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Planning a funeral

What kind of people was your loved one? What were their values, personality and spiritual beliefs?

Did they leave any instructions for their funeral, such as whether they wanted to be buried or cremated, where they wanted the service to be held, and any music or readings they wanted at ceremony?

How do family and friends remember your loved one? How do they want to celebrate their life?

The question will help determine what kind of funeral service to hold.

After a bereavement, everyone deals with grief in their own way, and different family member may not agree on what the funeral should be like. Before you start making any arrangements, it may help to have a discussion with close family members about the most important aspects of the funeral.

Decisions to make

Will you organise the funeral yourself, or have a funeral director take care of the arrangements? Either way, these are the some of the main choices you will have to make.

Funeral service or memorial service?

A funeral service commemorates the life of the loved one with their body presents and is usually held within a week after the death.

A memorial service commemorates their life, but the body is not present - usually because it has already been buried or cremeted. A memorial service can be held at any time, and in any place where the relevant authorities have given approval e.g. a beach, park, community hall.

Burial or cremation?

Religious and personal preferances, environmental conciderations, and cost are some of the factors people take into account when choosing between burial and cremation. About two-thirds of Australians prefer cremation to burial.

Burial

Your loved one's body cleaned and dressed, and their coffin or casket interred in a grave plot (below ground) or vault, mausoleum or crypt (above ground). A burial allows for graveside service, if that is prefered.

Most burials take place in a cemetery. There are laws governing when and where burials can take on private land. if you wish to bury a loved one on private land, check which laws apply in youe state or territory.

If a grave plot or crypt has not already been bought, you will need to meet with cemetery operators to purchase one. It's possible that a funeral director can make these arrangements for you.

Buying a plot or crypt does not purchase the land or physical space for burial, but the right to be buried in that place - something known as the "right of interment". It's a contract with the cemetery operator allowing the holder to undertake burials in a certain grave or allotment

For health and safety reasons, cemeteries often require a full embalming of the body before burial above ground.

You will also need to arrange a headstone, monument or grave marker for your loved one.

Headstones, monuments and grave markers

Headstones, monuments and markers are a tangible memorial to your loved one, placed on the grave to identify who is buried there. They are usually inscribed with the person's name and dates of birth and death, and may include information about their families, a photograph or a quote (epitaph).

Before choosing a monument, check the arrangements with the cemetery operator. Every cemetery, and sections within the cemetery, will have regulations about what style, size and features of monuments are allowed.

With so many options available, the prices for monuments and markers vary greatly. The price of headstones is generally determined by weight, ornamentation and the materials used, so larger ones tend to be more expensive. Inscriptions and engraving or custom features will be extra.

Common types of memorials

A full monument - whether for an individual, couple or family - includes a headstone and base, kerbing to create a border around the site, and a stone, slab or other material covering the length of the grave.

A headstone also known as a tombstone or gravestone - is an upright stone at the head of the grave, usually sitting on top of a stone base.

Slopers - also known as desk tablets, slant markers or pillow stones - are wedge shaped blocks of stone or concrete with a sloping front face. Flat markers - also known as grass markers - are tablets made of stone or bronze. They are set flat in the ground at the head of the grave and are flush with the grass. They may include a vase for flowers.

Ledgers lie flat on the ground and cover the whole grave. They may be inscribed and serve as a standalone memorial, or be additional to a headstone monument at the head of the grave.

Cremations

Your loved one's body is delivered to a crematorium in a coffin and exposed to intense heat. The remains, or ashes, are collected and returned to the family, to be scattered or placed in an urn, wall niche or other memorial.

Direct cremation

In a direct cremation - the option chosen by music legend David Bowie after his death in 2016 - the body is collected after death and taken directly to a crematorium, with no funeral service or mourners present. A cremation capsule or cremation casket, a simple, functional coffin, often made from cardboard or particle board and designed to be burned, is used instead of the more traditional coffin or casket. Direct cremation is a more economical option for families, and gives them the freedom to organise a fitting ceremony or memorial for their loved one in their own time.

Cremation urns

A cremation urn is a container for your loved one's ashes. They are used if the ashes are to be interred in a wall niche or below ground in a cemetery, or kept at home or in another special place by the family.

If you wish to have the ashes interred in the earth or a wall niche, you will need to arrange this with the cemetery operator.

