Funeral planning is demanding — especially if it happens after someone has passed, as time is very limited. Planning a funeral reception is one element of the bigger picture, though it’s sometimes lost in the shuffle as you and your family scramble to make big decisions and put the plan into action.
Making end-of-life arrangements increases in popularity each year with generations from Millennials to Baby Boomers, and one of the top reasons is that it reduces the stress on those you hold most dear. Once you’ve outlined your wishes, or even made arrangements with a funeral home, your loved ones won’t be left planning at the last minute — and wondering what you wanted. When making your wishes known for a funeral or cremation you can also include the plans for you reception.
There are two different times framed explored in this piece: planning the reception before a death has occurred; and as part of the larger process after a loved one has died.
Funeral Planning in Advance
Having an end-of-life plan helps ease the burden your family will feel once you are gone. Likewise, if you are overseeing planning for someone else, you can help ease your own burden. Writing down basic information to capture end-of-life wishes is a great, casual way to begin the process. Next steps include reaching out to a funeral director to discuss your options. Then, you can formalize all the arrangement details for yourself or a loved one. (That’s the basic concept, and there are many more details in this free webinar.)
Funeral Planning After a Loss
It is quite common to wait until someone has passed in order to make the final arrangements for a loved one. This is a perfectly fine approach, but note that this option adds details, complexity and, potentially, stress to an already-stressful time.
When someone dies, there are only a few days to figure out a whole host of details, including those associated with a post-funeral reception. However, in an ideal world, you’ve had some conversations with the deceased about their wishes.
A couple of our recent customers included a reception location and menu in their end-of-life wishes to help ease the stress of family members. Some people do not delve as deeply into the process as pre-planning a menu, though, so we offer some suggestions for putting together a respectful, personalized celebration.
Don’t do it alone
Planning a funeral reception is a situation where asking for help is more than OK. Many places of worship have a team in place to handle the details of a funeral reception, including a location and seating as well as food and drink. All they need to know is what time and how many guests, and they take care of the rest. If your loved one was a member of a religious organization, that is a good place to start – as those teams of volunteers are used to putting together a post-funeral reception with little notice.
Planning the details of the funeral is often left to close family and dear friends, but consider your extended network for help with a reception. You may be surprised that you know neighbors, co-workers, cousins, etc. who could help secure a location, or who know a caterer who works quickly and within your budget — or perhaps someone who will simply say, “Relax. I’ve got this,” and they graciously take over the planning for you. Many people you know have been through an experience like this before. They’ve lived through the stress. They saw what worked in the past. They want to help you.
Make yourself available to answer questions but don’t be afraid to let someone you know take the reins for this part of the plan.
Food is comforting
The menu doesn’t have to break the bank. A catered reception may be ideal as it allows someone else to arrange details, but it’s not within everyone’s budget. This is another time that reaching out to your network makes sense. You never know who you may know – or who they know. “Sarah’s sister-in-law, Bev, has a catering company and she would be happy to do this event for just the cost of the food.”
If there’s no caterer in your network, put someone in charge of the menu. Attendees aren’t expecting a feast. You can choose to keep it simple — cheese and crackers and cookies — or consider a potluck-style event.
If you’re in charge of the menu, start an email or text chain with people you know have a flair in the kitchen. Say, “We need two meat dishes, five sides and three desserts; plus two people to handle plates, cups and flatware; and two more on beverages. We’d love your help pulling this together. Let us know what you can do by responding to this email. Thank you!”
Make it meaningful by including a favorite dish of the person being celebrated — or the dish they always made for family functions. “Here’s Grandma’s brownies!” Or, “Uncle Frank always had thirds of three-bean salad.”
Include a simple card next to the dish explaining why it was a favorite. This adds a touchpoint for attendees.
This is a celebration
Simple things remove a somber atmosphere and make this a joyous celebration of a life. Again, it’s OK and anticipated that you’ll ask for some help to make this happen. Your friends and family are looking for ways to support you after you’ve lost a loved one.
Think about what brought a smile to the face of your loved one. Did they enjoy fishing early in the morning? Did they love to knit a cap for every newborn in the family? Did they have a great collection? Consider decorating the space with pieces of a collection, or some fishing rods or ask your
family to bring their knitted hats to show everyone!
We’ve attended events where a prized classic car or polished Harley-Davidson sat at a place of honor in the entrance to the event.
Photos and video prompt great memories and conversations. If you had a service at a funeral home or place of worship, move any photo displays to the reception. Many banquet halls, VFWs, etc. have the capability to show video.
Once again, someone you know is probably gifted at assembling a wonderful photo montage as a video. These days, many of us have videos on our phones or devices. Put someone in charge of the video and they can reach out to everyone to get the videos shared to a Dropbox or Google Drive online. (Trust us, someone knows all about this these days.)
Here are some other simple ways to make this a celebration that also helps the healing process:
- Did they have a favorite game? Have attendees sign a domino, playing card, Jenga piece or a $500 Monopoly bill.
- Create a memorial. Have someone bring some smooth stones from a craft store or garden supply and have attendees write a farewell message on each one. Place them in a glass container and you have a meaningful memorial piece for your home.
- Put someone in charge of taking video. Ask attendees to share a story or memory. You’ll appreciate seeing those videos as you grieve and heal.
The more we open ourselves to talk about the inevitable — death — the easier it will be to begin making plans or end-of-life wishes known. The more we know and are able to take care of ahead of time, the less stressful it is when it comes time to finalize the plans. Talk with those you love and trust about what you’d like for a post-funeral gathering — or ask questions of your parents, grandparents, siblings and other loved ones. And, when the time comes, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
So, I’ve started looking for my own funeral home. It’s not that I have a deathwish; I just want to be prepared. I’ll be sure to follow your advice and ask for help in planning this.