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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

Funeral arrangements: 4 steps to making right decisions
Making decisions can be tough during difficult times
Published Tuesday, May 13, 2014
by George W. Clarke

When a death occurs, those responsible for the funeral arrangements often don't know where to begin. Emotions, fears, and lack of experience in funeral planning all combine to produce confusion, apprehension, and feelings of vulnerability.

By taking the following steps, however, people faced with making final arrangements for someone they love can reduce the accompanying stress and arrive at decisions that meet their spiritual, cultural, emotional, and economic needs.

Know your rights

The first step in taking control of funeral arrangements is learning your rights as a consumer. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission regulates the funeral industry through its Funeral Rule. The Rule requires a number of disclosures and actions on the part of the funeral provider, including the following:

• Provide price information by telephone when the caller requests it

• Provide a copy of the funeral home’s General Price List (GPL) to anyone who inquires in person about funeral arrangements

• Present casket and outer burial container (burial vault) price lists prior to review or selection of those items

• Provide the purchaser with a Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected prior to finalizing any purchases and payment

You should expect to receive the itemized General Price List at the beginning of any discussion about funeral arrangements.

Choose a funeral home

In years past, the decision about which funeral home to call when a family member died was probably not a decision at all. For generations, one funeral home in the community had provided funerals for most, if not all members of a given family, and the loyalty that developed was strong and enduring.

While such circumstances still exist, the mobility of today's society has left many people without a designated "family" funeral home. People may find themselves in a new community, suddenly faced with the unexpected death of a spouse, child, or other family member, and are completely unfamiliar with the reputations and abilities of the funeral homes in the area.

If you haven't determined which funeral home you would call in an emergency, consider the following steps:

• Don't wait. Start the process today, while you have time and before the need arises.

• Ask friends, coworkers, clergy, and other community professionals about their experiences.

• Telephone several funeral homes in your area. Ask questions, and try to get a sense of the staff's attitude, knowledge, courtesy, and professionalism. You may also ask about the charges for various services the funeral home can provide.

- After completing your initial telephone research, schedule an appointment with one or more of the funeral homes that you feel might be best for you. During the appointment, which is usually free of charge, you should take the opportunity to tour the facility, learn more about the options available to you, and get specific price information for the arrangements you are considering.

Consider your options

When arranging a funeral or other memorial tribute, it is important to remember that you usually have a number of options available to you that can be tailored to meet your needs and circumstances. For example, people usually have choices about:

• Whether to include a visitation period (or "wake")

• Where the ceremony will be held

• Whether the deceased's body will be present for the ceremony

• The method of final disposition of the body, which could be earth burial, cremation, entombment, or anatomical donation.

Make it meaningful

Today, people are placing much more emphasis on the personalization of memorial tributes. Baby boomers have grown accustomed to having things our way, from vacations to weddings to websites, and the trend toward unique end-of-life events is a natural extension of those desires.

Personalization doesn't need to be complicated, burdensome, or expensive. It can be as simple as arranging photographs of the deceased around the room where the visitation and/or ceremony will take place. Many funeral homes can arrange for the production of a video presentation of photographs that will be played continuously during these times. Various items that reflect the interests of the person who has died, such as fishing poles, baseball memorabilia, or even a motorcycle, can be placed near the casket (if there is one) or anywhere that visitors can see. These items will often be the catalyst for personal stories that evoke both sorrow and joy, both of which can be helpful in the emotional healing process.

By becoming an informed consumer, you and your family are better equipped to make rational, considered decisions that create an appropriate and meaningful final tribute.

George W. Clarke, author of “Nobody Wants to Talk About It—An Enlightening Guide to Planning a Funeral or Tribute,” has more than 30 years of experience in the funeral service industry. He has assisted more than 1,000 families with arranging end-of-life tributes. Visit his website www.clarke-resources.com for more information.


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