White gardenia with a sign with writing that says there is no time like the present to preplan your funeral

My mom was a planner. Thank goodness! Would you believe that she had thought about her funeral even to the point of clipping obituaries and drawing pictures? Yes, really! Mom had started the preplanning of her funeral arrangements.

And I am so grateful she did. I was able to take Mom’s notes to the funeral home, pre-pay her funeral expenses so that when the time came, there wasn’t much more I had to do.

The following are my suggestions to make the end-of-life transition of your loved one easier for you as a caregiver. By no means is it a complete and thorough list of what you should do to prearrange a funeral. This post just gives you some starting points in order to make notes.

Obituary & Picture

My first suggestion is to locate a good picture of your loved one. This will be used in the local newspaper and on the website of the funeral home.

Yes, my mom really did clip out obituaries from the newspaper. Sounds weird? Kind of. She did that because there were parts of obituaries that she liked and wanted hers written that way. In thinking back, that wasn’t such a weird idea after all!

One day, before Mom got too far into the dementia, she and I sat down and worked on her obituary. I took my computer and typed as she spoke. That was easier than handwriting it out and then going back and erasing on paper! Mom had written one after Dad had passed away but it needed to be updated. There were additional great grandchildren to add!

I know the idea of writing your own or someone else’s obituary is not a comfortable task to complete. But what better time is there to do it? So this is my second suggestion. Writing it now while your loved one is still alive means that things will not be forgotten or left out.  

Other than the vital statistics like DOB, siblings, children, grandchildren, great-grands.etc, and your work history, think about what you want to be remembered for. Think about what you did in life that you were proud of. Did you reach the goals you aspired to attain? Did you fulfill your bucket list? What was your greatest joy in life?

Cremation, burial, or donation

Thirdly, the decision will need to be made as to cremation, burial, or donation. By donation, I mean being an organ donor or donating your body for medical research, which in the case of Alzheimer’s may be a good suggestion. You can find more information about brain donation here.

Make sure you include this information with the paperwork.

If cremation is the choice then note what to do with the ashes and/or what you want the family to do with the ashes. Will the ashes be buried or scattered or both? If scattered, indicate the location where the remains will be scattered.

If burial is the choice, then indicate where that will be. If there is a cemetery plot already purchased, include that information.

You can also prearrange your cemetery plot and pay ahead for that as well.

Grave Marker/Monument

Another suggestion is to decide what kind of a grave marker do you want? Would your loved one want an elaborate monument or a headstone with names and dates. Will there be any additional information inscribed on the stone? Any special design? An often repeated saying?

Yes, my mom had this all planned out too! She found a gigantic rock in a field. Had it taken to the local cemetery where it was affixed to a base.

Will you have pallbearers and if so, who will they be?

planning a Funeral Service

Another part of the funeral preplanning is deciding what type of service for your loved one.

Will it be a service at your local church with a lunch/dinner/snacks to follow or will it be a service at the funeral home. Maybe you want a service done outside somewhere. Would your loved one want more of a Celebration of Life service? This is the time to make those plans.

Will there be a visitation? When? How long?

If you want certain music, make note of that. Will that music be played during visitation? Will you have someone play or sing any music at some point in the service?

Do you want any poems read or something written and read by a son, daughter, or grandchild?

My mom had plans for her service as well. She wanted a simple service at the funeral home. She wanted the pastor to say a few words, she specified what songs she wanted to be played and she listed a few poems.

Display

I’m sure you’ve been to enough funerals and seen the photo collages that are on display. I find it interesting to see the change over time in the family pictures. Often times, you know a person only during a certain time in their life, so it’s nice to be able to view pictures of that person before you knew them.

Again, thank goodness for the notes that my mom, the planner and artist, made. She drew an arrangement for a display (see picture below) of her artwork. All I had to do was make that come true. If the funeral home is a good one, they will have plenty of easels and stands to help you with displays so you won’t have to worry about that.

Drawing of the display of Mom's artwork that she wanted at the funeral home

Donations/Memorials

Something else to discuss is who or what to specify as to memorials. Often, rather than sending flowers, people like to express their condolences by donating to worthy causes or organizations. This is a good time to discuss what organizations, charities, or other non-profits you or your loved one would like to designate.

These could be groups, agencies, or organizations that you volunteer for or something that is near and dear to your heart. It could be a cause that you are very concerned about.

If your loved one hasn’t specified any organizations, think of what matters to them. What do they care about, what concerns them? Did any previous family member pass away from some form of cancer or heart disease? Was hospice involved? You can always include the Alzheimer’s Association.

Plan for pets

Let us not leave out Fido. If your loved one is a pet owner then be sure to include a plan for what to do with the pet(s). Who will keep them? Have you asked that person? What is your preference upon their death? Will you set aside a sum of money to cover those expenses?

Pre-pay the funeral

You will find articles online written against prepaying for the end of life arrangements. Make sure you really look into whether this is the best decision for you and your loved one. An alternative would be to pre-arrange the funeral with the funeral home and they should keep the notes on file.

There is no time like the present to preplan your funeral

If you don’t pre-pay or pre-arrange at least go through the planning decisions and keep that information somewhere for easy access by surviving family members. You will have all the necessary information on hand when it’s needed. You can just file it away for now.

I think, however, pre-paying the funeral was the best decision that I made. I’m so glad it was a suggestion from someone who worked at an assisted living facility.

When the time actually came, the process went so smoothly because decisions had already been made.

I don’t know about you, but when a close family member passes, you are dealing with so many emotions that having to think about what dress you should put on your mother, or what best tie for your husband is not what you want to be doing.

Prearranging the funeral was a very easy process to complete. I called the funeral home and set up an appointment. I took in the typed page of Mom’s obituary, her photo and her notes. Mom’s decision to be cremated made the process much easier. There were less decisions to be made.

I had the cemetery plot deed in the important document notebook which I wrote about in a previous post so I took that with me. If you don’t have that information I am sure that the funeral home will obtain it.

From Mom’s notes I was able to tell them what she wanted during the service. I also told them about the display she wanted so that when the time came there would be tables and easels available.

The Right Time

There really isn’t a “right” time to approach this topic with your loved one or elderly parent. You want to do it sooner while they are still cognizant rather than later.

We are coming up on the holiday season so that might be a good time to approach it. And it might make the topic easier to talk about. If you have a family gettogether bring up the topic and ask what family members want to do for their funeral. Just be ready to take notes.

Perhaps a sibling might be able to help “set the scene” by starting a conversation about what they are planning for their funeral. Then you can maneuver the topic around to your loved one and ask what they would like.

Your Important documents notebook

Whether or not you choose to pre-arrange a funeral, you will want to keep the information in a safe place for retrieval when needed.

The funeral plans would be information that you would want to keep in your important documents notebook, file, or box.

By the way, in case you were wondering – Mom had burial notes too. She wanted some of her remains to be buried in the plot beside my dad’s and she directed us kids on where to scatter her remaining ashes.