Planning a Funeral

My father died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack on a Friday evening in May when I was 22 years old. There was never a thought that dad might die. He was the rock that supported everything we did as a family. We had no plan in place for this moment. Nothing prepared us for the pain and sorrow we were feeling. In the midst of the pain and shock of his dying, my family had to make many decisions – about the funeral, about a burial place, about a grave marker, about family finances, about the future…

In the 35 years I have been a priest I have had many opportunities to walk with families who are in the midst of grief over the unexpected death of a loved one. Like my own family, they are unprepared for the grief and all the decisions that must be made in a short period of time. We live in an age in which most families almost never discuss the subject of death and dying. Even though we see and read about death in newspaper and television reports every day, this still does not help us talk about and prepare for the reality of our own dying.

When my mother died in 2007 we were better prepared. Sad as it was to say goodbye, it was much easier because she had prepared for her dying and prepared us for her dying. She had learned from my father’s death and did not want us to go through the same thing again. There was no surprise since she was dying of cancer and she spoke openly about her approaching death. But even more so, out of love for us, she had made decisions about the funeral, the casket, the grave marker and much more. Having all those decisions made for us gave my siblings and I a chance to focus on her life, on our relationships and on our faith.

I recommend to everyone, young and old, to help their loved ones by having plans in place in the event that they die sooner than expected. The Wall Street Journal had an article in its February 2nd edition about helping surviving spouses confront the unexpected financial hassles arising from the death. They gave advice such as keeping user names and passwords of online accounts in a secure, but available spot; making sure that both spouses’ names are on all assets; unwinding joint accounts with care.

We humans are, by our very nature, relational. We seek to love and be loved throughout our lives. Each of us wants to have a small but enduring place in the hearts of our loved ones. Our whole life long we work at this goal. So if we think that our loved one’s emotional longing for us will cease when we die, we are fooling ourselves and being unjust to them. It is a very loving thing we do for our spouse, our children and other family members to offer them our thoughts and plans in the event of our death.

FuneralsThe planning to be done could be as simple as one page laying out the thoughts you have for your funeral to a full packet with all the information your family would need. Whatever you decide to do will be appreciated. If you need help with the process, you can call the Catholic Cemeteries office and they can share a planning packet with you and answer all your questions. Your local parish priest can assist you with the parts of the Catholic funeral rituals and give you materials to help with the selection of scripture and music. An important function of our Catholic rituals is to enable the bereaved to say goodbye in a ritualized manner. These rituals give room to the idea that life will go on without the loved one. The one who has died has left a void which, in that most difficult early time following the death, is filled by rituals. This enables us to accept the death step by step, bit by bit as we take our leave. The rituals, most importantly, proclaim the truth of our Catholic faith that through Jesus Christ we are offered life eternal. Our loved one may no longer be with us, but our faith allows us to hope that our loved ones are with God in heaven. Your planning for these events proclaims your faith in that Catholic truth as well. For those who do the will of our heavenly Father shall live forever.

Below you will find a link to a PDF document to help with the planning process. You can right click on the link to download the document for future reference.