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It’s fair to state that funerals stick in the mind of a loved one years after a death. It’s important that you get it right. Please don’t put your wishes in the drawer with the rest of your files. Oh, and that thing where you tell the kids what you want. That’s not the best either.
Here’s what often happens:
The funeral plan in the file - It might be part of the estate plan or stuck in with the financial advisor’s paperwork, or just written on some paper. It is highly likely that it will not be found until well after the funeral is over. In the hours following a death there are literally more than a hundred things to do. The list exists and people count this stuff. There is a lot to do over a short period of time when someone dies. Your family will not be going through the files.
They will not know you wanted to wear your blue dress and that you wanted The Wind Beneath My Wings sung at your funeral. They just won’t. So, imagine the anguish when they find your “plan” two weeks after the funeral service is over.
Imagine how they are going to feel when they realize they buried you in the wrong dress and sang the wrong song. Terrible. That’s how they will feel. Sadly, they’ll feel that way for a very long time.
You’ve told your kids what you want - Seems like it will be ok, but maybe not. A woman and her two sisters have not been on speaking terms since their mother died. Seems everyone heard something different from mom regarding what she wanted. The twins heard she didn’t care, just “do what you want”. So, when mom died visiting one of them, a Southern Baptist service was arranged. That service stunned Martha who was raised Catholic and heard mom say she wanted “a service just like the one we did for your dad.”
Call the funeral home, make an appointment and get everything written down and on file at the funeral home. It’s easy and there is no charge for the appointment.
Cremation has been around for thousands of years. It is required by some faiths and forbidden by others. Governments, charged with protection of the public health and esthetic of the community, have laws governing both cremation and burial practices. One way to view burial and cremation is to look at each as a means to the same end. Dust to dust. Cremation is quick, and burial is slow. Either one is a legal and acceptable means to the end. Most people understand what burial is about, but questions remain about cremation.
Cremation takes place in a chamber designed specifically for the purpose of reducing human remains to basic elements. This chamber is called a retort, cremator, or cremation chamber. One human body and only one at a time is cremated in the cremator. The body is clothed or shrouded and placed in a container before being placed in the cremation chamber. The container is made of a combustible material.
The cremation process takes from 2 to 3 hours. The time varies based on the size of the body and heat capacity of the cremation chamber. Typically, the chamber reaches between 1500 and 1900 degrees during the cremation process. The body is reduced to bone fragments. After cremation the chamber cools and the contents are swept clean, any metal is collected, and the larger bone fragments are crushed. The finished product is greyish white in color and is similar to the consistency of aquarium gravel. It is coarser than dust or ashes.
On average, four to six pounds of cremated remains are produced. The height of the individual has more impact on the amount of remains than the weight of the person. The composition of cremated remains is largely calcium carbonate. There are several options of what to do with remains. It is important, and sadly often overlooked, to have a plan for cremated remains that is acceptable for the family.
Cremated remains can be buried in a cemetery. Many cemeteries allow one cremated family member to be buried in the same grave space along with another family member. This option is a cost savings since a second burial space is not needed. It also gives family members the benefit of having a location to visit and remember.
Ashes can also be scattered on private property or buried at sea. See epa.gov for the laws regarding burial at sea. There are also services that will assist a family with carrying out a sea burial. It is always advisable to work through your family funeral home. Your local funeral director will know who to call and who can be trusted to carry out your family member’s wishes.
It is also possible for family members to keep the remains in an urn or in attractive jewelry pieces. The best person to help you sort out all of these decisions and choices is your funeral director or advance funeral planner. Both typically offer consultation at no cost.
First, relax. Talking about your funeral plans might make you a little uncomfortable at first but making a plan doesn’t mean you will be using it anytime soon. Your funeral director or advance planner will guide you through the process. Most people get very comfortable in just a few minutes.
Do consider bringing someone with you. Be aware that children are often reluctant to come. They don’t want to think about losing you. Insist they come anyway. They will thank you later.
Do allow enough time. Typically, you will need an hour or two to get the most from your preplanning appointment.
Make a list of your questions. You may be undecided about some things. That’s fine. This meeting is a good place to get the information you will need. Just ask. Why should I have a gathering? Is it important for my family to see my body? If I am cremated what are my options for a service? What are the benefits of paying advance? If I pay in advance can I make payments? Any question you have, is a good question.
Probably the most important thing you can do to prepare for your meeting is simply to think about your family and your friends. Who are your people? Brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, the friends you have known forever and the friends you see every day. Picture them. Think about them. What will they remember about you? What kind of a service will bring them comfort? Will they want to share stories? Will music be important? Will a spiritual component be a valuable part of your service?
Become aware that not everyone in your circle may find comfort in the same way. Tell your planner about the needs of your family and friends. Let the funeral professional help you find the right fit for your people. The funeral is for the survivors, so think about them.
People smile, they even laugh at these meetings. What you are about to do is a final gift for those you love.