A loved one’s death is a devastating event. The days immediately afterwards are overwhelmingly stressful and often seem like a foggy nightmare where nothing can be properly grasped or understood. Add to this the imperative to “get things exactly right” that most people tasked with arranging a funeral feel and you have one of the most upsetting and difficult times life can throw at you.

In some cases the bereaved may feel that holding a funeral service is more than they can bear. However, it should be remembered that funerals play a vital part in saying goodbye to a loved one. They allow us to celebrate the departed’s life, to express and share our love and sorrow, and to mark the event in our psyches so that we have a defined point from which to forward and begin coming to terms with our loss.

First Steps

Upon the death of a loved one:

  • Contact next of kin and family members.
  • Inform the family doctor of the death and request the death certificate and any other documentation required for burial or cremation. Note: a funeral director can perform this service for you.
  • Locate the departed’s will – this will outline any preferences the deceased may have had regarding funeral arrangements and will also identify the executor of the will.
  • Contact a funeral director.

The Role of the Executor

It is the executor’s legal right and obligation to arrange the funeral, however he may pass this on to family members or friends if all parties are in agreement. Though the executor will generally follow any wishes the deceased has left concerning funeral arrangements he is not legally bound to do so.

Burial or Cremation

Many funeral arrangements will be decided in consultation with your funeral director, but funerals are very expensive events and there are myriad details to take care of, so it pays to decide certain elements, possibly in consultation with other family members, before your first visit to the funeral parlour.

One of the most basic decisions is the manner of disposal. Generally, three options are available: cremation, burial, entombment (where the body is laid to rest in a tomb above ground).

Burial and entombment will require the arrangement of a suitable plot. Cremation may or may not require a plot depending on what you intend to do with the ashes.


The deceased’s estate generally foots the bill for any funeral expenses. In many cases, though, there may be insufficient funds and family members will have to contribute financially.

Cost is often the single most limiting factor families face when deciding on the various elements of arranging a funeral. Though some aspects of a funeral may seem out of your hands, there are areas where you can save a little money. For instance, you can supply your own flowers and print your own hymn and order of service sheets.

If the cost of arranging a funeral is beyond your resources you may be able to get a funeral grant from WINZ. This is means tested and won’t cover the full cost of the funeral, but it could provide valuable assistance.

Similarly, if the deceased died as a result of an accident, ACC may provide a funeral grant.

Service Leader

The “face” of the funeral will be the person you engage to conduct the service. This may be an official of a religious institution, a tribal notary, or a celebrant. If you prefer, a friend or family member can conduct the service.

You’ll need to meet with this person to discuss what you’d like them to say at the funeral, to prepare any particular eulogies you may have and to decide on the order of service. Prepare yourself for this meeting by gathering together some information on the dead person and their life.


Where would you like to hold the service? You may wish to farewell your loved one in a chapel at the funeral parlour, at the family church, or at some place that held special significance for the deceased. Issues of cost, sentiment and tradition will all play a role in your choice of venue.

Elements of the Service

One of the most difficult things about arranging a funeral is the sheer amount of decisions that have to be made. Below is a list of some of the things you’ll need to think about.

  • Will the casket be present at the funeral service venue, and if so, how will it be transported there?
  • What music would you like played at the service? Did the deceased have a special tune? Will you play this from CD or have a pianist or organist present?
  • Readings and eulogies. Do friends and family members wish to speak at the funeral? What passages do want the leader of the service to read?
  • Are there other ways in which mourners might like to share their memories of the deceased? Perhaps by singing or playing a song?
  • Do you want photos of the deceased on display? Are there other visual symbols that are important to you? Candles, flowers, items of memorial importance?
  • Would you like a video record of the service.
  • Do you want to put a notice of death in the local paper.
  • What sort of social event should follow the service – light refreshments or a full sit-down meal? Will you need this catered?

You’ll Get Through It

Though it may not seem like it at the time, you will survive the ordeal. It will take its toll on you, to be sure, but if you are able to share the load with friends and family and to draw support in your grief from others who are also suffering, arranging a funeral is a valuable step forward in that long and painful journey towards coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.

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