Scattering ashes

Families often scatter the ashes in a location that was special or significant to their loved one. Bear in mind that the place you choose may change in the future, impacting on your ability to visit that place or the meaning it held.

It is important to get permission before scattering ashes in certain locations. To avoid breaching any air and water pollution laws, you will need permission from local councils to scatter ashes in parks, on beaches or playing fields, the Trust of parks and reserves, or the owners of private land.

Special urns are available for scattering ashes, allowing the ashes to be shared among family and friends.

Memorial jewellery

A growing number of people are creating memorial jewellery that incorporates the ashes of their loved one, keeping the ashes close and the memory of their loved one alive.

Green funerals

Green funerals - also known as green burials, natural burials or woodland burials - allow the body to return to nature in a way that does not impede decomposition. They are an increasingly popular option, especially for people who recognised the importance of sustainability and the environment.

Green funerals are eco-friendly, designed to have as light an impact on the environment as possible. Choosing a green funeral can be a powerful final statement, and most funeral homes will be able to make green funeral arrangements.

For a green funeral, the body is dressed in biodegradable clothing and prepared without chemical preservatives or disinfectants. The loved one is buried in a coffin made from environmentally-friendly, biodegradable material such as wicker, bamboo, cardboard or wool.

Bodies are buried at a designed green burial parn or bushland area, tere natural markers such as trees, flowers or rocks are used instead of traditional headstones and markers. Some grave sites can only be located with GPS coordinates

Coffin or casket

One of the biggest costs associated with funerals is the coffin or casket, in which the body is buried or cremated.

A coffin is tapered at the head and foot and wide at the shoulders, with a lid that lifts off.

A casket is a rectangular box with its lid on hinges. As they are usually made from better quality timbers, with more elaborate interiors and higher standards of workmanship, they often cost more than a coffin.

The range of coffins and caskets available, and the costs, can vary enormously. They can be made from solid wood or metal or - at the cheaper end - veneer and chipboard, or cardboard and other biodegradable materials.

Some families see the coffin or casket as an important part of the funeral ceremony, a focal point that helps set the tone for the service. Other families choose not to outlay large sums of money on a coffin or casket, reasoning that it will be buried or cremated after the funeral.

When choosing a coffin or casket, pick one within your budget, which reflects the type of service being held. You will need to know the approximate weight and height of your loved one to ensure the coffin is the right size.

While funeral homes offer a range of coffins and caskets, you do not need to buy one from the funeral home. Like any other product, you are free to shop around and compare options and prices.

Funeral services and ceremonies

The funeral ceremony can be traditional and solemn, or personal and relaxed - it all depends on what your loved one wanted, and how you want to remember them. Choose prayers, readings, music, eulogies or other tributes that reflect the life, passions and achievements of your loved one, to create a ceremony as individual as they were.

Will you have a religious service or a secular ceremony? Who will lead the service - a member of the clergy, or a civil celebrant? Where will the service be held - a church, a chapel at the cemetery or crematorium, the funeral home or graveside? Will there be flowers and decorations, or will you ask instead for donations to be made to your loved one's favourite charity?

When the time, date and venue have been decided, let family and friends know where the service is being held.

Will you have a viewing?

A viewing is usually a private occasion, often just for family and select friends. It takes place before the funeral, allowing mourners to see their loved one again and say their final goodbyes in person. It usually takes place at the funeral home, but can be held at the family home if desired.

Embalming

Some families who are planning a viewing opt for embalming, a process that temporarily preserves the body. Chemicals are injected into the circulatory system, tissues and organs. This preserves the body for viewing by mourners before the funeral and makes it easier to transport. Embalming is an optional extra offered by funeral homes and is not usually a legal requirement unless the body is being interred above ground in a crypt or a vault, or is being transported over a long distance.

Choosing a funeral celebrant

Funeral celebrants work with families to prepare a service that reflects the life and wishes of your loved one, and the preferences of family and friends who are commemorating their life and mourning their passing.

It's important to choose someone you feel comfortable with, who is willing to listen to your needs and wishes, and is aware of your expectations for the service. They should also make clear to you what is required of you on the day, and in preparing for the service

Things to consider when choosing a celebrant:

Did they know your loved one? If not, how will they get an idea of what your loved one was like?

Are they available on the date of the planned funeral?

Does their personality and experience suit the kind of service you have in mind?

Does their fee suit your budget?

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