On the whole, there are two types of funerals; the ones we are able to plan in advance, and the ones that take us relatively by shock. For most of us, planning a funeral is likely to fall under the latter category. Even if our loved ones are older or unwell, a passing can still be unexpected, and feel extremely upsetting and shocking. With emotions running high and a relatively small window in which to plan our farewells, the lead up to a funeral can be some of the most stressful days of our lives.
There is no such thing as an ‘easy death’ and losing someone is ultimately a type of trauma, but taking care of ourselves and minimising the stress of funeral planning can make the grieving process easier later down the line. By changing our approach to loss, setting boundaries and sharing responsibilities, we can focus on what really matters – sharing in the joy of someone’s life and remembering them as they were.
Planning a funeral ahead of time (if you can)
Unless you are a part of a specific religious group, the average wait between someone’s passing and their funeral is between one and two weeks in the UK. If a death was unexpected or there was never any discussion of specific requests and plans beforehand, then this understandably feels like no time at all; certainly not when you take into account that a funeral for many people is the ultimate tribute to their loved ones and the final farewell.
As a culture, it is true that we do not handle death as gracefully as we could. Our culture favours using carefully crafted euphemisms or avoiding the topic altogether. But this often leaves families with little to no plan when a loved one eventually leaves them. Putting the stress of the organisation process itself aside, a lack of even the vaguest plan can leave families facing the dreaded ‘what they would have wanted’ argument, which of course helps no one and only increases the stress.
Where possible, write your wishes down explicitly or ensure that your will is up to date. Failing that, perhaps encourage your loved ones to discuss these matters a little more openly and lead by example if need be. Perhaps discuss how you yourself would like to be remembered or what song you would like to be played during a time like this? While they may seem depressing dinner conversation starters, it’s far less stressful than sorting through a neverending list of funeral options and arguing with your closest family when you are in the initial stages of grief.
Reducing the financial burden of planning a funeral
Choosing between a burial and a cremation or deciding on the right floral arrangement are all important aspects of the funeral planning process and even the smallest detail can have great personal meaning. However, none of that is possible without a financial pathway. Unfortunately, the reality is that for many families, figuring out how to pay for a funeral is one of the most stressful aspects of the entire process if no provisions have been left behind.
One of the most obvious ways to help reduce stress is to ensure ahead of time that some sort of financial support has been provided. Whether that means reducing stress for your own loved ones by taking out a funeral plan or an insurance, or asking questions of your loved ones to find out if they are financially prepared in the event of their own passing. Again, this is a thorny topic at the best of times, but considering families have occasionally been put into debt because of funeral costs, it’s one of the most important details you should be aware of as soon as possible.
If however, your loved one was not able to leave you with a prepaid funeral plan or savings to cover their funeral costs, make sure that you choose a respected yet affordable funeral director who will be able to create the most affordable funeral package for you. Even though time is tight when it comes to funeral planning, choosing a funeral director is a decision you do not want to end up regretting; taking the time to research and compare providers may seem like time wasted, but it could save you hundreds. And of course, for low income families, there are always various government grants or schemes available to help those who are truly in need.
Funerals may be costly, but by taking the time to understand all your options, planning ahead as much as possible or even spreading the costs over time or amongst your family, the experience may just be that little bit easier for everyone.
Share the funeral planning responsibilities
Sharing costs is of course, not the only way multiple people can chip in to the funeral planning process. No one person can be expected to shoulder the entire logistical and emotional weight of a funeral. Whether it be liaising with funeral directors, organising speeches or even something as simple as informing everyone who needs to be informed that a loved one has died, these are all responsibilities that can and should be shared.
Logistically, those tasked with organising a funeral are usually doing so whilst still working full time or providing for others, whether it be for children or other family members. With statutory bereavement leave a thing of dreams in the UK, people are often left with a handful of days at the best of times, which barely scratches the surface of the amount of time needed to even come to terms with a loss, let alone planning a funeral. In order to achieve a fitting tribute to a loved one, you will have to reach out or accept help at some point in order to keep your stress levels as low as possible.
The emotional burdens, however, are just as important as the practical ones. Grief can be a scary, turbulent and unpredictable process. It’s possible that keeping busy during the funeral planning process will somehow help keep your mind off things and actually serve to reduce stress, but this is not guaranteed. Being bombarded with reminders of a loved one’s death, whether it be making the same calls over and over again, or going through their belongings, or even discussing their life with a funeral director, can be a psychologically debilitating process and not one that needs to or should be shouldered alone.
More often than not, more casual friends or extended family that are perhaps not as closely connected to the loss emotionally may be able to take on board the more triggering tasks, at least in the early stages of the process. This will allow you time to at least process your feelings, decide what you think is best for you and how much you are willing to take on. Perhaps you will not be emotionally capable of giving a eulogy and must ask someone to step in? Perhaps deciding on an entrance song is too difficult for you and you might delegate that decision to another person. Whatever you may need, remember that there are always people willing to help however they can.
Set boundaries for yourself and others
Unfortunately, grief is an experience that everyone has an opinion on, regardless of whether they have ever experienced it or were asked about it. Sometimes it takes all of your energy to simply shut out the noise created by those around you who think they know what’s best for you, let alone find the excess energy needed to plan something as difficult as a funeral.
Reaching out for help and delegating tasks is a first step in setting boundaries for yourself, but one of the most important tools at your disposal for reducing stress during the planning process is to start to set boundaries for other people. When you are in such visceral and early stages of grief, as hard as it may be for some people to swallow, you do not owe anyone your time or company. Should they offer unsolicited advice that you find unhelpful, you are within your rights to reject their proposals. In a sadly ironic way, it is one of the few times in life when we get to be truly selfish.
Of course, supporting your fellow family members in a period of shared grief is important, especially if you are planning a funeral together. But learning to say ‘no’, putting your own needs first and figuring out what it is that you find the most beneficial in getting through such a difficult time will be one of the most powerful ways in which you can keep stress levels down. It is a skill that you will likely find beneficial in the weeks or months following the funeral, not simply during the planning process. Even if you are usually one to put others first, thinking of your own needs means you can stay present in your emotions, deal with your grief in the way that you believe is best and plan the best possible tribute to your loved one that you can.
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