At the Funeral Home, the Visitation, the Funeral, and the Internment (the First Week)
AT THE FUNERAL HOME
For most families, going to the funeral home is a very traumatic experience. With this in mind, you may offer to be present with the family when they are making arrangements for their child’s burial. If I’m asked to participate I always show up a bit early to just connect with the mortician. In all probability, you will have met with these people on other occasions.
Once the family arrives, I will often introduce them more formally to the mortician and then sit back and let the family make decisions. I never offer advice unless asked directly. Remember, this is THEIR child’s funeral arrangements, so their choices need to be affirmed. I’ve never had a mortician strong-arm a family into buying more services then they needed. If that did begin to happen, however, I would feel justified in stepping in to help keep the family from incurring more debt than needed.
One area that families are dealing with more than before is the idea of cremation. This is often investigated by the family since it is almost always cheaper than a regular burial. Families will sometimes ask me if I think it’s okay to cremate someone. Whenever someone asks me that question, I usually dig a bit deeper because there is usually an underlying concern. In particular, does the Bible say it’s wrong to cremate a body? It will be your job to answer any questions they might have about cremation.
During the funeral arrangements the family will need to have a list of pall bearers, musical requirements, an obituary, and luncheon needs/requests. You will probably be able to help the family with the musical ideas, as well as what the church will provide for a luncheon – if one is planned.
One final note related to the funeral costs. Some churches have benevolent funds or other funding options that would allow the church to underwrite some of the costs of a child’s funeral. If your church has such funding available, please let the family know before making arrangements.
Nearly all families will be given the option to have a time of visitation where friends and family can come to pay their respects to the family. This is most often held the day/night before the funeral service.
As a pastor I would encourage you to let the family know that you will be at the visitation and that if they want anything special done during that time you would be more than willing to help. Families will sometimes ask for a special 30 minute time slot for prayer and remembrances. That is a time you will need to act as the facilitator. You should come prepared to tell people specifically what this time is for and how they can participate in it.
Once again, it will not be necessary for you to be at the visitation for the entire time it is held. I most often come at least 15 minutes prior to the visitation opening to the public so I can spend some alone time with the family members. I always let the family know when I am leaving.
Funeral homes will usually plan to have the body of the loved one at the church or chapel at least one hour before the funeral service begins. I am always present when the body arrives and to greet the family as they arrive.
By now the bulletin or order of service is printed. I often ask the family if there is anything else they would like to add to the service. This is usually a family member reading a memorial or something like that.
Ten minutes before the funeral I gather with the family in a secluded area for a time of prayer and to simply introduce myself to extended family members. I do all I can to help them feel comfortable about what is going to happen.
In our setting, the pastor always leads the casket and family into the worship center.
If there is an internment, it will usually take place immediately following the funeral service. This is the moment that can be especially painful to the mom and dad and extended family.
At the graveside I share a brief portion of Scripture. Then I pray, closing with everyone joining me in praying the Lord’s Prayer.
When I am done with the prayer I thank everyone for coming and invite them back to the church for the luncheon (if there is one). Then I go to the parents and extended family to share one last time my condolences over their loss.
Most cemeteries wait for everyone to leave before completing the burial process. Let the parents know that they can request to stay and watch, if they wish.
NEXT - In the Subsequent Weeks and Months