(If you’re not a Pastor, the majority of this article can still be beneficial to you! Just skip the first and last paragraphs, and you’ll get to the core importance, which is your need to pre-plan your funeral!)
As Pastors, we often try to stay out of the personal affairs of our congregants, especially when it comes to legal and financial issues. Someone has drawn an imaginary line that seems to keep pastors “in their lane,” unless approached by a person for spiritual direction.
My mother died in January after complications from COVID-19. She battled hard for two weeks before she lost to the virus. One of the best gifts she gave to her children at the time of her death was a pre-planned funeral. Several years ago, we sat down with a funeral director to pre-plan both of my parents’ funerals. We made all the needed selections and decisions as well as making financial arrangements for payment. So when my mother passed, it was a simple call to the funeral director, followed by a 30 minute meeting to go over some final details regarding services. Yes, 30 minutes.
Traditionally, when a person dies the family has 72 hours to complete the following tasks:
- Say goodbye to their loved one
- Select a funeral home
- Inform the hospital, hospice center, or medical examiner of the funeral home
- Call for an appointment with the funeral director
- Locate appropriate documents such as driver’s license, social security card, and veteran’s discharge documents if the loved one has served in the US Armed Forces
- Make sure that you have all of the information required to file for a death certificate such as places of birth and maiden names of the decedent’s parents
- Locate insurance documents
- Determine final disposition, whether it be burial or cremation
- Select a date, time, and location for a celebration of life service
- Select merchandise options such as casket, urn, guest book, programs, prayer cards, thank you notes, et al
- If the loved one is to be buried, select and deliver clothes to the funeral home
- Select cemetery and purchase burial plot(s) if haven’t already.
- Select a vault (some states require urns to be in a vault) and head stone
- Select flowers
- Write an obituary and determine which newspapers to publish it
- Collect pictures for a DVD slide show and deliver to the funeral home
- Meet with clergy to plan the celebration of life, selecting songs, pall bearers, musicians, and plan a funeral luncheon if appropriate
- Call pall bearers to solicit their availability
- Notify family and friends of the loved one’s passing
- Assist with travel arrangements and lodging for out of town families
That is a complicated, time consuming list. I’ve probably forgotten some things. Unless you’ve been through the process, it is overwhelming. In many instances, people who have been through it have forgotten many of the details. So I think it is incumbent upon pastors to strongly encourage their church members to pre-plan their funerals for the following reasons.
First, funeral planning is more than picking songs and pall bearers. Even if you’ve done it before, your experience does not save you very much time. Pre-planning a funeral does not eliminate all of the work, but most of the bullet list can be done in advance.
Second, funeral planning at the moment of need delays the important task at hand–grieving with family and friends. The days between death and burial should be moments of reflection, laughter, tears, and stories. One who waits to grieve until after the funeral service often grieves alone. Time is precious, and the urgent should not outweigh the important.
Third, pre-planning allows your loved one to have tangible input on their final wishes. Otherwise, the family is reliant upon memory and best guesses.
Finally, pre-planning locks in the cost of funerals, guaranteeing and fixing the price. In addition, it also gives the family the flexibility on paying for the funeral in one lump sum or paying over time through the purchase of an insurance policy. It is important to note that funeral homes are not banks. They do not finance funerals at the time of death with payment plans. So it is important for families to know in advance how payment for services will happen.
I hope that you as a pastor will encourage your church members to pre-plan their services. While you’re at it, suggest that they couple the process with other important actions such has having a will, a durable power of attorney, and a DNR if appropriate. Some may exclaim that they’re not ready for these realities, but in the end, they’re not doing it for themselves. They’re doing it for those they love that are left behind.