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Your Complete Guide to Planning a Funeral: Services, Costs & Reception

A funeral is any kind of final arrangement (burial or cremation) made by a family after the death of a loved one. The average cost of a funeral is almost $9,000 according to the National Funeral Directors Association depending on the location of the service, the funeral home, and the items used. Planning a funeral is for anyone who wishes to take the stress and uncertainty off of their loved ones by making arrangements in advance.

If you’ve ever witnessed the tragedy of a family struggling to pay for a loved one’s funeral, you understand why so many people are planning their own funerals. In fact, many people consider the act of planning their funeral as a part of estate planning. If you’re wondering whether or not you should plan your funeral, we’ve put together the following guide that will answer all the question you may have.

Click here to learn the best way to save on funeral costs.

Steps to Planning a Funeral

If you want to ease the stress of funeral planning for your loved ones, we’ve put together a guide that will steer you through the process.

Your first step is to think about what type of event you want.

Planning a Funeral or Memorial Service

How your friends and family say goodbye to you is determined by the type of event you choose. You can plan for a formal affair with a long list of speakers, a more casual event with only your closest friends and family present, or anything in between.

Here are some of your choices.

Funeral – A funeral typically takes place in a church, the funeral home, or sometimes someone’s home. The body of the deceased is usually present in a casket, either open or closed, so that those gathered can say goodbye. Because the body is present during a funeral, the service must take place in a timely manner.

If you plan to have your body cremated, you can still have a funeral. Many people plan a funeral before the cremation, so friends and family can view the body. We’ll talk more about cremation ceremonies in a minute.

During a funeral, an officiant will typically preside over the ceremony and friends and family may eulogize the deceased. Music is also typically part of the service and can feature live or recorded music, as well as special songs that mean something to you and your loved ones.

The setting is usually adorned with flowers and can even include pictures of the deceased. After the eulogy, many funerals include an open mic time. This allows those gathered to tell stories of the deceased and talk about their personality. It’s a great way for loved ones to come together and remember the person they love.

If you plan your funeral, you can pre-select all of the variables so nothing’s left up for debate: the songs you want played at the service, the types of flowers you prefer to have at your funeral, the people you would like to speak at your funeral, and even the pallbearers who will carry your casket. You can also decide what type of final disposition you’d like (burial or cremation).

Graveside Service – A graveside service is very similar to a traditional funeral, except the service happens at the grave before the burial. You can choose to plan a funeral service first with all your friends and family, and then a more intimate affair at the graveside with only your closest loved ones. Or you can simply plan a graveside service.

With this type of service, a person of your choosing will eulogize you. It’s not uncommon for people to ask friends and family to speak at a graveside service. Some people include flowers at a graveside service, and many times, people lay flowers on the casket before it’s lowered into the ground as a final goodbye.

You can personalize your graveside service any way you choose. You can pick the music, the colors of the flowers, the cemetery you’re buried in, and add in any personal details you choose.

Memorial Service – A memorial service is similar to a funeral with one difference: The body is not present. These types of services take place at a funeral home, a church, a community center, or someone’s home. Just like a traditional funeral, a memorial service can include flowers, music, a eulogy, and speeches given by people close to the deceased.

If you choose to have your body cremated, your loved ones will often hold a memorial service since there is no public viewing.

Memorial services also tend to be more casual than a full-blown funeral. In fact, when planning your memorial service, you should make it as personal as possible so that it truly represents you and your life.

Family in Church

Pre-Planning the Arrangements and Reception

In addition to planning the funeral, graveside service, or memorial service, you will also need to decide whether you want to include services before and after the ceremony.

Here are some of the options you have.

Wake or Viewing – A wake or viewing is held before the funeral or memorial service as a time for close friends and family to gather together to say goodbye to the deceased.

Wakes or viewings can be short services that allow everyone to see the body and say their goodbyes, or they can be longer events where people say their goodbyes and then comfort each other. Traditional viewings are typically reserved for the family and are very private.

Visitation – A visitation also happens before a funeral or memorial, but the body is typically not present during this event. Because funerals are such large gatherings, people use visitations to express their sympathy and support for the family. It’s a time for the family to speak to those who want to remember the deceased without the time constraints of a funeral. Traditional visitations are typically held so that the general public/funeral attendees can pay their respects.

Elements of the Service – The event you plan should be a reflection of who you are. Be sure to specify your wants so that people remember you as you want them to. When planning a funeral, you need to think about the specifics. There are some elements to every service that you will need to plan for so that your friends or family don’t have to make these decisions during such an emotional time.

A typical funeral service will last roughly 2 hours and may include the following elements:

  • Visitation with family before service
  • Formal service with/without religious sermon
  • Eulogies by friends and families
  • Closing ceremony
  • Guest reception with/without refreshments

Some of the details you’ll need to think about are a musical prelude, welcoming words spoken as an introduction, the reading of your obituary, and the eulogy or tribute about you. You can also plan who will speak at the open mic, which songs you want the guests to hear, whether or not you want a slideshow or video tribute of your life, and whether you want an open or closed casket. Finally, someone will need to issue an invitation to the graveside service unless it’s exclusively for the family.

Religious Components – If you want to include religious components at your funeral, you should discuss them with your priest, pastor, or whoever will perform the ceremony. For instance, you can pre-select your hymns, scripture readings, benediction, prayers, and even what type of sermon you’d like. Most funeral services include some sort of religious component – whether traditional or contemporary – to give grieving friends and family hope as they experience life without the deceased.

Receptions: Types, Location, and Décor – Having a reception after the funeral is the perfect way for friends and family to get together and share special memories about the deceased. And you can plan the reception any way you want.

For instance, you can make it a formal affair at a restaurant, or plan a more casual get-together at someone’s house. You can plan it at a church, community center, or even a banquet hall. You can also request that loved ones have a barbecue, a potluck dinner, or a gathering at your favorite spot in the local park. Keep in mind that if you plan your reception to take place at a restaurant or have it catered, you should pay for the food and drinks.

The options for the location of your reception are endless. However you plan your reception, make sure that it gives room for those you love to grieve and comfort each other. You can choose to move the flowers and photographs from the funeral home to the reception venue, or you can keep it simple and let the conversation be the highlight of the event. You should plan for soft music at the reception, so it doesn’t interfere with conversation. You can also plan for open mic time, a video slideshow of your life, or other activities for the guests.