Guide to Planning a Large Funeral

Planning a funeral can be a daunting task in many circumstances. By planning ahead, especially for a large funeral, you can save a substantial amount of time and money rather than simply taking the advice of a funeral home. This works great for some people, but it is important to know what to expect and arrange accordingly for your family’s own unique needs and expectations. The following guide will teach you the basics so that you can have a solid plan for how to arrange a funeral before even meeting a funeral director. 

Selecting the Service

The first thing you will want to do is plan the service. There are several types of services including those of a traditional funeral service, graveside service, or memorial service. However, you are not limited to just one of these service options.

Funeral Service

During a funeral service, the body of the deceased is usually present. This type of memorial service generally takes place in a funeral home, but some prefer the venue to be a church, community center, or even a private home. The main elements to consider include decorations such as flowers or photos, a eulogy depicting the deceased’s life and identity, hymns and religious readings, or other meaningful quotes and messages. It is also common to include a guestbook at the entry, memorial cards, and a memorial table that displays photos and keepsakes. Before the funeral service is a viewing, sometimes called a wake, organized to celebrate the life of the deceased. Since the body is present during a funeral service, you will need to decide whether it will be open or closed casket. If cremation is chosen, the process will take place after the funeral so that the body can still be presented during the service. 

Graveside Service

A graveside service is held at the cemetery where the body will be buried. This will take place after a funeral service and is usually a much smaller gathering than that of a funeral or memorial service. Keep in mind that if you are planning for a large funeral, you can make the graveside service invite-only so that it is exclusive to family and close friends. A graveside service is often a small, intimate gathering for loved ones to say their last goodbyes and be with the body of the deceased for the last time. Traditionally during this type of service, a few words are spoken by a family member, priest or pastor. This allows the opportunity for prayer and attendees to touch the casket before subjecting the body to its final resting place. 

Memorial Service

A memorial service is a gathering to honor and celebrate the life of the deceased without the body present. This service often takes place after the burial or cremation, which allows for more flexibility when organizing the event. This permits you to better accommodate people and their schedules. Funerals and memorial services are treated very similarly in regards to venue. However, memorial services are usually more informal.

Planning the Wake

The first order of events to consider is the wake, also commonly referred to as the viewing. The main difference between a wake and a viewing is that of religious preference. The more official term for a religious-oriented approach is a wake. The term “viewing,” is typically used for non-religious gatherings. However, they are primarily the same in terms of meaning and structure. During the viewing, the body is most commonly presented in the manner of an open casket. This event can take place in a home, church, or funeral home, depending on which venue best suits the number of expected attendees. Depending on culture, gifts and flowers are often acceptable but not required. This is a time for attendees to pay their respects to the family and that of the deceased. The scheduled amount of time for the wake is dependent on the personal preference of the family with the number of attendees also in consideration. Some may want the event to be as short as an hour or even up to several days, particularly for larger crowds. The family of the deceased also has the option of providing food if deemed appropriate. If the body is unavailable, which could happen for a number of reasons, it is often referred to as a visitation. However, much of the approach is still the same as that of a wake or viewing. 

Funeral Decorations

In terms of funeral decorations, there are a few elements that are common and worth suggesting. The manner in which decorations are displayed depend on things like the amount of space within the venue as well as the amount of time dedicated to organizing the function. A photograph display is an excellent way of adding a personal touch to the venue. Often, churches or funeral homes provide an easel of some sort for you to display personal items, so it’s a good idea to ask what is available before buying any displays to save money. Flowers can be expensive, so bear in mind that you don’t have to go above and beyond with too many.

A bouquet or two is enough to liven up the space so that the venue isn’t too bare or devoid of personality. A guest book can really add a personal feel to the event. Typically, these would be located upon entry of the venue so that your guests can leave meaningful notes and messages. This is a good way to improve the overall experience of the attendees because it involves something that everyone can interact with.

The Funeral Director

It is important for you to touch base with the person responsible for handling and directing the funeral service so that the proper preparations are in place. Organizing exactly what to include is critical for the overall flow of the event. Common elements to consider during a service include the music prelude, welcoming introduction, reading of the obituary, tribute or eulogy, initiation of an open mic, video or slideshow presentation, acknowledgements or recognitions, casket viewing, and any closing statements or invitation to the reception or graveside service. 

