and interests? These can help you decide on the theme and the location of the service, too.
  • Consider religious requirements - each religion and culture has different ways to remember a loved one. Take these into account when planning the funeral or memorial service. 
  • Select a location - The location depends on four things: your theme, the number of attendees, convenience of the attendees, and budget considerations. Most memorial services are held in funeral homes, churches, at the home of the deceased or a relative of the deceased, hotels, or other event places. The theme can help you decide on your location. If the deceased loved the ocean for example, then you can organize the memorial service at the beach.
  • Create the Program (order of service) - Make an event plan that lists down the activities and highlights of the service in chronological order. Assign an event leader and a host who will ensure that the program gets followed. The program may be printed on a card or on a special paper to serve as a guide for your guests. 
  • Select the eulogist and speakers - You will also need to decide who the speakers will be and inform them several days before the service to give them time to prepare.
  • Collect photos and memories - photos and other memorabilia adds a nice touch to display at the service. If you want to make the process of creating memory books easier and more interactive, try an online memory book or online memorial that the those close to the loved one can easily access. 
  • Decide on food and memorial tokens - It is important to let attendees know whether food will be served or if guests are encouraged to contribute a dish. Also, as a sign of gratitude, considering giving your guests memorial tokens. A memorial token can be a simple card with words of appreciation, neutral gifts like candles or charms, or any object that the deceased used to love.  
  • Final body of disposition - For exaample would your loved one prefer cremation or burial? Consider what is also written in their will. 
  • Choose a Funeral Director - can be based on who others have recommended, funeral service directories or by searching online.
  • Publish an obituary or tribute notice - announce the details of the funeral service and post a tribute to your loved one in the local or national newspaper publication or privately amongst friends and family
  • Choose the right funeral songs for the service
  • Consider your budget - How much you can afford or was provided to fund the funeral service
  • Funeral service invitations - Once you have finalized the event plan, send out your invitations at least two weeks before the memorial. Invitations should include special requests from the family. You can indicate here the basic event details (time, date and venue), event attire, a short write-up about the person who died, and special requests from the family. For example, if you wish to request charitable donations instead of flowers, you may specify that on the invitation.

We've provided more detail and some of the key areas mentioned above to help you choose the best option for you.

1. Final Body of Disposition: Burial, Cremation or Donation

The final form of disposition will set the stage for the entire funeral or memorial service. Here are your choices:

A) Burial (Traditional)

Whether in a cemetery plot/gravesite, or above ground in a mausoleum or sepulcher (sometimes referred to as "entombment"), this traditional burial generally involves selecting:

  • a casket
  • a cemetery plot or mausoleum space
  • a grave liner or burial vault and a headstone, grave marker, monument or plaque.

B) Burial (Natural or "Green")  

Lately, there’s a growing number of people who choose this environmentally-friendly burial.  Green burials aim to have a less impact on Mother Nature by using sustainable materials -  caskets, for example are produced in a way that's carbon-neutral and doesn’t add toxins to the Earth. 

C) Cremation 

The cremation process of burning a dead person’s remains by using flame to reduce it to bone fragments or "ashes."  These ashes can be kept in an urn, buried, scattered or even incorporated into objects as part of the last rites of death.

D) Alkaline Hydrolysis

This form of final disposition which is being offered as an alternative to the traditional burial or cremation method.  It  uses pressure and relatively low heat to reduce a body to an inert liquid and skeletal bone fragments.  

Funeral Graveyard

2. Funeral VS memorial service and location

These two are often confused with each other but there is quite a difference that one should take note of. When there is a presence of the remains or the dead body, it is a funeral service. Otherwise, it is technically a memorial service. Memorial services are generally held at someone’s home or in a public space like a church or public hall while funerals are usually conducted directly at the graveyard or a place of worship close to the graveyard.  You may ask your funeral director about recommendations or you can also do your own research by checking online reviews and blogs.  Ask friends and relatives who have attended funerals if they have any recommendations as well. All funeral providers can give you a price list upon request including the various packages that they offer.  

3. Choosing a Funeral Director  

Brainstorm all of the possible details that you would like included in your service. Meet with a series of funeral directors - and choose who among them is the best one to turn your vision into reality.  What kind of emotion do you want to invoke on the memorial service? What kinds of emotions do you want the funeral to create in others? You need to discuss these details with your funeral director. Ask for recommendations but make sure that you know exactly what you want because a lot of it comes with cost and you should be prepared for that.

4. Publish an obituary / tribute notice 

You would want all the departed’s friends,  family, relatives and acquaintances know of his or her passing so they too can say their final goodbyes. The original way to announce someone’s death is through an obituary notice in a newspaper. But these days, a lot of people prefer to read news online. You can use online obituary services to let others know of the passing of your loved one through Skymorials

5. Funeral songs and music

Honoring a loved one the memorial service would not be complete without funeral songs. Ever thought of what music or songs to accompany your service?  This special playlist will help set the kind of mood that you want to set during the whole duration of memorial or funeral service. You may start creating several types of playlist: celebratory, grieving, sad or mournful.  Check out YouTube and free online playlists that can help you put together your personalised music collection.

Funeral Planning

6. Order of service

This will largely depend on the kind of funeral you choose. If you are holding a traditional funeral, your church or funeral director can help you create your order of service. They have arranged many services, and often have samples or guidelines to help you get started. For the more informal memorial ceremonies, you are allowed for some flexibility.  Just make sure that your choice of venue can accommodate you for audio/visual equipment (if needed), microphones, slideshows.

A memorial service program typically looks like this:

1. Opening words from a family member

2. Prayers or rituals

3. Audio-visual presentation about the deceased

4. Readings

5. Speech from family members or friends

6. Readings

7. Closing remarks 

8. Reception

However choose a program that best suits your requirements and that of your loved ones.

7. Religious aspects of a funeral

If you plan to follow a religious burial or funeral rite , ask your priest, minister,  or rabbi to discuss the details. There might also a corresponding fee. Some churches or individuals charge fees for their services and you’ll want to ask about these now. You may also want to discuss using the church facility for part of the reception as well.

8. Select your eulogist and speakers

A eulogy is a short speech delivered at a funeral in which the speaker will talk about the life of the deceased.  You may also opt for speakers instead of a eulogist. Make sure to carefully select people who know the deceased and if they will be comfortable speaking when that time comes.

9. Choose photographs and memories to present  

Ask those close to your loved one for relevant photos and memories that can be used as part of the service. You can also present your own slide show accompanied by the music of your choice.

10. Create and maintain an online memorial page at Skymorials  

If you want to restore keepsakes and memories of your departed loved one forever, set up an online memorial where you can publish chapters of the person’s life story and share your favourite memories with relatives, friends, and others whom you have invited to the page. You can import photos from Facebook and Instagram, too. 

11. Consider your budget when planning 

Plan ahead and consider your budget before adding all the personal touches because they come with associated fees. And, regardless of whether you choose cremation or burial, your funeral home will likely add a set of standard fees onto your final bill. These fees can include the cost of obtaining death certificates or even housing your body. Keeping in mind how much you can reasonably spend will help you to make realistic choices. A gentle piece of advice: try to put some distance between your grief and your wallet. Once you allow your emotions to get in the way, and telling yourself that money is not an issue, you are already dragging yourself down.  You can’t show your love to your departed by spending. However, you can show some respect for yourself and those who are footing the bill by not spending more than you can reasonably afford.

Organising a funeral especially for a loved one is an emotionally tasking activity, but the good thing is that it gives you that feeling of doing something for the departed, as the last show of love and respect. It may be tedious and sometimes stressful, but in the end, it also helps you cope with the loss. 


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