When you need to organise a funeral, you’ll quite possibly need some guidance. In this article, I’ll explain the the different roles, and people involved in a funeral. And, I’ll give you some advice to help you through the process.
A Little Background and Notes
The funeral industry is a business but, there can be a vast difference in the service you receive for what you pay. So, it’s worth getting more than one quote and comparing them. Statistics show that less than 10% of people do and that can be a costly choice.
Dealing with death professionals is much like dealing with anything else in life. Even though you may be grieving at the time, follow your own instincts. Feel free to query any aspect or detail of what is offered, proposed or is chargeable. There’s no harm in asking, after all, you’ll be paying for it in one way or another.
Be very clear, if you need to have time to consider or think about anything, do so, at your pace; don’t be railroaded. This choice alone will give you space to feel safe amidst the noise, and demands, of what requires “doing”.
Make sure your needs and requirements are heard, acknowledged and met. Or reasonable compromises made, for anything that cannot be met.
The Different Roles and People You’ll Meet
Funeral Arrangers (occasionally Funeral Directors or FDs) organise funeral logistics, based on your requirements and instructions.
On the day of the funeral, FDs ensure the hearse and family arrive at the service venue. And, they ensure all the details required by the family, are in place.
Coroners determine cause of death if there are any questions about the circumstances.
A minister or celebrant will host and deliver the service, on behalf of the family.
Arrangers are your first point of contact. They may also be funeral directors or in larger companies, arrangers are role-specific.
Their role is to speak with the funeral organiser to clarify what is required for the funeral to take place:
- agreeing dates, requirements and locations
- discussing funeral requirements – cremation, burial or entombment?
- exploring the type of service required; is it religious, celebratory, Humanist, or other? Then, organising the required individual to hold the service
- deciding on flowers or no flowers and any floral tributes required
- vehicles – which vehicles are required and how many?
- type of coffin – there are many coffins and caskets to suit budgets and individual choice
- note and organise any special arrangements and requirements which can include:
- themed service (particular outfits, decoration or colours e.g. cowboys or sport-related)
- releasing doves or balloons
- family or friends carrying the coffin
- a motorcycle hearse; among the many adaptations that are possible.
With all the information taken, they will then provide a quote. Once you instruct them, they will handle the funeral service logistics you’ve agreed. This can include the order of service booklets, live musicians, amongst other arrangements.
Funeral Directors, aka FDs, Undertakers (UK) and Morticians (US)
This describes a whole group of people and roles – some people will play all roles, others, some.
According to the UK National Association of Funeral Directors:
“The role of a funeral director is a broad service encompassing practical organisation, support and guidance to the family and liaison with a wide range of other organisations and services to ensure the funeral is properly arranged.
After discussing your requirements, an NAFD funeral firm member will arrange the funeral you want, taking on the responsibility for organising every aspect of the event and delivering it to the highest professional standards.”
Funeral Directors fulfil a series of functions:
1. Before the Funeral
- they will discuss and plan funerals with people who wish to arrange their own service in advance
- they will transfer the deceased to the funeral home or they will help you keep them at home, before the funeral
- they will provide facilities for viewing the deceased before the funeral
- they will deal with all necessary paperwork; this may include submitting papers to obtain a formal death certificate, helping to resolve insurance claims or apply for veterans’ funeral benefits on behalf of the family and may advise insurance agencies of the death or organising payment directly from a bank or deceased’s estate
- they may place death notices in local and/or national newspapers and online, on behalf of the family
- the storing, preserving and possibly embalming, of the deceased, if required
- the washing, dressing and placing the deceased in a coffin
- preparing the deceased if the family want to view them.
2. The Funeral Service
They ensure your wishes, and those of the deceased are reflected in the funeral arrangements; service location, in a home, house of worship, funeral home, in a wood, a yurt, a community hall, at the graveside or in crematorium chapel
- they arrange any musical requests or other special tributes
- they arrange funeral vehicles and staff (drivers and pallbearers)
- they may arrange for catering at a venue of your choice, following the funeral, if required
- they may arrange the Order of Service sheets for the funeral service
- they will order floral tributes, and care for those delivered to their premises
- they will accept donations, online or in person, for a nominated charity on your behalf.
