Many denominations have helpful set formats or guidelines for funerals.

You may, however, find it useful to consider some of these ideas as you support the bereaved family through planning the funeral and the day itself.

Discussing the funeral with the family

The stage at which you discuss the funeral with the family may be when you meet with them following the bereavement or during a later visit. They may also discuss it directly with someone in the church or through the Funeral Director. Either way, it is important that the family get a chance to discuss their wishes for the funeral, so that it can be made personal to them.

Talk to the family to try and gather information for a tribute or resume of the person’s life and their character that can be included in the service. This is especially important if you don’t know the family well. Ask the family what the person who died was like to help you talk about them in a personal way.

Discussing burials and cremations

The family will probably discuss with the undertaker whether a burial or cremation is more appropriate, but they may also ask you to give them advice on which to choose.

Be aware that if the family chooses a burial, the site can become a bit of a physical fixation; if they are likely to move they can feel that they are leaving their loved one behind. Cremations, however, can cause issues around the scattering of the ashes, with family members having different views on what should happen. They can find it very hard to decide, and as time goes on it becomes a bigger deal. If they wish to discuss the topic with you, help them decide upfront – before the funeral – how they wish to deal with the ashes so that it is a less painful decision after.

The service

When preparing for the service, be imaginative: what does the family need at this time? It’s important to give them a positive experience. Make sure that the family feel that the person was remembered accurately and would have liked the service; this will make the family feel that the person has been honoured.

Try also to include songs that the family feel are appropriate, even if some of these are secular. If few people are likely to know the hymns, keep them short and only pick one. Popular choices tend to be “The Lord’s My Shepherd”, “Abide with Me”, or songs with tunes that they might already know. Include readings that they have requested; they don’t all need to be from the Bible.

Providing personal support

You may have people in your church who are involved in pastoral support, and you may be able to provide a volunteer to support the family on a longer term basis. If this is the case, get them involved in helping with the funeral and also in pre and post funeral visits. If they can be present at the service, they will have a stronger relationship with the family which will help in providing on-going support. Ask them to pay a visit to the bereaved family the day after the funeral. This will give the family a chance to discuss the funeral and how they are feeling following it.

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