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Supporting Your Loved Ones While They Plan A Funeral

Planning a funeral can be both an emotionally draining and logistically complex experience. The death of a loved one, expected or unexpected, can be enormously draining, and those first days are just the beginning of a grieving process that can take years. It’s important to take care of those around you when they’re going through this process, but it can be difficult to know how to help.

Here are some tips for how you can help your loved ones during this difficult time:

1.Feed Them

This rule applies across the board really. New parents? Feed them. Illness in the house? Feed them. It’s a tradition from many cultures to bring food for people in difficult circumstances, and one that seems to have fallen out of favour over the years. While your friend or family member grapples with the emotional and practical aspects of planning a funeral, things like cooking meals can fall off their radar. Bring healthy, nutritious food that can be reheated or frozen as needed, comfort foods, or things they can eat on the run. If you’re too far away to bring something yourself, or if they have complex dietary needs, consider a home-chef service who can organise something more specialised.

This also covers other regular household jobs which may fall by the wayside at a stressful time. Offer to walk their dog or take the kids for a few hours after school. The most important thing is to listen to what they need and be respectful of their wishes.

2.Offer Practical Help

Planning a funeral is not easy, particularly when the deceased’s loved ones are also dealing with grief. Offer to provide practical help where needed, such as helping with guest lists or coordinating transportation to the funeral. If you’re going to the funeral yourself, offer to pick them up. They’re not great with technology? Offer to scan the pictures they’ve chosen for the service. Ask what the task is they’re dreading having to do, then offer to take it on. It doesn’t have to be a big job but taking the time to help can make a world of difference in reducing stress and allowing those closest to the deceased time and space to process their emotions.

3.Provide Emotional Support

Sometimes the best thing you can do is just be there. Allow your loved one to express their emotions without fear of judgement or criticism. Listen without interruption or advice-giving; instead, focus on validating their feelings and providing empathy. Remind them that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed by what’s happening—it doesn’t make them weak if they need some time alone or if they need to cry. Let them know that whatever emotions they’re feeling in this moment are normal and that you will be there for them throughout the entire process of planning the funeral and beyond. If you’re worried for their wellbeing it can be a good idea to refer them to Lifeline or BeyondBlue, or speak to their GP about a mental health plan. The death of a loved-one can bring up complex emotions, and many people find speaking to a professional can help to sort through those feelings.

4.Give Compliments

Compliments may seem trivial when faced with such a serious situation, but hearing kind words can help lift spirits at a time when everyone is feeling heavyhearted due to loss. Tell your loved one how strong they are being or how well they handled a particular task related to the funeral arrangements—even something as small as writing thank-you notes or sending flowers—can have an impact on raising morale among friends and family members at this difficult time. 

5.Park Your Assumptions

Not everyone grieves the same. The image we have in our mind about how our loved-one will grieve, or how we have grieved ourselves, may not apply. By sticking to that image, you may inadvertently make life harder, not easier, for a person already very close to the end of their rope. Ask them what they need, take your cues from their behaviour, and make sure you respect their wishes at this difficult time.

6. Follow Up After the Funeral

What many people don’t understand is, a funeral is not the end of the process. Depending on the situation there may be a house to be cleaned out and sold, closing down services and utilities, will administration, childcare responsibilities to rearrange, pets to care for, and more. All this can take its toll on the people organising. Grief also changes as time goes on, and many people won’t begin to feel the full emotional force until after the funeral is over. Make time for your loved-ones to check in, and don’t be surprised if their emotional reality changes rapidly, and in unexpected directions.  The most important thing is to be respectful of their reality and to make sure any help offered lines up with what they need.

Whether it’s providing emotional support, lending a helping hand with practical tasks, or simply giving compliments, we should strive to show our love by being there for each other during this difficult time in any way we possibly can. Our presence alone may be enough for our loved ones in their time of need; let’s remember that togetherness is powerful and comforting during times like these.

To learn more about what others have found helpful in dealing with death in their lives, check out the latest episodes of our podcast, Death Defined