3. After the funeral
- they can help you arrange to scatter ashes, interring ashes or in finding a memorial casket, following a cremation
- they can arrange obituary cards or ‘thank you’ cards
- they can arrange to transfer either the deceased, or their cremated remains, to another place in the country, or repatriate them overseas
- they can help you arrange a memorial or interment service to be held on a different date.
4. Providing support and guidance
Funeral directors are also there to provide support and guidance in advance of a death e.g. providing information on arranging a pre-paid funeral plan. They can also discuss ideas and your own funeral options, and help you record your wishes for the future.
The FD may run their own business (Funeral Home), work for a funeral business or be an independent.
If the death you’re dealing with was either sudden or unexpected, then a coroner is usually required. They investigate and rule on the cause of death and the issue a death certificate. Any death referred to the coroner will need their verdict before a funeral can take place.
Coroners are a part of British law. They adjudicate in countries subject to British law. These include: Canada, Ireland, USA, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.
A coroner’s role is to confirm and certify the death of an individual within their jurisdiction. They may do this by conducting or ordering an inquest into the cause of a death. They will reach a verdict personally, or act as the presiding officer of a coroner’s jury.
The cause of a death determination may be required for a whole raft of reasons:
- to determine how an unexpected death occurred, particularly if it was sudden or from an unknown cause, violent, or unnatural. Under these circumstances, the coroner may order a post-mortem and possibly an inquest – examples of sudden death include: apparent suicide; “didn’t wake up” and accidents
- to clarify the way forward in civil proceedings
- to clarify the way forward for insurance claims.
Verdicts from the coroner’s court determine what happens next – if funerals can take place or if further legal procedures are required. The most common verdicts are:
- Death by natural causes
- Death by misadventure – a death that occurs when someone accidentally dies further to a dangerous risk they took voluntarily (they performed a legal act, without negligence or intent to harm and died in the process or as a result)
- Accidental death – includes transport accidents, falls, poisoning, allergic reactions, work-related accidents, injury due to sharp, hot or electrical sources, amongst others
- Lawful killing – legitimate death to protect life – a particularly difficult area to govern that includes times of war; self-defence (repelling violence with violence) – beyond this, it gets really complex
- Suicide – the intentional taking of one’s own life for a multitude of reasons by a multitude of ways, to be considered by the coroner in reaching the verdict
- Unlawful killing – where life has been taken by someone other than the person who is dead and includes murder, manslaughter, infanticide and death by dangerous driving
- Occupational disease – a chronic ailment that results from work or occupational activity
- Drug dependence
- Non-dependent drug abuse
- Attempted abortion
- Self-induced abortion
- Disaster (but only if it has been the subject of a public enquiry)
- Still birth
- Lack of care/neglect
- An open verdict – a jury confirms the death is suspicious, but no other verdict can be reached
- A narrative verdict – these are the circumstances of how the death occurred or was found to be.
Coroners also investigate or confirm the identity of an unknown person who has been found dead within their jurisdiction and oversee the investigation and certification of deaths related to mass disasters occurring within their jurisdiction.
Ministers, Celebrants and Humanists
Ministers provide religious services for the deceased which include prayers, blessings and hymns. They may include a eulogy and conclude with a committal for either a burial or cremation. The services they hold for the deceased may be in a place of worship, in a chapel at the cemetery or crematorium. Some people choose a graveside service.
Civil Celebrants provide a service that celebrates the life of the person who has died. The service they write focusses on the person; who they were and celebrates their life. They include as much, or as little religion as the family require. Many funerals a celebrant is involved with, include some form(s) of spirituality. They provide services in all venues except places of worship.
Humanists also focus on the individual, their life and the family, and celebration. Their services do not include any elements associated with the supernatural, religion or religious practices. Like other celebrants, humanists provide services in all venues except for places of worship.
Celebrant- and humanist-led funerals are increasingly popular. Statistics show people either do not believe in a God or choose not to practice a religion. As people witness person-centred services, they are gaining popularity, even among those who choose religious services.
When you know how it all slots together, it’s a relatively easy minefield to navigate.
Talk to the right people, feel comfortable about them looking after you and the fees they charge.
Be aware, if there are complications, the coroner will be involved and this will slow the process of getting to the funeral.
Make sure the person delivering the funeral is a good representative to celebrate your loved one’s life.