Personalize the Service

For religious funeral services, the priest or pastor will likely be experienced and prepared with all the needed resources. However, there is still room to add unique personal touches including things like favorite prayers, texts, or hymns of the deceased or family. The most common elements of religious services include scripture readings, prayers, hymns, lectures, and benediction. Keep in mind that you are not obligated to have all of these elements prepared on your own. The pastor or priest will be prepared with the overall presentation, but it is a good idea to have some level of communication before the event. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and things run smoothly and according to plan.

Funeral Reception

A reception or memorial service is the next event to take place after the funeral service. This is an optional gathering but allows for family and friends to mourn and pay tribute to the deceased in a more informal environment. Particularly for larger services, having more events offers more flexibility and allows more people to attend and connect with those close to the deceased. Since the reception is more informal, food is likely to be involved at the event. Depending on the preference or available funds of the family, food may be provided or guests may be asked to bring a dish or side. The venue options are very much the same as those of the other events and rely on preference. You can also use the same decorations from the funeral or wake by moving them to the new event location. The setup may be slightly different than that of the other events to include tables if food is involved. It is within your personal discretion if you wish to include more decorations such as centerpieces for the tables or other personal elements. However, you are under no obligation to do so, especially if the event is large or you are on a budget. At the end of the day, it is about the interactions and tribute to the deceased that is the most important factor of any service. Any additional elements are never required and it is perfectly acceptable to keep things simple.

Informal Options

If there are any informal events that you were unable to include in the more formal gatherings such as the wake or the funeral, the reception may be the time to introduce them. There is no real traditional means of organizing or preparing events for a reception. Some people even prefer not to have anything prepared and to let the guests lead the direction of the occasion. However, it may be beneficial to consider musical selections or a slideshow of some sort if interactions among the guests become dull. It is always a good practice to prepare some sort of backup plan.

The Grieving Process

As a main organizer of the event, it is necessary to mention that it is absolutely normal and acceptable for you to grieve during these events just as anyone else would. You can still act professionally while exhibiting the emotions that are anticipated during these often difficult times. You will be surrounded by people who love and care for the deceased, so feel free to be yourself because you are more than just the person in charge.

How to Choose a Burial Method

One of the last factors to consider is the final disposition or the final resting place of the deceased. There are various methods for this, including burial or cremation. Often, certain religious or personal preferences of the deceased drive this decision. 

Traditional Burial

When choosing the burial option, there are several factors to consider. First, you must decide if you are going to embalm the body, meaning that the natural fluids of the body will be exchanged for chemical ones for preservation. This is generally the standard practice for open-casket funerals or viewings and would need to be decided prior to those events. This is mainly conducted to give off a more lifelike and lively appearance to the body for display purposes.

Open Casket

You may also want to consider the final resting clothes and makeup if you decide on having an open-casket service. It also slows the decomposition process significantly. Keep in mind that this involves additional costs and is not required if you are on a budget. You should also acknowledge that a traditional burial typically costs more than cremation if you are wavering between the two choices based on budget. You may be able to get away with skipping the embalming process if you are quick to plan the service before any sign of decomposition presents itself. This is another reason why it’s good to plan ahead and know what to expect when organizing a funeral.

Alternate Burials

There are other options besides caskets including mausoleums, crypts, or tombs. These options will likely be presented to you upon discussions with a funeral director. You can also contact the cemetery officials to see what that specific location has available. 

Cremation

Cremation involves the burning of the body so that it is subjected to ashes as a final disposition method. If you choose cremation, you would need to organize the funeral in a timely manner so that the body can still be displayed. Cremation will then take place immediately after the funeral. Depending on the facility, you may be able to witness the procedure take place with a glass viewing. What you do with the remains is also subject to the family’s discretion. Some may scatter or bury the remains, while others prefer them to be contained in an urn and reserved for a display within the family’s home. An urn is usually much cheaper than an actual casket, making this method less expensive than a traditional burial. There is more flexibility involved with cremation because you can basically use any container that is big enough to hold the ashes. This could be anything from a cardboard box to a fancy urn with personal engravings.

Unique Options

Although cremation and traditional burial are the most commonly used methods for final disposition, there are other options to consider including green burial, body donation, plastination, hydrolysis, and more. It is highly recommended that you conduct in-depth research regarding the procedures involved with these alternative methods before making any final decisions. 

When planning for a large funeral, it can be beneficial knowing what to expect, especially in terms of price. There are many options to choose from and less expensive alternatives to consider during the planning process. Planning a large funeral can be overwhelming, so it may be helpful to create an organized checklist so that everything runs smoothly and you can weigh in all the costs.

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